There is no template on how to handle the COVID-19 situation: Karan Abhishek Singh

The News genre has been witnessing unprecedented growth during the COVID-19 period and the resultant nation-wide lockdown. In conversation with Adgully, Karan Abhishek Singh, CEO - Languages, Network18, speaks about his organisation’s programming strategy, the spike in viewership, leveraging digital technology as well as advertiser response to the crisis situation. 

What kind of programming and coverage strategy are you planning and approaching for news vis-à-vis your competition in the regional markets? What kind of traction and growth in viewership you have noticed in the regional news channels as compared to the other language news channels?

Our content today looks very different from the pre-COVID-19 scenario. We have a range of programmes which bring to the viewers a wide variety of shows. Programming that keeps them updated about the current pandemic, to keeping them healthy in the mind & body – with shows of call-in with doctors, relationship experts, psychiatrists, or shows that keep them engaged and help build their capabilities with online learning classes for students & adults alike and entertained with tips ranging from workouts to food from their favourite celebrities. The viewers have responded very positively to the varied programming and this has shown in our growth numbers. All our channels have shown growth significantly ahead of the news genre. So, there is growth and traction that we have seen during these times.

Maintaining that momentum is a challenge. How do you plan to keep the momentum for the coming months and the rest of the year?

The BARC reports are showing growing traction, with increased viewership and engaged viewers. The current pandemic is a concern of the entire household, which has brought the entire family to the TV screen and more importantly, to the news genre. We are also noticing that more women are tuning in to stay updated on the current news. News channels are currently seeing a spike in viewership and, therefore, programming will cater to the entire family.

We believe our programming is constantly evolving on lines with the situation evolving in the country. Be it on educative campaigns like #makeyourownmask, contributing towards the lesser privileged through #Indiagives or staying informed without swaying towards provocative/ fake news, we try and ensure that viewers are participating in this battle to defeat the virus and bringing out their best side during the pandemic and the lockdown.

You will shortly also see some innovative programming concepts that we are launching, looking at the current range of viewers, which today spans across young kids to adults of all age groups. I believe this keeps the momentum on as there is a constant updation and upgrade of our offering to the viewers, which helps keep them engaged at all times.

It will take a long time for everything to get back to normal. Probably we might be entering a new normal. What kind of new normal can we anticipate?

The current lockdown is till May 3. Let us wait and watch as the situation unfolds. It is obvious that there is a slowdown of economic activity. The summer months are peak season months for quite a few sectors, so they have a challenge at hand. Once things open up and as manufacturing activity picks up, we should see a boost in consumption. There is a fair amount of economic impetus that the Government has provided for the more challenged sectors, and I am hopeful that some of them may emerge stronger in the long run. I believe that the post-COVID-19 scenario presents brands with unseen challenges as well as opportunities. Some of them may need to completely reinvent and reimagine themselves. The ability to adapt quickly will define the successful organisations and brands of tomorrow.

We have seen a lot of innovations and technology adopted by companies and channels to keep the normal office operations functional like working from home, etc. Digital technology has been leveraged to the maximum. Will this continue once the lockdown is lifted, as in retrospect we have seen some gains out of it and you might want to continue with it?

The COVID-19 situation has brought teams closer, made us more adaptable and extremely nimble. This has been a positive development with teams being more empowered and responsible for things which otherwise has set processes and norms. This has helped in turning around projects, solutions and virtual events with the largest part of our workforce currently working from homes. We are a large spread network, and digital technology has always been at the forefront to ensure we stay connected, and that has helped us reap dividends. There are new learnings about how to do things more efficiently and we will look at adopting the best technologies and practices that emerge out of this situation.

How has the advertiser response been in these challenging times? Are you seeing some cutback in ad spends?

The advertiser response has been watchful, since no one has ever encountered a situation like this in the past. There is no template on how to handle this situation. There are sectors like retail, which have faced a more direct impact of the lockdown and advertising in those has obviously seen a slowdown. At the same time, advertisers in the essential commodities space like FMCG and Healthcare have upped the ante since it is a critical time for them to tell the consumers that they are available and also leave a lasting message. Then there are also brands for example in the food services or the cab aggregator space that have quickly gone back to the drawing board and reimagined their offering to the consumers. It’s a great time for them to reinforce the consumers’ trust in them. There are also a lot of advertisers who are seeing the current situation as an opportunity to contribute to the society and have thus taken the route of purpose driven marketing campaigns. We are working closely with a lot of them.


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