Anirban Roy Choudhury
Media

“English Business news has not grown, nor has it shrunk”: CNBC TV18's Basant Dhawan

Basant Dhawan, CEO, English and Business Cluster, Network18 speaks about the challenges and opportunities when it comes to English Business News genre in India.

In 1999, when Indian television strode into its glorious days, journalist turned entrepreneur Raghav Bahl partnered with New Jersey headquartered media conglomerate NBC Universal to launch CNBC TV18 in India. In 2014, Raghav Bahl exited the organisation after agreeing to sell the controlling stake in his venture to Mukesh Ambani’s Reliance Industries Limited for a reported sum of Rs 4000 crore.

Also Read: Now, Raghav Bahl quits Network18

On December 7, 2019, the English Business News channel completed its 20th year of operations in the country. “If we were to look at all the mass media vehicles in India, a country that is so diverse, TV has been the largest reach aggregator for any messaging, be it brands, social messaging or government ads. It will continue to remain the biggest reach aggregator,” opines Basant Dhawan, CEO, English and Business Cluster, Network18. The cluster includes CNN-News18, CNBC-TV18, Awaaz and Bajaar, CNBC HD Prime & News18 International.

Basant Dhawan
Basant Dhawan

Although Dhawan is upbeat about the future of television in India, measurement body Broadcast Audience Research Council India’s data say otherwise. CNBC TV18 in week 3 of 2019 fetched 456k impressions, whereas in the last week (48), it dropped to 174k impressions in the NCCS AB 22+ (Urban + Rural) market. Between Week 3 and 48, the television industry has witnessed the rollout of a new tariff order, (NTO) which mandates subscribers to subscribe to the channel they wish to consume. While the drop in reach and therefore viewership is often attributed to the NTO, Dhawan believes the change in the framework has come as a boon for the English business news in particular and the ecosystem in general.

“English Business news has not grown, nor has it shrunk”: CNBC TV18's Basant Dhawan
The introduction of the subscription route (NTO) has helped broadcasters to have a healthier balance sheet
Basant Dhawan

“The introduction of the subscription route (NTO) has helped broadcasters to have a healthier balance sheet. CNBC TV18 which just completed 20 years, is a pay-business-channel and our market share post-NTO has improved and we are NOW at 70 per cent,” he says.

Male AB 22 + is the core audience of the English news channels in India and that is also the audience that digital platforms consider to be “lower hanging fruit.” Is TV losing its viewer to digital? “We continue to see a strong stickiness on CNBC TV18 channel. At the same time, we are recruiting a new audience on the digital platform too,” replies Dhawan.

He adds, “English language television overall has been facing a bit of a challenge across genres, whether it is movies, entertainment, infotainment... when it comes to English Business news it has not grown, nor has it shrunk.”

We have done well on retention but getting new audiences to the television channels is something we need to focus on
Basant Dhawan

He feels the challenge today is to ensure that while the digital traffic of CNBC TV18 grows, they manage to secure parallel growth on TV too. “When there is an overall change in consumer behaviour and preference is towards digital, how do you still retain and attract news viewers on television is something that we are focussed on. We have done well on retention but getting new audiences to the television channels is something we need to focus on,” he adds.

Also Read: "We are yet to figure out a business model for factual entertainment": Avinash Kaul, Network18

CNBC TV18 positions itself as a channel that reaches out to the premium audience, decision-makers - the top of the pyramid. Dhawan says irrespective of the advent of digital, English business news remains an important genre for the advertisers. “In the entire news network which is spread across 20 plus channels, we have around 4000 advertisers. When it comes to English Business News, we have managed to expand our pool of advertisers from BFSI to many other categories like telecom, auto, handsets, FMCG, education, technology,” he says, adding, “After manufacturers started making premium handsets available at an affordable price, we have seen an increase in the advertisements from the handsets category on business news, which is a new inclusion.”

CNBC TV18 with 174k impressions leads the genre with Times Network’s ET NOW a distant second with 40k impressions (Week 48).