Prachi Srivastava

How do channels cope with the loss of their 'star' anchors?

Rajdeep Sardesai, Karan Thapar and Sagarika Ghosh made news when they quit CNN-IBN recently. There are unconfirmed reports of other well-known anchors exiting channels. How does it affect the latter when 'star' anchors quit?

What is the first name that comes to your mind when we say Times Now? What is the first name that comes to your mind when we say CNN-IBN? That's an easy one. Arnab Goswami and Rajdeep Sardesai, who can be categorised as 'star anchors', are more than just "news presenters".

While the TV news industry is full of anchors, there are just a handful that are popular enough to drive viewership to a channel and be called 'star anchors'. These include Ajay Kumar, Barkha Dutt, Deepak Chaurasia, Nidhi Razdan, Prannoy Roy, Punya Prasun Bajpai, Rajat Sharma, Shereen Bhan and Vikram Chandra.

After the recent exit of Karan Thapar (to Headlines Today), Sardesai and Sagarika Ghosh from CNN-IBN and news of other well-known anchors' imminent exit floating around, afaqs! looks at how the channels get affected when these 'star' anchors quit.

News presenters or newsmakers?

Star news anchors are the face of news channels. They carry the equity of the channel and endorse the brand. Their shows - 'Aap Ki Adaalat' in Sharma's case, 'News Hour' for Goswami and 'India@9' in the case of Sardesai -eventually became the shows through which the channels got recognition.

How do channels cope with the loss of their 'star' anchors?
How do channels cope with the loss of their 'star' anchors?
How do channels cope with the loss of their 'star' anchors?
How do channels cope with the loss of their 'star' anchors?
Sharma (chairman and editor-in chief, India TV) is of the view that, internationally, anchors have always been important for a news channel and have driven the entire channel, or network, with their credibility. "Of late, that trend has started gaining momentum in India too. An anchor's style of presentation or just sheer presence alone can create pull not only for their programmes but also get more viewers to the channel in the process," adds Sharma.

A good anchor must have presentation skills, be able to build up a certain traction among people, have a stance on a topic, be quick on his/her feet, have the ability to provoke people as well as keep them in check and be extra alert in case of panel discussions (in order to keep track of who is saying what), be research-oriented and be able to come up with multiple questions. A great deal of intellectual acumen is called for to become a good anchor.

The star news anchors, mentioned earlier, have all of that in abundance. Apart from the technicalities, star anchors have a decisive say in the choice of guests, topics, the various angles of a topic, the content, its flow, its angle. "Star anchors have become synonymous to channel image and the channel also pushes them in their promotional and marketing strategies," explains Rahul Dev, veteran journalist and former editor-in-chief, CNEB.

The credibility of such anchors also drives experts and popular commentators on to the channels. For instance, Rahul Gandhi chose to give an interview to Goswami, while Narendra Modi selected both Goswami and Sharma to give his "important" pre- and post-election interviews.

English rule

It is no secret that the viewership numbers of Hindi news channels are much higher than the English news genre, but the popularity that English news shows and anchors enjoy are at another level.

Hindi news anchors are much more into direct reporting than English ones who are more opinionated and hence stand out. Vidhu Sagar, EVP, Carat Media Sagar adds that there are channels that have started giving "news with views" instead of just news. The base product is at one level for all the channels, but some like Times Now and CNN-IBN have started to add "masala", while presenting news to the viewers. "Having said that, even in the Hindi space, there are those who have their own pockets of popularity," he hastens to add.

Ajay Kumar, channel head, News Nation, is of the opinion that Hindi news anchors have strong points of view on subjects and their reach is far wider than English news anchors. "It matters which audience you are talking to. If it's the so-called English speaking and urban audiences, the English anchors might be popular but in the heartland, it's the Hindi news that rules the roost."

What if they quit?

Much of the viewership of a news channels comes from the primetime slot of 8-11 pm. In the case of Hindi news genre it is almost 30 per cent, while for English, it is around 20-30 per cent. Prime time is when star anchors occupy the channels with their respective shows.

As a result, the viewership of a channel that is backed by one or two star anchors takes a hit when these anchors leave the channel. They take away a bit of appointment viewing with them too. Sharma points out that history has seen great combinations of the anchor and the channel working wonders but often when the combination breaks, the results - specifically for the anchors - haven't been so great. "Not all star anchors make a difference," says Sharma.

It is also not true that the star anchors are real stars. The 'Real Stars would be defined as people who have managed to take the viewers to the channel they have joined next.

Vikram Chandra, CEO, NDTV Group believes that news anchors stand out when news becomes commoditised. He points out that NDTV has never depended on one anchor. "Dr Roy has believed in nurturing them. NDTV has always had a large number of prominent faces and a range of good anchors," says Chandra

On the advertising front, Kishan Kumar Shyamalan, client director, Maxus Bangalore says that there are two types of audiences that come on to a news channel - sloppy and appointment viewers. The first one arrives at a news channel while surfing and watches news content of his, or her, interest. The second type is a smaller set. But does advertising also move with an anchor?

Who loses?

How do channels cope with the loss of their 'star' anchors?
How do channels cope with the loss of their 'star' anchors?
"It all depends on the advertising category. Those special advertisers who spend in the genre just to take these driver shows as impact properties may leave the channel but those who spend heavily on the news genre anyway might stick, adds Shyamalan.

Like any business, a news channel too is concerned when its major driver leaves. In order to make up for any negative impact on ratings following such exits, they need to have a back-up plan which includes replacing the anchor with another anchor of similar stature, or someone who can bring the same level of credibility to the table. The best way would be to have more than one or two star anchors and nourish and promote a good range of anchors which might become faces to which audiences can associate with.

Aaj Tak - despite witnessing major departures (Chaurasia, Bajpayi and Kumar) - maintained a healthy position by tweaking content, introducing more entertainment content, steadily investing in technology and picture quality. It also made sure that the distribution was in the right place.

According to Kumar, the relationship between a news channel and the face leading it is symbiotic. "If the anchor leaves, it's a loss that is suffered by both. However, the process of recovery for the channel is quicker than that of the individual. The channel can replace the anchor by another powerful personality but as an individual anchor, I should be able to get a channel that will offer me the same platform like the earlier channel," he points out. That is a factor that may haunt even a superstar anchor.

With additional inputs from Haresh Shriyan, COO, OMD and ‎Pradeep Khatri, chief manager - Marketing at India TV.

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