Avinash Pandey, CEO, ABP Network, believes it is however not good in the long run
GN Bureau | June 11, 2021
Though there is no weekly viewership data for individual news channels coming since mid-October 2020, after allegations of manipulation of television rating points (TRPs) by three news channels, percentage of viewers watching news across the world doubled during lockdown. According to Avinash Pandey, CEO, ABP Network, no rating is better than bad rating.
If the rating system is compromised and does not reflect ground picture, then no rating is better than having a rating that is questionable, Pandey said while speaking to Kailashnath Adhikari, MD, Governance Now, during the live webcast of Visionary Talk series held by the public policy and governance analysis platform.
“No rating is better than a bad rating. More or less, shouting matches on different TV channels have almost ended and channels are covering PM speeches…,” he said as he added that the ratings agency is to differentiate between an audience that is enjoying an entertaining program vis-à-vis rating a news program.
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Pandey said that the NCCS (new consumer classification system) used to classify households that have electricity supply is flawed and needs to be changed. “When the PM is talking of $5 trillion economy we are talking of measuring audience on the criterion of having a TV set at home or having a bike at home. With such an assessment you are comparing audience that watches the news with base-level entertainment programs.”
However, adding that not having data is not good for the industry the long run, he said industry leaders must ensure that data which comes in is robust and sound. Data delivered to news broadcasters should be free of error and demands of news broadcasters must be met. “If that happens, news broadcasters will go back to ratings and everyone will be happy. Right now, it looks like it’s good for content and good for the advertiser,” he said.
Pandey said the business of news is to inform, educate and entertain. But here, the last one gets precedence over two others. “That is the problem. Despite the fact that India’s biggest reform in the last two years has been the education sector reform, no TV channel has debated it or held any discussions on news channels. There has been no news around education reforms,” he said.
“Despite this, today news is focused on what it should be on and its coverage is much better,” said Pandey.
The reason for this, he said, is the BARC data which suggests that whenever you run a program which is mindless sensation, shouting on top of your voice, fighting with each other, and doing gimmicks in front of the camera, the ratings start going up because inherently the BARC system seems to have been designed to measure entertainment which it does very well. But it is not good enough to measure serious content like news.
The present model of broadcast news, Pandey said, is extremely flawed as it is only dependent on advertising. It is high on risk side and heavily dependent on advertising for revenue. He said that sooner or later news broadcasters should move to a pay model which will eliminate inefficiencies in the system. They should create content which people want to subscribe, take an appointment and watch. That will give revenue measure and people will pay for it. Right now, it is free to air and dependent on rating.
“And when your entire revenue is dependent on advertising, editors are tempted to cover those stories that are slightly on the edge of entertainment or sensational and this has brought down the overall quality of Indian television news over a period of time. However, the quality of news has not gone down entirely. Providing news in an interesting manner is an important ingredient for a news channel to be successful,” said Pandey.
He added that despite these compulsions all news editors have always believed that even when some part of news is done for ratings, most news has delivered groundbreaking content. No other channel in the world can compare with [those in] India which is diverse and different where something is happening every day.”
The ABP head honcho said with the only business where 90% of the cost is fixed you have to create engaging content. Producing engaging content requires a lot of money and if that money is used to pay as carriage fees to the cable operator, where is the money left to create content? The broadcast has to get out of the numbers game, he said.
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