So who will win the English News TV war?

02 May,2017



By Pradyuman Maheshwari

As you read this, ArnabGoswami would be in his state-of-the-art news floor, putting finishing touches to his launch plans for Republic TV. The billboards are out, and the ‘coming soon’ has made way for the final pitch.

But not far from the editorial headquarters of Republic is the Times Now newsroom. The brains trust there has been working overtime for a few months so that their former main man’s new venture doesn’t steal the thunder.

In many ways, Goswami has already done that. And despite all the savvy mediaminds that it has in its fold, Times Now has actually contributed to the buzz around the Republic TV launch. The sending of legal notices may have been standard practice, but it gave enough ammunition to Goswami.

Launching a channel is possibly the easiest of the tasks on hand. Ensuring that it thrives and hence survives are the tougher things to do. Goswami should know. Despite the moneypower of The Times of India group behind it, Times Now was floundering at launch in early 2006. It was almost like what NewsX is today.

It took some effort and reorientation for the Times Now primetime to stand out and although the world says that its star was on the ascendant post November 26, 2008,  I thought Goswami was looking good from around a year earlier.

In fact friends at CNN-IBN were mighty upset when I wrote that Arnab was better than RajdeepSardesaiat primetime. But he was… he asked the tough questions.

Before one delves further on Republic and Times Now, let’s look at the rest.

First WION, the newest English news channel. Zee Group chief Subhash Chandra’s intent of starting an international news channel with an Indian POV was great, but it sadly appears to be going nowhere. The only good contribution is that it’s creating some employment for newswallahs. WION made a disastrous start with Rohit Gandhi as editor. Now, with Sudhir Chaudhary at the helm, the man who anchors the most watched primetime show on Hindi News TV, it’s possibly trying to earn some stripes, but will it make a difference to the fortunes of Republic TV?Will it change the rankings of its tribe? No way.

And what about NewsX? From what I understand, even though it’s not perceived to among an English news channel that matters, given that it’s got the India News backing and a media group that has fair muscle, it may not be entirely inconsequential. Also, it does have some good people working for it. But not again in the Top 3. Not even in the Top 5.

So, who’s left now:

NDTV 24×7, CNN-IBN, ah well, CNN-News18  and India Today.

Hey, before that, one must not forget DD News, DD Lok Sabha and DD Rajya Sabha. All are doing their bit given the constraints of being government/Parliament-owned. The primetime DD News bulletin has an excellent round-up capsule at 9.45pm, but that’s only good for those who dislike the talking heads brand of television journalism, or are taking the Civil Services or entrances where GK is tested.

Getting back to the threesome.

NDTV 24×7: I was worried about how the channel would do minus BarkhaDutt, but I must say that she isn’t being missed much. Sreenivasan Jain is still no answer to Dutt, but I quite like the new primetime format that the channel has adopted. My worry is that it’s happened five years late. The final view: unless the others flounder, Dr Prannoy Roy will still be counted as the pioneer of the English News TV business, but his channel has lost out. And this time, his executives can’t even crib about the ratings.

CNN-News18: The channel could’ve been in the dumps after RajdeepSardesai quit in 2014, but it’s commendable to see it make a comeback with a brand new leadership team and primetime faces. Zakka Jacob is excellent, and very confident of himself. Andif last night was any indication, he can shout at Pakistan defence analysts louder than Goswami and Navika Kumar put together. And he can rubbish them (the Pakistanis) to their face. I also found bossman Rahul Joshi excellent in his interviews with the Prime Minister, Amit Shah and a few others, but what CNN-News18 needs is a little something that it’s not taking it to the top slot. Loads more than just new shows clearly.

India Today: Part of the India Today stable, it lost Karan Thapar recently who is by far one of the best interviewers on English News Television. But the rest of star cast exists – RajdeepSardesai, Rahul Kanwal and a recent addition being Anjana Om Kashyap, the leading AajTak anchor, who has just started her innings at 7pm. From what one learns, her show is supposed to match the noise factor of Republic, but if that was the yardstick, then perhaps having it closer to 9pm would’ve been better. While it was the Republic-Times Now war for viewership that was to be the focus of attention, it was interesting to see an India Today billboard right next to Republic’s. If nothing else, it helped create a buzz, though it won’t be right to compare the Kashyap show with Goswami’s primetime act.

Times Now: It’s got itself to blame for the mess it finds itself in. Look at NDTV 24×7, CNN-News18 and India Today. None of them are dependant on just one face, and that’s the only reason why they’ve survived despite leading lights exiting the channel in recent years. But despite several CEOs and marketing heads helming the channel, they weren’t able to get a face who could match that ofGoswami’s. Or be a strong second-in-command. Sad. But now that what shouldn’t have happened has happened, Times Now is trying its best to counterArnabGoswami’s Republic. Can Navika Kumar’s Newshour kill Goswami’s primetime act? No way! Times Now ought to have reinvented itself like NDTV 24×7 has done rather than pursue the path of nationalistic belligerence where it clearly won’t be able to match Goswami. Times Now’s attempt to launch a flanking channel in the form of Mirror Now is a non-starter as of now, and I would’ve thought its editor and primetime face Faye D’Souza would’ve made for a good Newshour presenter.

Republic TV:From the interview he gave me last week, it’s clear that Republic TV won’t be dramatically different from Times Now. It will of course sharpen the offering and with new shows and anchors. Goswami says he will have a clear second and third line, but there’s no denying that the present and future of the channel depends entirely on its founder and editor-in-chief. Does it have a future? Of course it does. But sadly content alone doesn’t make a channel successful. Distribution and other marketing dynamics are crucial, and that’s where it will need really big monies. Goswami is known to be a keen student of viewership analytics, he’ll surely be pouring over numbers to check what works and what doesn’t. What’s also interesting is that the orchestration with digital will be seamless (or so he promises), something that the others haven’t done well, even though the web entities of CNN-News18 and NDTV24x7 are very popular.

So will Republic TV kill Times Now?Tough to do that in Week #1. And even if it does, it’s too early to predict how it will be six weeks later. However, if after all the excitement that has been built up over the last few months, it doesn’t get the right numbers, Goswami and Republic will need to re-examine their proposition. Ditto for Times Now which must relook at its offering any which way. And where does this leave India Today, CNN-News 18 and NDTV 24×7? As of now, I don’t see much of a change at NDTV. The other two will do their best to win a battle being fought essentially between Times Now and Republic. India Today says it’s got the most democratic newsroom, CNN-News18 has fashioned itself as non-aligned even though it’s owned by MukeshAmbani.

The next few weeks/months are going to be exciting. And we’ll be watching and evaluating. Beyond just the numbers.

PS: Interestingly, over the last few weeks, or months actually, the channel that’s knocking at the #1 slot is CNBC-TV18. But then that works well for only revenues. The war is still among the eight, or seven, or five, or four…


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