The sheer flood of news channels on Indian television prompts one to speculate whether there is scope for any more players in the news broadcast space. Popular news anchor and broadcaster Rajat Sharma, who recently threw his hat into the ring by launching news channel India TV, thinks there is. "Though there is no space for just another news channel, there is certainly a market for a responsible news channel," he is emphatic.
And a 'responsible news channel' is precisely how Sharma plans to position India TV and differentiate it from the rest of the pack. "The basis of this positioning we have arrived at is through two simultaneous researches," he explains. "While, we hired the services of IMRB for a formal research, I personally and informally went around the country - even to smaller towns like Gorakhpur, Rajkot, Udaipur and cities like Ahmedabad, Kolkata and Delhi - and talked to groups of 500 to 800 people about what they expected from a news channel." Sharma claims that both the IMRB reports and his personal experience suggested that people are looking for news reportage that is accurate, credible and responsible. "The (US electronic media's) coverage of September 11 mishap (the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center) never showed dead corpses or blood, unlike in India where news channels shows things like people bleeding, amputated arms and legs, or security forces kicking a dead corpse," he makes his point, adding, "Journalism is unnecessarily sensationalized in India, and India TV would avoid that. We would concentrate on the accuracy of news rather than running to report the news first."
Although India TV is being formally launched on May 20, the channel has a made a strategic move of doing a test run on the eve of the elections. Sharma, however, explains this by saying, "We had decided the date of the launch (May 20, 2004) almost a year ago, assuming that the elections would be held in October. But as the elections were pre-poned, although we decided to stick to the date of the official launch, we did not want to lose the opportunity to cover the world's biggest elections. Also, there was tremendous demand from both within and outside the organization." He agrees that the test launch provided an opportunity to test the channel's signals and systems, and, of course, gauge the response from the market as well as viewers.
With an investment of approximately Rs 70 crore, the channel would be free to air, and will be beamed from the PAS 10 satellite, which also beams channels such as Sony, Ten Sports, ESPN, HBO, MTV, BBC and CNN. This is also the reason why India TV is targeting cable operators through advertising spread across all forms of media.
Commenting on the programming strategy that India TV would pursue, Sharma says that while the channel would largely cover political events, it would also include programmes on socially relevant issues such as environment, health, animal welfare, education and sanitation, in the process "becoming a mouthpiece for the common man". Sharma adds that every channel is driven by couple of programmes, "and at India TV, we plan to have a bouquet of such programmes".
India TV, through its programming, plans to appeal to the masses as well as the classes, and Sharma is categorical that the channel will aim to enter each and every Indian home, irrespective of its socio economic class. However, he points out that in the first phase of its operations, India TV would concentrate more on the Hindi-speaking states and also parts of non-Hindi-speaking states such as Orissa, Karnataka and West Bengal.
For television production company Independent News Service, the launch of a full-fledged news channel is fairly momentous. "When I started hosting Aap Ki Adalat, little did I know that I would launch a news channel one day," Sharma smiles as he speaks about the company's transition. "The idea of launching a full-fledged news channel came to my mind while I was working on ZEE News (then India's first private news bulletin on popular entertainment channel ZEE), but at that point in time, I had planned to do it for ZEE. It was only after I parted with ZEE and came up with my own production house doing the programme Aaj Ki Baat (when Ernst & Young came with the proposal of launching a news channel) that I decided to extend it to a full-fledged news channel."
Sharma, who has a pro-BJP image in the minds of many television viewers, takes pains to set the record straight. He maintains that political figures such as Arun Jaitely and Ranjan Bhattacharya (foster son-in- law of Prime Minister AB Vajpayee) have been his friends from his college. "Little did I know at that point in time that Arun Jaitely would become a minister in the government or that Bhattacharya would become the son-in-law of the Prime Minister." He adds that he also has friends in the Congress party from his journalistic days - "people whom I have grilled in Aap Ki Adalat." Sharma assures that his political connections would not in any way impair the content of his channel. "I have strictly advised my editorial team that they should never have a biased approach while covering news, and should place the accurate picture in front of viewers," he says. © 2004 agencyfaqs!