The already crowded TV news space has seen at least three dozen new launches in the past five months coinciding with the ongoing elections. Besides the so-called national space that comprises Hindi and English channels operating mainly out of Delhi, small broadcast markets such as Haryana, Chhattisgarh, Uttarakhand, Rajasthan, and Kerala too have witnessed some hurried launches.
India is already a unique market, with as many news channels as those for all other genres such as general entertainment, films and sports put together. The trigger for the fresh avalanche, according to those in the business, was the elections.
According to estimates, more than Rs 300 crore has already been spent on political advertising on TV so far. While this was the lure for some players, for others the attraction was the assumed influence a news channel wields over politics and politicians, say those in the business.
The new promoters mainly included real estate developers, regional businessmen as well as large corporate houses, some with alleged political leanings. In March, for instance, TV18 Broadcast, with Reliance Industries as its primary investor, launched a Bangla news channel followed by one in Kannada.
Three more, targeting Gujarat, Orissa, Haryana and Himachal Pradesh were added last month, said Jagdeesh Chandra, head, ETV News Network. Chandra said all the relatively known 70 news channels in the north are making losses except the ETV Network. “I have no idea why people want to get into this business,” he said.
Another player to branch into regional markets was News Nation, a broadcast news network co-promoted by industrialist Abhey Oswal, the father-in-law of Congress MP Naveen Jindal. After a successful launch of its Hindi channel, the group launched new channels in UP and Uttarakhand. Notably, Oswal already has a little less than a 15 per cent stake in NDTV Ltd.
Supreme Court advocate Pradeep Rai, who has represented politicians such as Amar Singh, Lalu Prasad and Mulayam Singh Yadav in several controversial cases, has launched a national news channel, APN, with its primary focus on UP, Uttarakhand, Jharkhand and Bihar. “Once the elections are over, we will launch dedicated channels in all these markets alongside the national news operator,” said Raju Sareen who heads marketing operations for Rai.
APN’s editorial team is led by Inderjit Budhwar. A number of the new entrants have direct or indirect affiliations with parties or leaders. In Kerala, an RSS-backed channel called Janam (people) was launched last month. Madhyamam Group, with strong connections with the Jamait-e-Islami, relaunched its general entertainment channel MediaOne as an exclusive news channel.
Kerala Chamber of Commerce, too, launched News Now. In the politically charged market of Andhra Pradesh, the new launches include TV8, Praja TV, Express TV, ABC TV and YTV besides SixTV. Haryana, thanks to its proximity to the national capital and Hindi-speaking populace, was well-served by the so-called national TV channels till a few years ago.
But in the past three to six months, at least half-a-dozen news operators tossed their hats in the ring. Some prominent names included Haryana Express, promoted by real estate company P7; Eyewitness, whose promoters are said to be from former assembly speaker Dr Raghuvir Singh Kadian’s family; Khabar Fast and Fast News.
Other incumbents include India News Haryana, run by former Congress leader Venod Sharma’s son Kartikeya Sharma; Haryana News backed by tainted minister Gopal Kanda and Tehelka News, owned by Trinamool Congress leader K D Singh.
The other markets to have witnessed action included Uttarakhand, UP, Madhya Pradesh, Orissa and Maharastra. News Express, the channel that in March ran a sting operation alleging corruption in Exit Polls, for instance, entered Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra.
The state, interestingly, is seeing a proliferation of city specific channels, too. Pune, Nagpur, Nashik and Aurangabad, for instance, have several local news channels of their own.
Even as TV news viewership remains small (less than 8% of the total TV viewership), its share in the total ad pie is even smaller to sustain so many channels. as in the past, For the record, till March 2014, a total of 792 channels had been given the permission to run operations in India and of these, 392 were news channels. In 2013-14, total TV news garnered around Rs 2,000 crore in advertising and 80 per cent of this went to the top 10 players.