Zee executives, it is learnt, spoke to TV Today managers who run Aaj Tak, and wondered if the two could jointly take steps to curb India TV's growing popularity.
Star News' top brass, too, reviewed the threat from Rajat Sharma's channel which grew from 12 per cent to Tension ran high in the editorial and advertising sales team of competing channels with people pledging to quit the TV news business if India TV dislodged the leader.
Such reactions, a bit alarmist, were understandable. Surprisingly, India TV, which inched its way to occupy the number two position and continues to sit there, is hardly celebrated for its credibility or content.
Take a look at the kinds of stories that are helping it climb up the popularity charts. In the last few weeks, among its most watched stories was a private video of a starlet sauntering about her house in lingerie. Jahnvi, the aspiring heroine was in the news some time ago when she slashed her wrists during Abhishek Bachchan's wedding. The video, played by India TV and refused telecast by others or so they claim , fetched the channel a 26 per cent viewership share and a court notice from Jahnvi.
In the weeks gone by, it has aired stories with pulp fiction titles: Snakes mating also made news on the channel as did stuff like "Joota bhagaye bhoot" and "Aurat bani maa Kali". Cold numbers show that viewers have given a thumbs up to India TV's tabloid-like content. Interestingly, people are not only watching it in larger numbers, they are spending more time on the channel. Those in the plus age group are watching the channel for 42 minutes a week, much higher than 34 minutes that the market leader Aaj Tak clocks.
Broadcasting industry's most acceptable television monitoring mechanism -- TAM -- shows that even its elite panel households owning an AC, PC and car has given India TV's popularity a leg-up by tuning in. On the other hand, a hard news channel like NDTV India saw its viewership slip by four per cent in the last few months.
To be sure, India TV is not the first Hindi television network to have used tabloid-like content to get eyeballs. In fact, media industry veterans indict Star News for starting the trend of blowing up the inconsequential. Among the first trivial stories that occupied Star News' small screen for four to five hours was "Mandir ka rahasya". The story focused on children who visited a temple and, mysteriously, never wanted to return home to their parents. That week in , Star News displaced Aaj Tak from the number one position.
Not one to go down without a fight, Aaj Tak came up with "Yamraj se mulakat" where a dead man came alive and recounted his experiences after death. However, at the same time India TV was taking the definition of "tabloid" content a little further.
It not only conducted a sting operation on Bihar politicians' sexual escapades at Delhi's Bihar Bhawan but also aired explicit visuals.
Little surprise, then, that media observers hold Hindi news channels collectively responsible for tabloidisation of content. News may be the fourth or the fifth element in their content plan after crime, sex, violence etc.
In a free competitive market, they choose and buy products and brands they prefer. The same applies to TV news," he says. To be sure, sex, sleaze and the slight are driving content on Hindi news in general. But Zee News editor Raju Santhanam would have you believe that sleaze is a subjective term.
The kind of stories that appear in print today would be defined as sleaze 10 years ago. TV channels too can't remain unaffected by the changing environment.
A senior news channel executive says that most players are weaving content around the four Cs: Rao rubbishes the allegation that India TV airs sleaze, adding that "sex, crime and supernatural sell and so does violence on TV, newspapers, magazines, movies, books, the Internet. The only difference is in numbers. What came in spurts, is rolling now," he says. The trivialisation of Hindi news TV content stems from severe competition in the genre.
There are at least eight major Hindi news channels fighting for the Rs crore Rs 5. Santhanam says there is increased pressure on channels to deliver ratings to generate revenue. The challenge before a news channel is to keep its reputation ahead of rating.
It is a tough call. Needless to say, in the numbers game, news broadcasters need to generate consumer stickiness to their channels through non-newsy spice dressed as news. News does not give such fast returns, so you have to show numbers. Having spent Rs 15 crore Rs million to Rs 30 crore Rs million a year on distribution, there is little money left for investment in programming. Compelled to drive viewership, channels hire stand-up comedians, invite astrologers to the studio for viewer phone-ins and put up dance and music shows.
While light content gets viewers, do advertisers fall for such "news"? Chintamani Rao says yes. Advertisers are already moving into India TV. However, news is a not a rational game as you don't buy it for numbers. They will not advertise in an environment that doesn't suit them.
The category has degraded itself. But that is set to change. And it must, say media observers. The question is what you want to do. Viewers may be watching your content, but they are certainly not defining it," says the CEO of a Hindi news channel. If people wanted serious news, DD News would have been the most watched channel. We are in the news business," he says , points out that some serious news channels are slipping not because of content but poor presentation and packaging.
Salil has studied these markets as he's putting up news channels in Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and the North east. There are four news channels in West Bengal and none seems to be competing with the Hindi news channel content. Again, Kerala has four news channels.
But with Rajat Sharma now eyeing the Gujarati news market, will the rules of the game change? However, the news broadcast industry is pausing to give its content some thought. Informal discussions have been on among the Hindi news channels to form an ethics committee and create an ombudsman to do content audit for channels. The information and broadcasting ministry, too, is revising the content code for television.
Cracking The Code The information and broadcasting ministry is revising the programming code for TV channels. The review committee, set up more than 15 months ago and comprising people from different sections of society NGOs, government officials, FICCI members, Film Guild representatives, advertising industry bodies etc , met yesterday to modify the existing programming code. The revised code will spell out details on how sex and nudity, crime and violence can be depicted on the small screen.
Explicit visuals of sexual activities and complete nudity will be banned. Crime shows will be allowed but crime cannot be glamorised. Programmes promoting superstition or the occult will not be allowed and "Adults Only" content can be aired post 11 pm.
The revised code, part of the Cable Television Networks Regulation Act, is also expected to incorporate rules for news channels which, media representatives feel, may stifle their freedom. The existing guidelines state that TV programmes must not show obscenity or "encourage superstition", which Hindi news channels happily do.
With the committee spelling out the details, the ministry should have fewer reasons to fret. The revised code will encourage self-regulation as we have no desire to be 'thanedaars' or the moral police," says the official. Now we will have at least 50 people monitoring them round the clock," he says.
Some channels have resorted to introspection and realigned their strategies. Henceforth, Star News will focus on the social aspect of news. Last week it started a consumer affairs programme called Main Hoon Na.
We will do a reality show with a social conscience," says Sinha. IBN 7's managing editor Ashutosh he does not use his surname claims that the channel tweaked its positioning and content some months ago.
It got out of the race for the frivolous to focus on hard news. Star News tried it and succeeded up to a point. Clearly, the way forward is segmentation between hard news and tabloid news channels. In any case, if Hindi news content on the small screen does not change soon, there will be a consumer rejection of news channels, warns Ravi Kiran.
He speaks from experience of holding focus group discussions for his advertisers. Adds Zee News' Santhanam: It's a challenging time for Hindi news channels.