The economics and sociology of contemporary journalism: A case study analysis of the growth of television news channels in India
Pallavi Majumdar, Asst. Professor, Amity school of Communication, Amity University Uttar Pradesh, Noida, India
Ruchi Jaggi, Senior Lecturer, Amity school of Communication, Amity University Uttar Pradesh, Noida, India
Introduction If there were a word to describe the rise of media industry in India it could be nothing but exponential. With thousands of newspapers, hundreds of television channels and a plethora of radio stations having boomed in the last decade, the mediascape looks poised for greater altitudes in the times to come. The growth has been dynamic both in terms of the quality and quantity in all the media sectors. However the growth of television channels is a very special case study in general and that of news channels in particular is worth a discussion.
The colonial era in India about two centuries ago left a lasting impression on the Indian psyche that television viewing was a luxury that they could easily do without. This was also to do with the fact that the Indian print media had been a major force in the freedom struggle. Most newspapers hence date back to the pre-independence era, while television has only now entered adolescence in India. As overtly peculiar with this phase, the Indian television media has had its share of excesses and limitations.
The Indian TV news journey began as an experiment on September15, 1959 with a grant from UNESCO. The makeshift studio at Akashvani Bhavan in New Delhi was the site for this experiment. The experiment started with one-hour program on various areas like community health, citizen rights, education and traffic sense among others and was broadcast twice a week.
News as a program was launched exactly six years after the inception of television broadcasting. A one-hour news bulletin became a daily feature of this telecast. It was on India’s 35th Independence Day that Doordarshan, the country’s first national channel was launched. From just 28% of the population receiving TV signals in 1983 to almost 55% by the end of 1985 and over 90% by 1990, the leap was enormous. Being the public broadcaster, Doordarshan news was perceived as the mouthpiece of the government.
The entry of New Delhi Television (NDTV), a production house with their weekly news magazine ‘The World This Week’ opened new frontiers in the Indian television news world. This was followed by NDTV’s live coverage of the national general elections in 1989. The Indian news landscape changed during the first Gulf war when the Indian audiences saw live war scenes for the first time in the history of Indian television news.
The growth story The transition however involved two ignition points: The first occurred in the eighties when colour TV was introduced by state-owned broadcaster Doordarshan (DD), timed with the 1982 Asian Games which India hosted. DD then proceeded to install transmitters nationwide rapidly for terrestrial broadcasting. In this period no private enterprise was allowed to set up TV stations or to transmit TV signals. The second spark came in the early nineties with the broadcast of satellite TV by foreign programmers like CNN followed by Star TV and a little later by domestic channels such as Zee TV and Sun TV into Indian homes.
The consequence was the mushrooming of a multitude of news channels. From one state-run ‘Doordarshan’ with few spots for daily news bulletins to about 67 24x7 news channels in around 16 languages, the growth is nothing short of exponential. The important thing is that the total time span for this growth is just a decade which makes its journey worth an exploration.
With markets opening up in other sectors during the early 1990s, media also experienced the globalization wave. This was a catalytic force in the privatization of news channels in India. The fear of cultural imperialism and dominance by Western news agencies had been very strong reasons for a closed broadcasting policy in India. Consequently, Indian governments limited the access of foreign corporations in the country citing socialism and self-reliance.
With Aaj Tak (Till Today), a Hindi news channel of the TV today Network , the 24x7 journey of Indian news channels started in the year 2000 – truly an event of the millennium for the Indian mediascape.
Privatisation brought about a revolution not only in the media industry but also in the mindsets of the people. Till then the concept of a free news market had been alien to the media sector. Though the freedom of expression was always there, various capital and other controls on business meant that a free news market became a reality only in 2003.
The government in 2003 put a cap of 26 per cent on FDI on television companies desirous of uplinking from India. This was at par with the cap on print, but much lower as compared to the entertainment space where 100 per cent FDI was allowed.
The 26 per cent cap on FDI forced many corporations such as the Virgin Island based Star News Broadcasting to apply afresh or amend its application for uplinking after locating an Indian partner for the venture.
It also brought in foreign stake in television companies with Indian Broadcasting Network tying up with CNN to form `CNN-IBN’ and Bennett Coleman & Co Ltd associating with Reuters for their English news venture `Times Now’.
The impact of FDI:
The entry of foreign capital into Indian media companies also led to a spurt in the number of television channels and other news media options. From a mere nine news channels in 2000, the number has surged to 67 in 2008. A seven fold growth in eight years.
The reach too has multiplied exponentially. In a little over a decade, the total number of Indian television households has tripled to an estimated 112 million, making India the third largest television market behind China and the US. More than 60 percent of the television sets are now connected to satellite dishes.
With increasing population, the number of viewers has surged to 575 million, and the number of news channels has increased to 67. According to the Future of News report (Kohli-Khandekar, 2008), if one totals up the average across newspapers, news TV and online, Indians spend an average of 50 minutes a day consuming news. And advertisers have spent close to Rs 12,000 crore ($ 27 million) to reach them in those 50 minutes.
