Times Now claws its way back in an eroding news broadcasting market

English TV news, though it accounts for just 0.04 per cent of the viewership universe, wields far greater clout than is justified by the eyeball numbers.
Television image used for representation.
Television image used for representation.

English TV news, though it accounts for just 0.04 per cent of the viewership universe, wields far greater clout than is justified by the eyeball numbers. It is not difficult to see why. The slice of viewers that tune into English news channels are the upper crust – senior bureaucrats, corporate honchos, the privileged elite; in short, the decision makers.

To reach this class that moves markets and has high consumption, advertisers are willing to pay a disproportionately higher rate. No wonder, English news takes away 40 per cent of the Rs 5,000-crore advertising spend per year in the news genre, triggering a scramble among media companies for a piece of the action, and turns TV anchors into celebrities. It is, therefore, a sector worth dissecting.

What does the data show?

Times Now became the undisputed leader a couple of years ago, on its ‘ultra-nationalism’ and the ‘heckling’ debate format ‘News Hour’ crafted by Arnab Goswami.

When Goswami launched his own channel ‘Republic TV’ on May 6 this year, the audiences shifted with him.

Eight months later, we now see the scenario of Times Now clawing its way back to the top with better marketing and the same ‘ultra-nationalist’ content.

R-TV triggers expansion

Republic TV’s launch was a milestone. It not only emerged as No 1 from the word go, it expanded the English news watching genre substantially. All India data from the Broadcast Audience Research Council (BARC) for Males aged 22 and above showed that the average per-week number of impressions for the 10-12 weeks prior to and after the launch of Republic TV expanded from 2.4 million ‘impressions’ to 3.45 million impressions (Impression is a weighted currency combining the number of viewers and the time spent), a growth of 44 per cent.

Interestingly, not only did Republic TV gain from the hype of the new launch but competitor Times Now also expanded its footprint. In the six big metros, while Republic TV led with an average per-week 532,000 impressions for the first 12 weeks after launch, contrary to popular perception, Times Now in the second place also expanded to 422,000 impressions per week from 329,000.(See chart).

Now here’s the interesting part. Contrary to claims by Republic TV of its undisputed reign, there has been a steady decline in eyeballs for the ‘leader’ since its May launch; and it has actually been overtaken by Times Now in the big metros. And, the initial expansion of English news viewership has slumped back to the pre-May numbers.

Times Now No 1 in metros

Call it fatigue of viewers from a tiring brand of ‘studio’ journalism, or is it the unabashed support for the ruling party, those watching Republic TV have been a declining number. All India BARC viewership data shows that from a high of 1.2 million impressions average per week in the 12 weeks after launch, Republic TV slipped to 9,18,000 impressions for the next 12 weeks; and in the last eight weeks, slumped to 6,11,000 impressions per week.  However, in all-India rankings Republic TV is still at No 1 and marginally ahead of Times Now at 5,60,000 impressions per week.

Where the upset has taken place is in the important six-metros market. After the initial surge, BARC numbers show that the subsequent 12 weeks after Republics launch, Times Now took over as No 1 with 3,87,000 impressions per week (compared to R-TV’s 2,96,000). And in the last eight weeks, again Times Now continues ahead at 2,31,000 impressions per week (compared to R-TV’s 2,08,000).

Viewership data also dispels some strongly held myths. For instance, it is a myth that NDTV has strong viewership among the big-city educated classes for its more ‘balanced coverage’ but poor response from the smaller towns and districts.

NDTV has lost big time in recent months going down from 1,28,000 impressions per week in the big cities before May, to an average of 64,000 per week in the last two months.

On the other hand for towns in the 10-75 lakh population range, NDTV held its own even doubling its score to 61,000 impressions in the October-November period.  

Another interesting case study is the steady growth of Mirror Now, emerging as an ‘anti-establishment’ channel.

Republic TV’s launch did not hit its numbers and the channel steadily climbed in All-India viewership from 88,000 impressions per week from the period before R-TV’s launch, to 179,000 per week in the past two months.

It shows that there are viewers for both end of spectrum – Times Now with its ‘pro-establishment’ politics and Mirror Now with its strident critical line.

And, both channels are owned by the Times Group!

(The author can be contacted at gurbir1@gmail.com)

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