Anirban Roy Choudhury
Media

English news channel fracas

Controversy is food for the News TV business. This time, however, it is the business itself that is making news.

When the combative Arnab Goswami announced his plan to launch Republic TV earlier this year, it was anticipated that the ruling English news channels would resist its headway in every way possible. Nobody could have predicted just what shape the battle would take - or its intensity.

English news channel fracas

Last week Bennett, Coleman - owner of Times Now - lodged a complaint against its former employee Goswami and a colleague for theft, criminal breach of trust, misappropriation of property and infringement of intellectual property rights over the use of certain material on Republic TV.

On its heels has come an even bigger fracas and one which involves most major English news channels.

It not only pitted Republic TV against other English news channels; it also made adversaries of two industry bodies: Broadcast Audience Research Council (BARC), which measures TV viewership and the News Broadcasters Association (NBA), which represents 62 news and current affairs channels.

Thursday is the most important day in the Indian TV business because that's when BARC releases viewership data for all channels for the week gone by. Last week, before T-day, NBA wrote two letters to BARC on May 15 and May 17 asking it to desist from releasing data relating to Goswami's Republic TV. NBA's grouse: Republic TV was using multiple LCNs (Logical Channel Number) to boost its viewership numbers in its first week.

BARC went ahead nevertheless. The data released for Week 19 (May 6-12, 2017) placed Republic TV at the No 1 position in the English news category with 2.11 million Impressions. Times Now, the leader, came second with 1.14 million Impressions.

NBA promptly sent a third missive saying, "We find that despite our two letters you have gone ahead and released the inflated and corrupt data for Republic TV as of this morning. This has serious implications and has caused irreversible damage to India's existing English news TV channels."

Going on, the letter states, "Given your indifference to the serious situation at hand, we are left with no option but to advice some of our aggrieved members to opt out of the BARC's watermarking system with immediate effect until there is appropriate redressal of our grievence."

True to its threat, CNN-IBN, India Today TV, NewsX and Times Now have pulled out of BARC India's audience measurement system.

afaqs! reached out to Annie Joseph, Secretary General of NBA as well as Ashish Bagga, the organisation's President as also Group CEO India Today Group-TV Today Network for comment but failed to get a response.

What is the issue with additional LCNs?

English news channel fracas
Vynsley Fernandes, broadcast media consultant and project specialist, Castle Media, explains that "any distribution platform - be it cable or DTH (Direct to Home) - has a Logical Channel Number (LCN). For example, if Star Sports HD 1 is on channel 484, a consumer need only remember that and not surf the entire sports genre to get there."

Fernandes says there is nothing new about using multiple LCNs: "In the past, channels across genres have used multiple LCNs. Whenever there is a new launch, rebranding, or big event coverage broadcasters use multiple LCNs to multiply the opportunity to see."

In fact, in an interview with afaqs! earlier this year, MK Anand, managing director and chief executive officer, Times Network, had complained about CNBC-TV 18 using additional LCNs before claiming viewership domination on Budget day.

The point is, using multiple LCNs to increase reach is an old game. In fact, even in the disputed week, other news channels were using multiple LCNs.

Republic TV couldn't have asked for a more sensational entry into the game. The controversy has succeeded in making a newbie appear like it is fighting everybody else single-handed.

However, keeping a channel on multiple LCNs is an expensive affair and is similar to the effort a marketer of fast moving consumer goods might make to dominate the retail trade during a launch. It cannot be sustained. Sooner or later, Republic TV will have to pull back on its reach and then the real - and longer-term - popularity of Republic TV will emerge.