Even in 2008, when the Indian news channel market is being perceived as crowded, the amount of time viewing these has gone up from 5.19 to 6.92 minutes, in a span of five months (January to May, 2008), according to Television Audience Measurement (TAM), a media research firm.
Why do we have so much news?
With the first 24X7 news channel Aaj Tak taking off in 2000; television news is a relatively new offering. As a result, fatigue is yet to set in, experts believe.
Top it off with a seductive mix of size, democracy and innocence, and the reasons for the progression becomes clear. Team it with the Rs 1500 crore investment since January 2007, low entry costs and a declining news market globally, and the scenario gets even better.
In addition to this, there are several other factors too. Firstly, there is potential for growth, with television penetrating only half of the country’s population. Secondly, the vibrant Indian democracy nudges its people into debating and arguing. Add to this a complete lack of cynicism, and people are enjoying a media rich experience, able to argue across scores of channels in 20 odd languages.
The share of top 20 news channels in India – Refer graph. Note: Figures are descending as per the year 2008 (Jan-May). The ranking is based on viewership share of individual news channels in the total TV viewership pie.
Source: TAM Peoplemeter system (Kohli-Khandekar, 2008)
Rise of news on televisions: The sociological context At the outset it is important to understand that the relationship between media and society is symbiotic. A society per se is an amalgamation of inputs and influences, including ethnic, religious, linguistic, political, social, economic, family, state and increasingly global. These elements both influence as well as are influenced by an important factor called mass media. Subsequently, the inception, reception and perception of television images in the social psyche become an imperative attribute in this discussion.
Layers of identity are not mutually exclusive in a country like India which has such a versatile culture. Therefore variety in television content was always a possibility on the Indian telescreen. The Indian populace and its diverse geographic, cultural and political framework were strong enough reasons for both an interest and availability of news stories that could appeal to the nation and to a state at the same time. On another note, a growing educated and working population, demographics skewed in favour of the young, a booming economy and stock markets, and enough catastrophes and calamities to keep viewers hooked, were other factors for the rise of news channels.
There has been a peculiar kind of agenda setting that comes to picture in the social context where the news channels operate. One, only 12% of the news channels are for the elite English speaking audience (in the Indian sociological context). Two, the Indian news media, which therefore is mainly catering to the Hindi-speaking and regional populace, has a unanimous focus on the Indian social set-up and is exploiting it to churn content. From rituals to festivals, personalities to celebrities, spirituality to superstitions – the Indian social set up is a perfect blend of ingredients for just the right recipe.
Case studies India TV: A new entrant in the sea of television news channels, the four year old India TV has taken tabloidization to new heights. From lurid stories of people being overcome by spirits, a woman adopting a baby monkey as a member of the family, and the world coming to end, courtesy the Big Bang experiment, this television channel has managed to grab a large number of eyeballs. According to the TAM, a media research firm, the viewership share of India TV makes it the third popular channel after Aaj Tak and Star News between January and May, 2008.
From the time it was launched in 2004, India TV owned by Independent News Service, has had two successful rounds of divestment bringing the share of its chairman Rajat Sharma and his wife down from 90 to 60 per cent. According to Sharma, in the last round the channel was valued at Rs 1,000 crore.
Sharma who shot to fame due to his talk show ``Janata ki Adalat’’ (People’s Court) and ``Aaj ki Baat’’ (Today’s Issue) is unabashed about the sensationalism being offered on his channel. ``Television has understood viewer needs,’’ he said at a recent seminar organized by Agencyfaqs, a media website. India TV seems to have given competition to entertainment channels. And the keys of its success are the four Cs – Cricket, Crime, Cinema and Crisis.
As mentioned earlier in the paper, NDTV entered the Indian news scenario as a production house which supplied news programmes to Doordarshan. In 1998, the company bagged a five-year contract with Star News and later took off as an independent news channel. Dr. Prannoy Roy, the face of the channel, and his wife Radhika Roy hold a 54% stake.
The 1989 general elections brought Dr Roy to the forefront as the first-ever psephologist on Indian television. Further to that, NDTV’s coverage of the Tiananmen Square tragedy and the fall of the Berlin Wall fetched international accolades. These events catapulted the company’s status as the credible news content provider for international broadcasters including CNN and BBC.
This credibility is the channel’s USP till date. NDTV stands out as the perpetrator of credible and genuine information in the multitude of Indian news hemisphere. Infact, the recent news story about the simulation of the big-bang phenomenon as an experiment in Germany had most regional news channels spreading fear and panic among Indian citizens. NDTV then began a campaign of informing and setting aside these false and sensational claims.
Despite the channel’s credible reputation, its market share is gradually dipping. This can be attributed to the entry of several new English news channels who have injected their content with significant dosage of infotainment.
Aaj Tak, the first 24X7 Hindi news channel marked the country’s leading media group TV Today’s foray into Television. The company had ventured into audio-visual media in 1988 with Newstrack, a video newsmagazine that shook up the establishment. By 1995, TV Today Network had evolved to produce one of the most influential current affairs programmes, Aaj Tak (till Today). Later Aaj Tak evolved into a full-fledged news channel in December 2000.
