As the world’s largest festival of democracy winds down by dusk today, Indian television news channels are riding a wave of euphoria of record viewership. Not surprising in a country where nearly 900 million were expected to cast their vote in the world’s biggest electoral exercise. Of course, it is another matter that the final number would be much lesser than the estimate. The staggering number also represents an increase of close to 9 million eligible voters compared to last time, five years ago. Interestingly, even when 2014 witnessed the highest-ever turnout in independent India’s history at 66.4 percent, nearly 270 million people did not vote. The numbers are a goldmine for television. So, on the day of the results, everytime of day is prime time given the ‘eyeball’ every channel draws. It is almost akin to the 24/7 television viewership that 26/11 drew — 67 television channels driving 60 hours of non-stop ‘television of terror’!
Today, in India, there are a little over 900 TV channels, including General Entertainment Channels (GECs), run by 350 companies, according to the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting. Regardless of market fragmentation, viewership numbers are, therefore, astounding. Take the case of the day — March 1 — IAF officer Abhinandan Varthaman returned to India from Pakistan. Viewership of most news channels surpassed that of GECs. According to Broadcast Audience Research Council (BARC), the gross impression in 000s, Aaj Tak, in Week 8 of February during the Pulwama attack, recorded a score of 16,92,976 and in the following week of Abhinandan’s return it recorded 22,66,082. During those two weeks, ABP News clocked 3,02,678 and 4,62,693 gross impressions, respectively. On other days, GECs top viewership charts.
Patriotism makes for a deadly mix when it comes to live television coverage. “At ZEE Media, we have planned a ‘global coverage’ of this counting day through our global network and alliances. We expect to capture the attention of viewers across the globe,” said a spokesperson at ZMCL. This is in line with the tech-driven television coverage most television channels have planned for counting day to deepen reach and experience for viewers. Avinash Pandey, CEO of ABP News Network, says, “The Election Commission regulation of having five machines checked at each polling centre will lead to an increase in the time needed to calculate the votes. So, it is likely that the counting could go on for at least one-and-a-half days. I expect at the peak of the Counting Day, the ratings will be higher than the IPL finale. As a news network, we are looking at the highest audience ever delivered in a channel in any event so far.” Higher revenue rides on such spikes in viewership. While the average ruling rate on the Hindi network is Rs. 2.5 lakh/10 seconds, sources report that a particular Hindi channel has sold an ‘exclusive break’ at Rs. 11 lakh/10 seconds.
THE SOUTHERN SPIKE
In line with industry projections, Southern news channels expect a hefty 40-50% spike in advertising revenue. Kerala went to polls during Week 17 (April 20-26). As per BARC data, Malayalam news channels saw a viewership surge during that week. So, Asianet’s Sales Head B.K. Unnikrishnan reckons an over 500% rise in viewership on counting day today. “Last time we stood close to GEC ratings and this time we expect viewership to jump 500-600% as compared to normal days. There will be a good rise in revenue too. We expect an over 50% increase in revenue.” Asianet News recorded 49 million impressions during the week as compared to 40 million and 38.9 million in weeks 15 and 16.
Mathrubhumi News, another television major in Kerala, has also experienced significant volume in viewership. “We have witnessed massive traction on our news channels and digital platform during the election period. The digital section has broken all our records in terms of Page Views and Unique Visitors. The viewership data of all the mediums in Kerala combined could well become the highest in recent times,” says Philip Jose, Head Media Solutions, TV, Radio, Digital – Mathrubhumi. Mathrubhumi News recorded 21.9 million and 16.5 million impressions in Week 15 and 16. The same channel recorded 23.2 million impressions in Week 17, the polling week — the surge being self-explanatory. Viewership could compare to global levels, says P.R. Satheesh, Chief Operating Officer at Malayala Manorama TV, one of the top TV channels in Kerala. “We expect a clear surge — up to 3-4 times the daily average — in the viewership of news as a genre across the country and certainly in a politically evolved and literate state like Kerala, which consumes a significant portion of content in Malayalam.”
Manorama News recorded 29.7 million impressions during the polling week as compared to 20.6 and 23.8 million impressions in the previous weeks. Referring to revenue, Satheesh says the trends have been encouraging. “The overall advertising sponsorships and spot bookings have been good. The effect of last year’s floods have been put behind with a good start across genres in Malayalam TV and more so in news.” The Manorama Group’s digital property, Manorama Online, expects to surpass their previous ‘Best Page Views’ and nearly double their revenues on counting day. “We are looking at overshooting our previous best UVs (Unique Visitors), PVs (Page Views), and time spent, by at least 30% and double the revenues as compared to the last polls,” says a senior official at Manorama Online.
Meanwhile, Janam TV saw a viewership impression of 16.4 million, compared to 12.7 and 12.6 million in the previous weeks. 24 News recorded 13.7 million impressions during the poll week as compared to 9.1 million in week 16. Meanwhile in Telangana, Srinivas Murthy, VP, Marketing, TV5 Network, a 24- hour Telugu news channel, expects “TV viewership to rise 40-50% as compared to the 2018 Telangana elections”, adding, “the revenue generated will be around 40% more compared to the 2014 Lok Sabha elections.”
Karan Abhishek Singh,who is CEO-Languages at Network 18, says viewership could well exceed that of the IPL finale. Referring to revenue generation, Krishna Kumar, Sales Consultant at Whisper Media, says, “There should be a revenue increase of 25-30% in each of the South markets. A premium rate of an average of 1 lakh to 1.5 lakh per ten seconds has been set by leading regional news channels that too in the middle of the peak hours, between 7 hours to 14 hours’ time band.” Even in tighter media markets, such as that of Kerala and Andhra Pradesh, Kumar expects a viewership increase of at least 40-50%. Referring to digital platforms, Kumar expects a “substantial increase in traffic on websites and online platforms, mainly because most news channels have already started focusing on their websites and respective OTT platforms and started making additional revenue”. Another force multiplier has been the Facebook-owned WhatsApp, says Kumar: “Interestingly, WhatsApp has also been adding more value and traffic to the news sites with updates and interesting election stories with numbers.” Corroboration lies in empirical context. For example, in week 16 (April 13-19), Tamil news channels experienced a big surge in viewership. While Polimer News registered a viewership of 58.3 million impressions in week 16, in the 14th and 15th week, the channel had impressions of 53 million and 49 million, respectively. Not surprisingly, in the week after polling, Polimer witnessed a slide in viewership at 48.5 million impressions.
Thanthi TV recorded 36.2 million viewership during Week 16, with the previous two weeks getting 28.2 million and 32.5 million impressions. Sun News recorded a viewership of 30.9 million in Week 16, compared to 26 million impressions in the previous week. Puthiya Thalamurai recorded 29.4 million impressions versus 27.1 million impressions in Week 15. News7 Tamil recorded a viewership of 21 million impressions in Week 16, compared to 18.6 million in the previous week.