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Balakot: A TRP blessing for Hindi news channels

This is likely the first time when news beat general entertainment channels in terms of TRP. But there’s a catch

between march 2 and 8, two Hindi news channels beat the most-watched general entertainment channel (GEC) in the weekly viewership numbers game. These two were Aaj Tak and ABP News.

While the most-watched GEC of that week, Star Plus, recorded 110 million in viewership numbers, Aaj Tak recorded a total viewership of 143 million—33 million more. ABP News recorded a total viewership of 132 million, according to numbers provided by industry professionals.

This is significant because it’s likely the first instance where a Hindi news channel’s viewership has beaten Hindi general entertainment channels — which play a significant role in driving distribution and revenues for their respective networks.

There are several factors at play because of which Hindi news channels were able to outperform viewership numbers of entertainment channels. These include topicality of news, changes affected by the new tariff order and a decline in viewership of Hindi GECs over the years.

The week under scrutiny followed an intense week of tensions at the border. On February 26, the Indian Air Force had carried out an operation across the Line of Control in Balakot.

On this particular day, Aaj Tak had 96.8 million average impressions whereas the most-viewed Hindi GEC for the day, Zee Anmol recorded 96 million average impressions, according to BARC data. Among other channels, ABP News recorded 63.1 million average impressions, Republic Bharat recorded 36 million, Sony Pal recorded 38.1 million, Star Utsav recorded 66.8 million and Colors Rishtey recorded 49.5 million. While BARC India has suspended the public release of its numbers, these were provided to Newslaundry by senior industry professionals who wished to remain anonymous.

Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman was released and returned to India on March 1. Covering Varthaman’s release, TV news channels provided minute-by-minute updates. On this day, Aaj Tak and ABP News were way ahead of Star Utsav—the most-viewed Hindi GEC for the day—with 130.4 million and 90.5 million average impressions, respectively. What stood out was the stark difference in average impressions between Hindi news channels and GECs. On the day of Varthaman’s release, Star Utsav registered 11.5 million average impressions. Other channels recorded the following impressions: Republic Bharat (62.7 million), Sony Pal (6.8 million), Colors Rishtey (6.5 million), Zee Anmol (5.6 million).

Notably, this development also coincided with some of the top broadcasters pulling down some of their Hindi entertainment channels from the free-to-air platform of Prasar Bharati, DD Free Dish. This was done following the new regulatory framework by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI), which allows users to pick, opt and pay for channels of their choice. Instead of packs, which carried a certain set of channels, TV viewers can now pick from among free-to-air and paid channels.

Given that DD Free Dish is a free-to-air platform, the decision of top broadcasters to remove some of their Hindi entertainment channels makes economic sense. But this also meant the viewership of these Hindi entertainment channels would be hit as the state-run DTH provider’s over 20 million subscribers would no longer be able to view these channels.

This reduction in viewership of GECs is also a reason behind a news channel being able to beat an entertainment channel. The next set of numbers make this pattern clear. On February 22, Aaj Tak’s average impressions were 35.3 million. More or less, this remained the same throughout the week (apart from two exceptions mentioned above). However, the numbers for Colors Rishtey and Zee Anmol dropped drastically on and after March 1—when the channels were pulled off. Colors Rishtey came down from 48.8 million average impressions on February 22 to 5.9 million on March 3, whereas for Zee Anmol the impressions dropped by almost 84.3 million during the same period.

With consumers still figuring their choices, these numbers, then, may not reflect a viewer’s natural choice. BARC India, the industry body responsible for television-audience measurement, has also suspended the public release of its data in light of TRAI’s new tariff order and on-ground changes. The data is being made available only to BARC India’s subscribers for the time being. On February 4, the Indian Society of Advertisers had also issued an advisory against the use of viewership data from this period for media planning, evaluation and buying.

Other reasons that have impacted the Hindi GEC viewership estimates, as well as other genres, include changes in viewership measurement. With an increase in the number of panel homes, the viewership data now also includes viewership data from rural households as well as from South India. As a result, the share of non-GECs have been going up, a Business Standard report stated. The paper also reported that Hindi GECs had lost over a fifth of their viewership between 2015 and 2018.

Speaking to Newslaundry about these developments, Pankaj Krishna, Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Chrome Data and Analytics, a primary research and data analytics company, said, “Television is primarily consumed for entertainment. The way the rating system is structured globally, it is designed to resonate with entertainment. So news overtaking entertainment doesn’t mean that news is being watched more than entertainment, it means that news itself is becoming entertainment which is an area of concern.”

Note: All the viewership numbers reflect audiences above the age of 15 in Hindi-speaking markets

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