Having bagged several awards for the best news channel in the country, Aaj Tak was the first channel to bring a sense of urgency to news. It’s tag line ``sab se tez’’ (The Fastest) caught popular imagination. India TV’s success can be accorded to the fact that it was in the language of the people and rode high on emotional quotient.
Despite being the oldest 24 hour news channel, the channel seems to have changed its strategy with the entry of new players such as Star News, India TV, IBN 7, News 24, among others. Their advent has threatened its position as a market leader making it incorporate more infotainment in its content mix. There are ample examples of sensational news stories being done by the channel in the past.
Conclusion Television News media is one of the most important catalysts that has an invariably important role to play in shaping up public opinions, sentiments and dogmas by promulgating accurate and desirable information and knowledge. Due to its vast intrusion in public life, it has the power of creating an enduring impact on society and culture of a region.
The rise of TV news channels in India further underlines this viewpoint. It is just that it took a little while for the news media explosion to hit the world’s largest democracy. The presence of a young population who is both enthusiastic and optimistic as active media consumers as well as the interest of global investors has provided a strong foundation to the nation’s media structure. The news channels boom is a further consequence of this cementing.
Unlike in the US, the Indian broadcast industry has had no regulation except for some Acts from 1885 and 1933 which also lack clear definitions. This has been imperative for the growth and adoption of technology and consequently one of the reasons for the boom in TV news channels. At its financial core, the boom is valuation-based. The market loves media, TV more than print, and is rushing headlong to invest in new ventures. Institutional investors, both foreign and Indian, routinely pick up equity in new ventures in the hope that they will increase in value in the future. The 112 million TV homes make India an attractive market in terms of both value and volume.
Television is a cultural practice, located at the junction of capitalism and politics. The
massive expansion of Indian television has created an entirely new form of mass media in
India and new ways of engaging with the Indian state for a vast number of Indians. The muscular television industry is also a reflection of India’s burgeoning economic strength and that of its diasporas across the world. India is also the world’s third largest television market, which means that every global entertainment corporation wants a piece of the action. The concept of Pay TV, though relatively new in India, has further increased interest in the broadcast industry because of assured financial gains. It has also spurred broadcast companies into launching a larger bouquet of channels with news channels ruling the roost.
The rise of television news channels and their subsequent success can also be viewed in the sociological context. The Indian social context has undergone a major transformation. This metamorphosis when coupled with the ascending graph of television news channels can be viewed as a cause and effect relationship and vice-versa. The demography of India is such that there is huge populace available and ready to consume television content in different ways. Consequently this provides a fertile ground to the news channels to target them accordingly. Therefore the versatile demographic and psychographic profile of the Indian audience is a major boost in the rise of news channels.
The case studies cited in this research paper go on to establish that the Indian audiences are ready to consume a wide array of media content. The continuous growth of these news channels is an indicator of demand-supply relationship between them and the society. The study might give an impression that the Indian broadcast news industry is saturated. The truth however is that it has managed this feat in less than two decades. The presence of a versatile audience, freedom of creativity of content, global investment and a whole lot of pending proposals before the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting envision that the trend has a long run. Some restraint however is required by these news channels and sensationalism needs to be toned down. But as mentioned before, the Indian TV news is still in its adolescence and it would not be long before some maturity would be exercised.
References 1. Kohli-Khandekar, Vanita (2008), The Future of News, Brand Reporter, Issue 2, Page 3-34
2. Mahapatra, Devi Prasad, Booming Television News Channels in India, Retrieved September 1, 2008 from http://ezinearticles.com/?Booming:-Television-News-Channels-in-India&id=83168 3. A Snapashot of Indian television Industry, IndiaTelevision.com, retrieved August 27, 2008 from http://www.indiantelevision.com/indianbrodcast/history/historyoftele.htm 4. 26% FDI cap in news channels, (2003, March 19) Retrieved September 3, 2008 from http://www.indiantelevision.com/Guestbook/headlines/y2k3/mar/mar88.htm 5. Mehta, Nalin(2008). India on Television: How Satellite News Channels Have Changed the Way We Think and Act, Harper Collins.
6. Kohli-Khandekar, Vanita (2006), The Indian Media Business, Sage publications
7. Singh, Upendra, TV news channels in India: A bane for journalism?,(2008, June 8) Retrieved September 9, 2008 from http://www.merinews.com/catFull.jsp?articleID=135343
8. Ninan, Sevanti, Can journalism keep pace with India's mushrooming media?, (2007, November 27) Retrieved September 9, 2008 from http://indiainteracts.com/columnist/2007/11/27/Can-journalism-keep-pace-with-Indias-mushrooming-media/
9. Mehta, Nalin, India as a new media capital: The Global and Regional impact of Indian television (2006) Retrieved September 12, 2008 from http://184.108.40.206/search?q=cache:_XqYgexe-g8J:www.sueztosuva.org.au/south_asia/2006/Mehta.pdf+consequences+of+tv+news+channels+boom+in+India&hl=en&ct=clnk&cd=9&gl=in 10. NDTV.com, http://www.ndtv.com/ 11. Aaj Tak, http://www.aajtak.com