Network18's Reliance effect

After Reliance took over Network18, how have its TV channels fared as compared with rivals?
PARANJOY GUHA THAKURTA finds that CNN IBN has lost out, but not the business channels of the group.
Network18's Reliance effect

Around this time a year ago the Mukesh Ambani-led Reliance group took over the Network18 group.   Have there been significant changes since then in the popularity of the television channels run by the media conglomerate? The answer varies for the different genres of channels.

Going by viewership data CNN IBN has seen  a steady shrinkage of its share of viewership, but the business channel CNBC TV18 has maintained its earlier viewership.  We did a comparitive review of the ratings of these channels and their competitors over three periods, using audience research data.

In India, television viewing statistics are currently put out by two organisations, TAM Media Research Private Limited (TAM standing for Television Audience Measurement) and the Broadcast Audience Research Council (BARC), which has only recently been providing data on television viewing. A researcher from a media company crunched the numbers given by TAM and BARC and came up with certain interesting conclusions (see chart).

 

The first period taken was the two months of April and May 2014 before the Reliance takeover at the end of May.  The second was the period of June-July  2014  after the takeover. The third period taken was May 2015, and all three of these use TAM figures. But since another set of viewership data from a competing audience research firm became available in April 2015, one week of  the same period, May 2015, was also taken from BARC data. The latest BARC data available at time of doing this analysis pertains to the week 23 - 29 May 2015.

The data shows that CNN-IBN has steadily lost viewership over these three sampling blocks. Its share of the total market has shrunk from 26 per cent in April-May 2014 to 19 per cent in June-July that year and further to 16 per cent in May 2015.

However it has managed to stay ahead of rival channels Headlines Today/India Today and NDTV. But Times Now was ahead by a significant margin and according to TAM figures for May 2015 NewsX too was ahead of CNN IBN. The BARC figures for the last week of May 2015 give Times Now an even sharper edge (49 per cent)  and put  both India Today and NewsX ahead of CNN IBN.

Overall, over these three periods,  market leader Times Now's share shrank from 35 per cent to 32 per cent and then went up to 41 per cent while the share of NewsX went up from 15 per cent to 19 per cent. The shares of the two other English news channels see-sawed: Headlines Today/India Today went up from 12 per cent to 16 per cent and then came down to 10 per cent as did the shares of NDTV 24x7 from 12 per cent to 14 per cent and 13 per cent.

The BARC data for 23-29 May 2015, however, tells a different story altogether. Times Now is in the top position with 49 per cent market share followed by India Today (20 per cent) and NewsX (14 per cent). CNN-IBN has been placed in the fourth place with 11 per cent market share followed by NDTV 24x7 with 6 per cent. 

(The latest BARC data for the week that ended on 5 June indicates that India Today channel has pipped Times Now as the most viewed English television news channel in the country. Whether this marks a new trend remains to be seen.)  

Then you have the Hindi channel IBN 7  which ranks seventh after Aaj Tak, ABP News, India TV, Zee News,  and others. It retained its seventh place and improved its viewership modestly from 6 per cent to 7 per cent.

The Business channels

 CNBC TV 18 on the other hand  increased its share of viewership according to the TAM data. It has gone from 40 per cent in April May 2014 to 50 per cent in the immediate post Reliance period and 51 per cent in May 2015. But BARC data puts its share at 40 per cent in May 2015, no different from a year ago, before it was acquired by Reliance. This data indicates that with a market share of 43 per cent ET Now - part of the Times group - had overtaken CNBC-TV18 (40 per cent share) as the leading English business new channel in the country. 

The best performer in the stable has been CNBC Awaaz, the  group's Hindi business news channel. Its market share has gone up from 54 per cent to 62 per cent to 59 per cent over this period according to TAM.  The data from BARC puts is viewership share in this genre at 69 per cent in May 2015. Whether you look at TAM or BARC it is way ahead of Zee Business, the other Hindi business news channel.

The data put out by these agencies have come in for considerable criticism for, among other things, being unrepresentative, inadequate and easily prone to manipulation. Media organisations typically cherry-pick or selectively use TAM and BARC numbers to suit their marketing pitches. Thus, different channels at different points of time claim they are "leaders" by splicing statistics in ways that favourably portray one channel against its competitors.

In the case of general and business TV news channels in English, the TAM figures are all-India and for males above the age of 25 in the top two segments ("A" and "B") out of the five categories that come under its Socio-Economic Classification (SEC).

Furthermore, the figures relate to those viewers who reside in cities with a population in excess of one million. In other words, the demographic segment considered is India's urban upper and middle classes, almost in their entirety.

The population segment considered in the case of Hindi news channels is all-India and takes into account both male and female viewers above the age of 15. To use TAM's jargon, the category is HSM-CS meaning Hindi Speaking Market - Cable and Satellite. In the case of the Hindi business news channels, only males above the age of 25 have been considered in SEC A and B segments.

The past track-record of the Reliance group in owning and running media outlets has not exactly been a brilliant one. Nearly 15 years ago, the group, which was then controlled by an undivided Ambani family, shut down a daily, the Observer of Business and Politics, and a weekly, the Sunday Observer, that it had been publishing.

Subsequently, the Ambani siblings, Mukesh and Anil, two of the richest men in India,  parted ways. Companies controlled by the younger brother Anil have invested not only in entertainment media companies but also in news media companies.

The Reliance group led by Mukesh Ambani has substantial direct and indirect financial interests in a number of media groups, besides the Network18 group.

Will the Ambanis succeed in improving the performance of television channels like CNN-IBN, CNBC-TV18, CNBC Awaz and IBN7, besides its newly-launched business news channel in Gujarati CNBC Bajar?

One year is perhaps too short a time to arrive at a definite conclusion. But the writing on the wall seems clear. The group's English news channel has been negatively impacted since it was taken over by the Ambanis, but not its other offerings on the small screen. At least, not so far.

Whether the loss of market share by CNN-IBN is a consequence of its editorial position, the loss of prominent anchors or due to other reasons, is a topic worthy of deeper discussion.

Paranjoy Guha Thakurta is an independent journalist, film maker and educator  

 

Related link:

Contesting the Hoot's Network18 analysis

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