Nisha Qureshi

CNBC Awaaz's Anuj Singhal on navigating the challenges of running a Hindi business news channel

The managing editor speaks about how the channel is expanding its horizons beyond the stock market and adapting to changing viewer preferences.

Anuj Singhal is  undeniably one of the most recognisable figures  in the business news world. Currently, the managing editor of CNBC Awaaz, he has been associated with the network for over two decades. 

Launched in 2005, CNBC Awaaz stands as  one of the first Hindi business news channels in the country and it broke a lot of preconceived notions, says Singhal. The channel managed to bridge the gap between English, traditionally  considered the language of business in India and the aspirational middle class of the country. This resulted in a surge in viewership stemming from the middle and lower classes, particularly from the hinterland and metro cities, who found comfort in consuming business news in their native language. 

Singhal says that despite business news being very TV dominated, owing to the constrained buying and selling of stocks in real-time, CNBC Awaaz has managed to carve a niche in the digital realm, especially on Youtube, achieving  record numbers. The network’s English channels have already forayed into connected TV, and Awaaz is set to follow suit shortly.

On overcoming biases and festive anticipation

Singhal says that while Hindi has a larger market share than English, advertisers are still biassed towards English channels. However, he notes that there is a gradual but consistent shift in this perception.

“Hindi still doesn’t get as much advertising rates as English channels. That's again because of your perception that the ones who have spending power are mostly watching English or mostly reading English news and not really consuming Hindi news.”

He further adds that the issue is not only restricted to the advertising side, as they face similar challenges in the editorial space too.

“Unfortunately Hindi is still seen by many big corporations as not the preferred medium to interact. They clearly still have their biases against Hindi, maybe because it's considered an affluent language of the rich or maybe traditionally a language of the CEOs. Many CEO’s refuse to do interviews in Hindi for the channel.”

However, with the festive season in sight, the channel expresses optimism and positivity regarding the anticipated business and revenue. Singhal says advertisers across sectors are expecting robust demand and they are hence dialling up their advertising efforts leading up to the season.

“This is going to be CNBC Awaaz’s year, we are going to pick up a lot in terms of revenue and we are working towards that. The initial festive signs seem to be very positive. I think it's a given that if the stock market is rising and since most of our advertisers are related to the stock market in some way or the other, it's natural that advertising rates would have gone up.”

Singhal adds that while the channel’s primary advertisers have been financial services, there has been a notable influx of fintech clients.. He emphasises that the key to attracting advertising is a steadfast focus on delivering high-quality editorial content aligned with viewers' interests, creating a natural appeal for advertisers.

On expanding CNBC Awaaz’s horizons

In terms of content, CNBC Awaaz is looking to broaden its focus. While traditionally a stock market-centric channel, the network aims to shift towards becoming a more comprehensive asset business channel. Recognising the evolving viewing and consumption habits of the audience, Singhal emphasises the necessity for business news channels to continually reinvent themselves.

He goes on to express that a substantial market exists among individuals who have not yet ventured into investing, underscoring the crucial need for educational initiatives in this regard. “I think we are right now in the moment that the United States was 40 or 50 years ago, after that you really started to see big money coming into the stock market. However, for that to happen in India, we have to make personal finance and the stock market attractive to those who are not still investing,” he explains.

He explains that in non-trading hours, , the channel has introduced programs pertaining to real-estate, mutual funds and other investing opportunities. “We need to move from being only a stock market channel to moving to and across the asset business sort of channel.”

Another imperative for CNBC Awaaz is to increase the skew of female viewership on the channel. Singhal notes that currently, almost 80% of its viewers are males, however, “Efforts are being made to get it down to 50%. We are bringing in a lot of efforts to bring in female viewership on the channel.

We have increased the presence of female experts and panellists on the channel. Traditionally, there's a perception that women are more inclined to invest in gold, while men are associated with investments in stocks and mutual funds. I think we want to change that, so we are making an effort towards that.”

On attracting viewership in the era of ‘finfluencers’

When asked about attracting younger viewers  heavily exposed to financial influencers, or ‘finfluencers’, he responds by noting that  much of their own content serves as a form of influence on social media, drawing significant numbers. According to him, influencers are not inherently a negative community; rather, they  suffer from the perception shaped by the actions of a few bad apples within the community.

He notes that a significant portion of content from financial influencers is often sponsored by brands, and some content might be influenced by incentives to ‘pump and dump’ stocks.

“How we are ensuring the safety of our viewers is that every analyst or expert that is coming on our channel is SEBI-registered. I think the public should be smart enough to note the difference between them,” he adds.

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