Aaj Tak, the 24-hour news and current affairs channel launched from the Living Media stable on December 31, 2000, has been in the news lately for two reasons. One, it appears to be a lucrative proposition for an impending third television channel being proposed by Sony Entertainment. And that is not only because Zee and Star have their news channels. It is because Aaj Tak has been making noises on the ratings chart at the same time that archrival Zee News has been busy putting its house in order. To get a sharper, and perhaps more informed, picture on how the battle was unfolding between the two, we decided to analyse a set of figures obtained from TAM Media Research. What we are detailing below is a recount of how the two fought each other on the ground - in distribution and availability, that is - in the four most important markets - Mumbai, Delhi, Uttar Pradesh (minus Kanpur) and Maharashtra (minus Mumbai) - and how it affected channel reach.
For those who can't wait for the details, the key inferences: During the period under study, Zee's overall reach declined in three of the four markets; Aaj Tak gained in reach in three markets (Delhi, Maharashtra, Mumbai) and lost in one (UP), but matched Zee News' reach in that region. Both channels fought bitterly for occupying the prime bands in three centres; a mild battle ensued for the prime band in Delhi too. Zee, having decent levels of overall connectivity, now needs better non-distribution arsenal (programming, promotions, and the like) to take on Aaj Tak in two markets (Mumbai, Uttar Pradesh). But perhaps another distribution push could do the trick on Aaj Tak's most powerful ground - the political capital of Delhi.
Coming to the details, first the crucial notes. Data on connectivity - reception of a channel in a television household on any one of the five frequency bands - and reach - the number of people walking into a channel for one continuous minute or more over a week - was measured between April 22 and June 2. Some may find it odd how a channel's availability may change over time. But unlike in the west, India's cable industry is highly fragmented. Nearly 125 channels fight for a place on Indian televisions, most of which cannot accommodate more than 20 channels. Of these, three are Doordarshan channels (by law; DD1, DD Metro and a regional DD channel). The next three would be Star Plus, Sony and Zee. Following this, the cable operator is bound to carry his two cable channels. All these occupy the prime band, the lowest frequency band available in all TV sets. The higher the frequency of a channel, the less its chances of being sampled. Frequent distribution exercises initiated by all channels incite cable operators across the country to keep switching channels from high frequency bands to the lower prime, colour and S bands.
So just plotting a channel's connectivity over few weeks will show varying levels of availability across the five frequency bands. This is what TAM's ConnecTAM does. Plotting this connectivity against the channel's reach is an interesting way to arrive at the correlation of a particular frequency band with the channel's reach. It also suggests when the distribution team needs to push and when the programming and promotions team need to turn hyperactive. We plotted these graphs for the two channels between April 22 and June 2 across four key markets - Mumbai, Delhi, Uttar Pradesh (minus Kanpur) and Maharashtra (minus Mumbai). Together, these markets represent more than 40 per cent of India's TV-viewing audience. Being highly receptive to Hindi, they are every Hindi channel's delight. Also, these five weeks marked one crucially news-worthy event - assembly elections in the five constituencies of West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Assam and Pondicherry. The results began airing on May 13 (week 20, in research lingo), thus heightening audience interest. You can notice a surge in reach, as well as significant availability changes in frequency bands, close to this week, and a subsequent decline in interest soon after.
Expectedly, Delhi and Uttar Pradesh have witnessed the most intense fight between the two channels. Aaj Tak enjoys a high availability in Delhi, to the extent of 80 per cent while Zee is available to around 60 per cent households. If you notice week 20 (starting May 13, when election results were announced), Zee pushed availability in the commonly accessible colour band (switching some households receiving it in S and hyper band). Aaj Tak, which had been pushing up prime band, suddenly lost in the crucial week as cable operators pushed more people in the hyper band. Yet, it recorded a phenomenal 60 per cent reach in the crucial week. It closed the last week at a reach (44.54 per cent) higher than the start (41.13 per cent) while Zee actually lost in reach between the first (32.2 per cent) and fifth week (28.17 per cent). By the last week, Aaj Tak increased audiences in the S band while its reach actually dipped. That may be an indication of the end of the correlation between connectivity and reach. Perhaps programming, or promotions, ought to take over now.
(Continued from yesterday.)
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