Numbers Game: How The ‘Rebranded’ India Today Television Garnered Maximum Tune-Ins

A little investigation reveals a worrying stratagem deployed by the group to dramatically ratchet up the television channel’s numbers.

WrittenBy:Akash Banerjee
Date:
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Full disclosure: The writer is a former journalist who has worked with Times Now and Headlines Today between 2004 and 2013. He currently works as Associate Vice-President for Times Group’s Radio Mirchi.

On May 23, one of India’s oldest English news channels – Headlines Today (technically) ceased to exist.

With much fanfare India Today Group Chairman and Editor-in-Chief Aroon Purie “launched” a rebranded/repackaged Headlines Today as India Today Television; in the process fulfilling a long-standing vision of seeing the iconic brand being delivered across all mediums — on stands, online and on-air.

Breaking from the past, Purie envisioned India Today Television as a channel that would be based on solid news and one that would strive to achieve the “gold standard of journalism” – just like its print sibling.

While India Today magazine built its formidable reputation over decades, just a name change seems to have done wonders for India Today Television, because it achieved in one week what Headlines Today couldn’t in a decade of existence. Contend for the top slot.

Quoting Broadcasters Audience Research Council (BARC) ratings for week 21 (May 23 to May 29, 2015), India Today was reported to have opened as No 1 in tune-ins across important markets in the English News genre. (All days, coverage, NCCS AB 22+ Male, 6 megacities.) An elated, Ashish Bagga, Group CEO, India Today Group, said: “The TV news space needed redefinition and a complete change in the way things are done. The revolution, with these opening reach numbers, has begun and we are confident that the coming weeks will see India Today Television leading the viewership in the genre.”

Given that (besides the packaging and marketing) India Today Television quintessentially remains Headlines Today, the “revolution” and “redefinition” of the news space seems a bit far-fetched. In fact, a little investigation reveals a worrying stratagem deployed by the group to dramatically ratchet up the television channel’s numbers to make the launch of India Today TV a “success”.

The BARC numbers show a massive spike in the reach of the channel as India Today Television went for launch. In fact, its reach more than doubled in just one week — from week 20 to 21.

Now there is nothing wrong in spending large sums of money to ensure that every DHT and cable household gets to see/ sample/ watch your channel. However, the boys at India Today headquarters went one step further. In an unusual move, they plugged India Today Television on two channels in many critical cable markets to boost their numbers.

Some of the markets where India Today is being ‘double headed’ — fed twice on to your TV screens.

