The top four channels by viewership in both English and Hindi made windfall gains from government spending on ads in 2013-14. It’s mostly gone downhill since.
Previously, we examined how the Indian government is spending ever more money on advertising and how substantial sums of it are funding the promotion of bigotry, especially by TV news. In the third part of our series, we take a close look at overall trends in how the government has been giving ads to leading news channels.
We look at government ad money received by the top eight channels by viewership: Times Now, India Today, CNN News18, and NDTV in English; Zee News, Aaj Tak, NDTV India, and India TV in Hindi. Given the study covers the period from 2012-13, only channels that existed back then are considered. This is why channels such as Republic TV, Republic Bharat, and ABP News are not included even though they have featured among the most watched news channels in recent years.
All eight channels saw their ad revenues drop in 2012-13, only to see a spike the following year, ahead of the 2014 general election. In the Hindi segment, Aaj Tak saw the steepest drop in 2013-14, its government ad revenue plummeting to Rs 260.63 lakh from Rs 543.84 lakh the previous year. NDTV India suffered the least, losing Rs 100.53 lakh in the same year, according to data provided by the Department of Advertising and Visual Publicity in response to RTI applications.
In the English news segment, CNN News18 saw its revenue drop to Rs 36.31 lakh from Rs 105.89 lakh the year before. India Today, on the other end, lost Rs 20.42 lakh to end up with a total of Rs 3.42 lakh.
In 2013-14, they all profited from generous government ad spending, Hindi channels much more than English ones. Aaj Tak was the biggest beneficiary in the Hindi segment, getting Rs 775.33 lakh, three times as much as in 2012-13, followed by India TV, which received Rs 750.03 lakh. In the English segment, CNN News18 took the biggest piece of the pie, of Rs 166.26 lakh, and India Today the smallest, of Rs 96.81 lakh.
From 2012-13 to 2018-19, the four top English news channels never received more government ad money than in 2013-14. It was the year the Manmohan Singh government substantially raised the share of ad spending on electronic media, to about 50 percent from 30 percent the previous year. Each year since then, they have received lesser and lesser ad money, save for a slight increase in 2016-17 for the three channels other than Times Now. From 2015-16, the four Hindi channels similarly saw government ad revenues shrink year after year from.
Source: RTI responses by the Department of Advertising and Visual Publicity.
By 2018-19, all eight channels had arrived at the same point: they received the least ad money since 2011-12. Rather surprisingly, given the government’s ad spending on electronic media increased that year.
Overall, Hindi TV news channels have received much more government ad money than English channels since 2012-13. The least ad money received by any of the four English channels across the years was Rs 0.88 lakh by India Today in 2018-19, while the lowest amount received by a Hindi channel was Rs 16.46 lakh by NDTV India the same year. Similarly, the most received by an English channel was Rs 166.26 lakh by CNN News18 in 2013-14, as against Rs 805.14 lakh for Aaj Tak in 2016-17.
Interestingly, the decline in government ad revenues for top TV channels has coincided with an upward trend in news viewership, which has grown by 46 percent in the last four years, from 2,952 billion viewing minutes in 2016 to 4,324 billion viewing minutes in 2019, according to a report by the TV ratings agency BARC. These are numbers for the news genre as a whole, though. Broken down, the numbers show that while viewership for Hindi channels grew by about 31 percent between 2016 and 2019, it declined for English channels.
This is the third part of a series on how Indian governments advertise with the media. The first part detailed the funding of Sudarshan News channel. The second part explained how the Narendra Modi government is spending ever more on media ads and who this benefits.
A weekly capsule of our podcasts, part of some of India's most-followed podcasts on media, politics, pop culture, food and more.