Time for Vineet Jain & Arnab Goswami to smoke the peace pipe?

29 Aug,2017


By Pradyuman Maheshwari

There are liars, damned liars and statisticians. And that couldn’t be truer when it comes to TV viewership claims.

Data can be misrepresented and quoted by slicing and dicing to an unsuspecting public, marking a dwarf look tall. That’s exactly what’s happening in the English News Genre lately.

There has been a desperate and losing attempt to claim leadership by a phoney claimant whose shrill pitch is pathetic attempt to pass off as relevant. Data is misquoted using irrelevant markets, periods and time bands to selectively project an illusion, much like a silhouette show uses light.

The trick to read through this is to understand the real currency that matters. In the case of English News it’s the premium NCCS AB, 22+ Male Viewers in the 1 Million+ cities All India. The six Mega City data is also representative. TV channel viewership is compared by all day viewership. Specific time bands are used only when comparing shows and not channels.

Another way to know, is if the source itself is of highest credibility and known to not resort to such manipulation – someone like Times Network.

Anything else is simply an attempt to mislead and gain undue benefit.

No marks for guessing who the ad is targeting. Republic TV, of course. And since the recently launched news channel is all about its founder, editor-in-chief and chief promoter Arnab Goswami, it’s hitting out at Goswami. The phoney claimant whose “shrill pitch” being “a pathetic attempt to pass off as relevant” is hence none other than Goswami, the former Times Now bossman.

But one must say that the ad has happened after much ‘tu tu main main’ between the bosses of Times Now and Republic TV.

Sources within the Times Network establishment as well as in the news broadcast industry say that  more than the war of the Times Network (the broadcast arm of the Times of India group), it’s a war of sorts between the group’s managing director Vineet Jain and Goswami.

Prior to the launch of the Republic, Goswami has compared the battle for supremacy between the two channels like that of a David versus Goliath. There was a controversy around certain trademarks filed for and there was a very clear and loud offensive from both ends.

At MxM, we have observed each and every move of both channels and both owners, and we can say that both have tried their best to outwit each other. Goswami and his crew have also not stopped short of taking potshots at the Times group, though they may not be be as vitriolic as the text of the advertisement.

The News Broadcasters Association (NBA) which has the Times Network CEO in its top leadership also got into the act asking for measurement body BARC to not publish Republic TV data because it employed an incorrect trade practice or multiple LCNs. After Republic pledged to the Courts that is not resorting to dual LCNs to shore up its numbers, both channels got into the act of landing pages.

Landing pages is until now not an illegal practice, but requires a spend of big monies to the distribution trade. According to unverified information that we have received, the collective spends from the two channels per annum would be in the region of Rs 20-30 crore. The bulk of the spends is from Times Now.

What landing pages helps achieve for both channels is that the viewership numbers leapfrog, but that doesn’t necessarily mean an increase in time spent on the channel. In fact the average could go down as people view a certain channel only for a minute-odd and then switch to the channel of their choice.

Industry seniors MxMIndia spoke with aver that the amount spent on pushing distribution in an inorganic manner is a waste. I would rather have the monies being spent on newsgathering and improving the quality of the content or even other outreach activities, said one trade captain.

But the stakes are high for both channels. Republic TV, given the reputation that Goswami had built for himself at Times Now, needed to be on top of the charts to create an impact. And for Times Now, being part of India’s biggest news media company, it needed to show that it’s not dependant on any single individual to stay on as the leader.

Sadly, the network doesn’t seem to have learnt from its mistake, and in the case of Mirror Now, it is only propping up the channels primetime anchor and editor-in-chief Faye D’Souza.

Times Now has tried its damnedest to ensure that it doesn’t get affected, but even some insiders concede that the channel has taken a beating post the exit of Goswami. Also, the primetime alternatives that the channel has put up don’t really match up to Goswami.

However, it is creditable that the channel has not lost out very much, and that has been done thanks to its extensive reach and also editorially, it has ensured that it keeps raising the bar, even though content-wise – and in the pro-Narendra Modi, pro-rightwing genre – Republic is clearly a better channel.

Sadly, the channels with more neutral content – like India Today and CNN-News18 haven’t been able to measure up on the ratings roster. A more anti-Narendra Modi NDTV 24×7 which has been facing some heat given its financial past has also not been able to put up good numbers on the weekly BARC charts. In fact there was a time when the channel even exited from the Top 5 English news channels.

According to audience measurement numbers that we have seen, there is a clear inorganic rise of both Times Now and Republic TV. That of the former is very evident given the average numbers it generated before the launch of Republic.

Our view: For the larger good of the news business, it’s important that both Times Now and Republic TV and specifically Vineet Jain and Arnab Goswami smoke the peace pipe and stop wasting money on pushing distribution. And indulge in this ‘tu tu main main’.

It’s vital that broadcast trade associations like the IBF and NBA make the two see reason and back off. Let the content do the talking, and not fight via advertising and inorganically generated viewership numbers.

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