TYPEMARKETCITYHEAD-ENDENGLISH NEWSHINDI NEWS/REGIONAL NEWS
Digital*BANGALOREBBMPSITI DIGITAL313598
Digital*DELHIDELHIDEN ADN368862
Digital*DELHIDELHIDEN DIGITAL OKHLA370315
Digital*DELHIDELHIDEN DIGITAL SHAHDARA370315
Digital*DELHIDELHIDEN OKHLA-RAJOURI DEMOD370315
Digital*DELHIDELHIDIGI CABLE – MANSAROVAR GARDEN354189
Digital*DELHIDELHIHATHWAY DIGITAL CHANDNI CHOWK254210
Digital*DELHIDELHIHATHWAY DIGITAL GUJRANWALA254210
Digital*DELHIDELHIHATHWAY DIGITAL PATPARGANJ254210
Digital*DELHIDELHIHATHWAY DIGITAL ROHINI254210
Digital*DELHIDELHIHATHWAY DIGITAL SAFDARJUNG254210
Digital*DELHIDELHIINSPIRE INFRATECH416312
Digital*DELHIDELHINOVA BASE DIGITAL ENT. PVT. LTD344325
Digital*DELHIDELHISATELLITE VISION517432
Digital*DELHIDELHISITI DIGITAL416312
Digital*HYDERABADGREATER HYDERABADDIGI CABLE336062
Digital*KOLKATAKOLKATAKCBP DIGITAL253494
Digital*KOLKATAKOLKATAMANTHAN DIGITAL104199
Digital*MUMBAIGREATER MUMBAI7 STAR ABS054072
Digital*MUMBAIGREATER MUMBAI7 STAR JUHU144100
Digital*MUMBAIGREATER MUMBAIDEN SUPREME CABLE NETWORK370381
Digital*MUMBAIGREATER MUMBAIHATHWAY – RAJESH MULTI CHANNEL254503
Digital*MUMBAIGREATER MUMBAIHATHWAY – SAI STAR CABLE254503
Digital*MUMBAIGREATER MUMBAIHATHWAY – SONALI CABLE254503
Digital*MUMBAIGREATER MUMBAIHATHWAY BHAWANI DIGITAL254503
Digital*MUMBAIGREATER MUMBAIHATHWAY CABLE – KAMLA MILLS254503
Digital*MUMBAIKALYAN-DOMBIVALIHATHWAY DIGITAL254503
Digital*MUMBAINAVI MUMBAIDIGI BELAPUR DIGITAL287240
Digital*MUMBAINAVI MUMBAISCOD DIGITAL253474
DigitalGUJ 1 MN.+ (INCLUDING AHMEDABAD)RAJKOTDEN DIGITAL370125
DigitalMAH .1 TO 1 MN.AURANGABADMCN DIGITAL254503
DigitalMAH .1 TO 1 MN.JALNAMCN DIGITAL254503
DigitalMAH .1 TO 1 MN.LATURHATHWAY DIGITAL254503
DigitalMP + CG LC IAMKHERAHATHWAY DIGITAL253210
DigitalMP + CG LC IBANGARDA CHHOTASITI DIGITAL416312
DigitalMP + CG LC IBANKHATHWAY DIGITAL253210
DigitalMP + CG LC IBHEDAGHATHATHWAY DIGITAL253210
DigitalMP + CG LC IBILPURAHATHWAY DIGITAL253210
DigitalMP + CG LC IGCF JABALPURHATHWAY DIGITAL253210
DigitalMP + CG LC IJABALPUR CANTTHATHWAY DIGITAL253210
DigitalMP + CG LC IKARMETAHATHWAY DIGITAL253210
DigitalMP + CG LC ILASUDIYA MORISITI DIGITAL416312
DigitalMP + CG LC ILIMBODISITI DIGITAL416312
DigitalMP + CG LC IMADAIHATHWAY DIGITAL253210
DigitalMP + CG LC IMAHARAJPURHATHWAY DIGITAL253210
DigitalMP + CG LC IMANEGAONSITI DIGITAL416312
DigitalMP + CG LC IMANGLAYA SADAKSITI DIGITAL416312
DigitalMP + CG LC IPALDAHATHWAY DIGITAL253210
DigitalMP + CG LC IPIPLYA KUMARHATHWAY DIGITAL253210
DigitalMP + CG LC ISUHAGIHATHWAY DIGITAL253210
DigitalMP .1 TO 1 MN.CHHINDWARASITI DIGITAL416312
DigitalMP 1 MN.+BHOPALBHASKAR CABLE253210
DigitalMP 1 MN.+BHOPALSITI DIGITAL416312
DigitalMP 1 MN.+INDOREHATHWAY – BTV253210
DigitalMP 1 MN.+INDORESITI DIGITAL416312
DigitalMP 1 MN.+JABALPURHATHWAY DIGITAL253210
DigitalMP 1 MN.+JABALPURSITI DIGITAL416312
DigitalPHCHP .1 TO 1MN.GURGAONHATHWAY DIGITAL254210
DigitalPHCHP 1 MN.+FARIDABADSITI DIGITAL416312
DigitalRAJASTHAN 1 MN.+JAIPURSITI DIGITAL416312
DigitalUP .1 TO 1 MN.GHAZIABADDEN DIGITAL370315
DigitalUP .1 TO 1 MN.MAINPURIHATHWAY DIGITAL254210
DigitalUP .1 TO 1 MN.NOIDADEN DIGITAL – NOIDA370315
DigitalUP .1 TO 1 MN.NOIDAHATHWAY DIGITAL NOIDA254210
DigitalUP .1 TO 1 MN.NOIDASITI DIGITAL416312
DigitalUP 1 MN.+ALLAHABADICE HATHWAY253210
DigitalUP LC IDANKAURSITI DIGITAL416312
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Screenshots of Indian Today TV being ‘double headed’ on Den Network in Delhi

This means that for a viewer flipping through channels, he/she would “tune into” into India Today in the English news space and also encounter the same channel among the Hindi News channels – thereby giving the newly-launched channel an abnormally high number of “tune-ins”.

While this is perfectly legal, it sets off a dangerous trend in the already dog-eat-dog world of Television Rating Points. Already Times Now seems to be catching up. Concerned about its market position being challenged, it has also started broadcasting on multiple frequencies on cable companies like Den and Hathway.

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So, then it becomes a pure money play now – already starved of funds, news channels will now race each other to occupy maximum number of channels in premium markets to show market share. Quality content be dammed. Imagine now what would happen if the general entertainment channels, or GECs, (with much deeper pockets) start adopting this strategy.

Industry watchers say it’s highly unusual for a broadcaster to burn substantial amount of money on making their channel available twice over on the same cable service. “This has never been done in the news space,” says one marketing executive, adding that “there is no way you can sustain this expensive gimmick every week just to boast of a great reach. Ultimately your product has to be that good.”

The product is where India Today’s dream run might come to an end soon. While the focus on increasing reach has garnered great tune-ins, viewers are just not spending time on the channel. In week 21, the average time spent on the channel has actually gone down, compared to the week before.

India Today’s numbers have surged with a spike in reach – but viewers are spending even less time on the channel

Market : All India AB 1lac+
Households(Source – BARC)
Channels – ReachWeek 20Week 21
Times Now3.723.95
India Today Television1.984.81
Channels – RatingsWeek 20Week 21
Times Now1.061.77
India Today Television0.560.75
Channels – Avg. Time SpentWeek 20Week 21
Times Now00:05:4600:07:06
India Today Television00:05:3000:03:41

In the same week 21, BARC numbers for the much-berated “Prime Time” is worse with Times Now holding a 76 per cent viewer share in the 9 pm to 10.30 pm slot from Monday to Friday (all India AB males 22+). While India Today could garner only a measly 10 per cent. Clearly then, beyond the smokescreen of “reach” and “tune-ins”, actual viewing matters.

While Purie’s quest of quality journalism is commendable, this sort of ethical hara-kiri for ratings is probably not what he had in mind when he lent Headlines Today a name he has personally built and protected for four decades.

Here’s hoping that some sanity returns to an already crisis-hit news industry, where wages have been frozen in time and innovation has stopped at debates. Let India Today practise the “gold standard” that it advocates as it sets about redefining the television landscape.

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