In the last six months, three new business channels have come on the air in India, where there was only one before. More may be on the way. What's behind this new gold rush? Archana R D takes a businesslike look at commerce on the small screen
India has a well-developed and vigorous business media. Nationally, we have four business newspapers: The Economic Times, Business Standard, Business Line and Financial Express. Then, there are the weeklies, fortnightlies and monthlies: Business India, Businessworld, Business Today, Outlook Money and a host of others. There are also dozens of dedicated stock market publications. Besides, every single self-respecting English daily newspaper (and many leading regional language papers as well) has a business section to which at least two pages are devoted. But most of this is old hat.
The great new gold rush is in setting up business television channels. For five years, there was only good old CNBC (profit after tax [after adjusting for exchange rate fluctuations and deferred tax] for the nine month period April-December 2004 since the merger with TV18 Rs21.4crore). In the last year alone, this pioneer has been joined by the three-month-old NDTV Profit, the four-month old Awaaz and the five-month-old Zee Business. If market tattle is to be believed, more are on the way, including one which the Times group is reportedly mulling over.
"India means business, for those who are abroad and, more importantly, for us who live here. India has consumers, from 18 year-olds to 80-year-olds, who want to know how they can manage their finances well. So we thought, if we concentrate on the average consumer - who could be anyone under the sun across society - we would hit bull's eye. By Awaaz we mean consumer grievances," says Sanjay Pugalia, editor of Awaaz, the new Hindi business channel from TV18.
Awaaz is a paid channel, but claims to have had the highest viewership after its English parent, CNBC-TV18, on the day the recent Budget was presented (see chart 1). "Remember, Awaaz is not CNBC-TV18 in Hindi… it's a whole new niche channel for the consumer," says Ajay Chako, marketing head of CNBC-TV18. By giving the viewer more options, the company seems to have successfully attracted more eyeballs.
Source: TAM, TG: CS 15+, Hindi Speaking Markets, Daypart: 7am to midnight
Why is business news suddenly the popular new kid in town…? Do broadcasters envy CNBC-TV18's unmatched success and, more important, the revenue it has gathered over the last five years? "Domain expertise becomes a very important differentiator in business programming and broadcasting. We believe that the new players will take quite some time before they understand and master the space," observes Chako.
"We must understand one thing: Today's television viewer is not someone who watches only soaps, films or singing competitions. People want information which they can use. While dealing with business news, we make sure that the viewer gets exactly what is useful. We don't simply report… we investigate, research and showcase what the viewer, who is essentially a buyer, should be cautious about while spending," says Pugalia, whose last stint was at the general news desk at Star News, as its news director. Does that mean we can look forward to see a lot of 'sting' action? Pugalia nods vigorously. "Yes, we need some insight into how things function in this country, rather than peep into the bedrooms of Bollywood wannabes," he laughs, consciously differentiating his brand of 'sting' from the latest sensation on the small screen.
When it comes to research and investigation - going further than just live news reporting - the print media has always had the upper hand. It has more time to do a proper job than the pressured assistant producer in the TV newsroom, whose deadline starts at the precise moment the event begins to unfold. But is this scene going to change now that niche channels are on board?
"Never! TV may have more viewers, but print will always have its readers too. I am still a very much a print man. I do watch CNBC-TV18, but that doesn't stop me from keeping a tab on daily newspapers and magazines. But the scene will change with more players in the market; it will be further fragmented," says R Rajmohan, vice president (advertising and marketing) of the weekly news magazine Outlook. Does this mean that the print media will gird its loins to confront the new wolf at its doorstep by coming together? Rajmohan only hints delicately that something of the sort may be on the cards, but says it will only be after we wait for a little longer to see the impact of the new channels.
"We need more and more niche areas to be covered by television channels… It's a huge world out there. Don't you see every topic under the sun on the internet? Why are they covered? Because, there is somebody who wants to know. So when we are sure of what people want, we take the plunge… I am glad we did it," says the Awaaz man Pugalia, with a wide grin. "We have tried defining business without jargon for the common man in Hindi, a language which is understood by 65 per cent of India. Even before we have completed six months on the air, the results are just amazing," says a thrilled Pugalia.
Prannoy Roy's NDTV Profit is positioned directly head-to-head with market leader CNBC-TV 18. In its attempt to take on CNBC TV-18 blow for blow, the new channel's face is almost indistinguishable from its rival's. NDTV Profit's content is mainly reports from the stock market, interviews with experts from the markets and the banking industry, apart from corporate honchos. Corporate earnings, tracking market indices, advice on personal finance and the stock market, and phone-in programmes completes the round-up. The channel is bi-lingual right now. Its programme chart lines up a few Hindi hours through Rasoi ke raaz, Bohini (Talk to us), Digital duniya and Ab kal par nazar. Does this hint at a full-time Hindi business channel in the pipeline? Well, we guess that will depend largely on the performance of Zee Business and Awaaz, the Hindi business channels that are already in the market.
Subhash Chandra's Zee Business, positioned as a personal finance channel, is at the very bottom of the chart right now. It is India's first Hindi business channel, but has yet to gain momentum. It will require either a big splash Or, perhaps, some new strategy, to push it up the popularity ladder. More channels give the viewer more options. Or do they actually only add to our confusion? The jury is still out on that one.