NDTV seeks loyal viewers

BY Mannika Chopra| IN Opinion | 21/04/2003
  NDTV seeks loyal viewers  



Like film stars in a newly released movie, these presenters are everywhere: plastered on hoardings, in newspaper advertisements, on radio spots.



Based on a review in the Statesman,  April 18, 2003



Mannika Chopra

How does a new news channel like the recently launched NDTV make an
impact considering it`s not only facing competition from older more
established brands but is being pitted against fresh entrants like
Headlines Today, Star News and Sahara Samay?

Well if you are NDTV you try your hardest to be different. You try a
saucier, snappier approach towards news. You publicly promise a daily
dose of breaking stories. You promote your news presenters as if they
are national masters of ceremonies. You proclaim on your website that
``credibility has many faces`` while the visual of your newcasters runs
slowly across your computer screen.  You move away subtly from the
classical definition of news that stipulates that political reporting is
`hard` news while `soft` news is all about environment, education and
social issues.


You add you-ask-and-we-answer segments like Doctor NDTV and
Travel NDTV for those bitten by the serendipity bug. You advertise a
mobile number so that that news from NDTV can be SMS-ed  to news addicts
around the clock. You stress on value added reporting by interpolating
swish graphics with field reports. You use minimalist sets that allow
you to see the awkwardly positioned legs of anchors and which have been
made by TAG Creative Brand Solutions, a company that also works for
Stephen Spielberg.  You use a signature tune full of nervous energy
composed by David Lowe for the
English channel and by A. R. Rehman for
the Hindi channel.

Just to thicken the visual brew even more you add about seven bits of
data on the TV screen while the news is being presented--including the
channel`s logo, the time, a weather report  for different towns, share
index, a heading for the main story, a subtext, a running ticker tape on
the bottom giving you the headlines of the past hour --- all preceded by
the name of the reporter, the editor of the story and the camera person
on the job.

For us, viewers overwhelmed with all this overload, the initial reaction
is to exhale a wow! But then you begin to question whether all these
fancy techniques and state-of-the-art technology will work?

It`s going to be a humungous challenge for all the new channels to stay
in the race.  Perhaps the most demanding aspect of TV news is that any
single item can turn a viewer off and send him or her scuttling to
another channel. Unlike newspaper readers who have the freedom to flip
through pages, skip stories; come back to reading a section later, a TV
viewer is stuck with the line up provided by the producer. Every item on
a news bulletin carries with it the weight of the full broadcast; one
slip and the programme can lose perhaps a million viewers or more. It`s
a frightening thought.

Perhaps, and only perhaps, one of the ways to firmly hook eyeballs to a
channel is to bind a viewer`s loyalty to a presenter. And may be that is
why for the first time in Indian television news history, NDTV in its
English (24X7) and Hindi (NDTV India) channel is going about
systematically by creating a firm bond between its news presenters and
the public. The presenter has become the message and somehow the medium
has got marginalised. Sample this promo being shown on NDTV. What does
Barkha Dutt do on her off days, asks a caption, and you have the
intrepid news personality talking about the issues of the day to a lone
toddler.  We don`t see news coverage but a one-on-one with a youngster
who by the way, is dying to get away from Dutt`s onslaught.

Like film stars in a newly released movie, these presenters are
everywhere: plastered on hoardings, in newspaper advertisements, on
radio spots.The NDTV A- team includes Barkha Dutt,  Dibang, Rajdeep
Sardesai, Sonia Varma and Naghma. These are frisky new stars of the TV
world and that`s why they need to be placed in an alphabetical
order to prevent a solar flare up. These are not writers of the first,
flawless drafts of history, faceless  transcribers of events, they are
news personalities and I am not sure whether that`s an oxymoron or not
anymore. Compared to other channels, NDTV`s recruits are `seasoned,
although old in television years, they are still young enough to make
Prannoy Roy the eminence grise of the electronic media world. They
occupy a new world where nobody who is fat, ugly or above 45 is allowed.

Unlike TV sitcoms and dramas which have a natural life span, news
channels go on forever.  Because of their regularity, news channels have
the unique ability to inculcate a brand loyalty.  There is a section of
viewership which builds up a relationship with a specific channel. It shows up at

 nine o` clock everyday to watch primetime news on a specific channel
and will not switch to CNN even though it might be broadcasting an
exclusive interview with Saddam Hussein. A television producer told me
recently that however great Aaj Tak was under its helmsman, the late
S.P.Singh, it never could wean away the hard-core viewership of Zee

But the loyalists are comparatively small in number;  TV audiences are
mostly fickle creatures.  With channels basically airing endlessly the same news---the Prime Minister`s visit to Srinagar or India`s perennial water shortage--how does anyone  stand out? Perhaps by building  a fan following and stressing  brand loyalties. So be prepared, news now is going to become a different sort of animal: reaching out and captivating the young subsumed by the infotainment world, distressing the old who are used to a different approach. Can it survive without dumbing down or sleazing up?  I wonder.


But one thing is certain, ultimately the golden tele-bibical principle will rule: the TRPs giveth and the TRPs taketh away. And in the end the viewer passeth the remote.
Mannika Chopra is the television critic of the Statesman. Contact: mannika@vsnl.com




Subscribe To The Newsletter
The new term for self censorship is voluntary censorship, as proposed by companies like Netflix and Hotstar. ET reports that streaming video service Amazon Prime is opposing a move by its peers to adopt a voluntary censorship code in anticipation of the Indian government coming up with its own rules. Amazon is resisting because it fears that it may alienate paying subscribers.                   

Clearly, the run to the 2019 elections is on. A journalist received a call from someone saying they were from Aajtak channel and were conducting a survey, asking whom she was going to vote for in 2019. On being told that her vote was secret, the caller assumed she wasn't going to vote for 'Modiji'. The caller, a woman, also didn't identify herself. A month or two earlier the same journalist received a call, this time from a man, asking if she was going to vote for the BSP.                 

View More