Those doubting us should do their homework: Barun Das, CEO, TV9 Network

Barun Das, CEO, TV9 Network
Barun Das, CEO, TV9 Network

Hindi news channel TV9 Bharatvarsh’s viewership growth in the last few weeks and the channel reaching the No. 2 position in the Hindi News genre in Week 25 as per BARC data has raised several eyebrows in the industry. The year-old channel has managed to surge ahead of the legacy news channels, and what’s more, the channel also managed to hold on to its No. 2 spot in Week 26 as well.

Also read: Effective mechanisms in place to handle any situation: BARC on TV9 case

In the meantime, both NBA and NBF have separately written to BARC India raising several issues against what they called the unusual and unprecedented viewership growth of TV9 Bharatvarsh. The primary of these issues are – TV9 Bharatvarsh’s growth trajectory has been in variance with that viewership trends in the News genre during the last few weeks, manipulation and tampering of BARC meters by the TV9 Group, call for an investigation into the complicity of TV9 Bharatvarsh’s higher management, among others.

In conversation with Adgully, Barun Das, CEO, TV9 Network, explains in detail how TV9 Bharatvarsh’s viewership has grown in the last few weeks and also addresses the issues raised by NBA and NBF against not just the channel but the TV9 Group as well.

TV9 Bharatvarsh’s viewership has seen a growth spike over the last few weeks and the channel reached the No. 2 spot in Week 25. How do you view this growth? What have been the growth drivers?

There are 3 factors that are growth drivers to viewership. They are content, promotion and distribution. And when you do all three of them together in tandem, then there is a multiplier effect that sets in. So, that is what we applied.

We were a bit lucky in the sense that we were planning to relaunch the channel in January this year, but logo change approvals from the Ministry took some time. So finally, the relaunch happened in the third week of March. The relaunch was all progressive with new look, new FPC, innovative promotions. Some of the promotions we had to hold later, but local TV channels and digital were flooded with our promotions.

Our relaunch was soon followed by the lockdown, which saw an unprecedented growth in news viewership. This helped drive TV9 Bharatvarsh’s sampling and when viewers liked our content, they stuck on to our channel.

What changes have you done in your content strategy that has gained traction with your viewers?

In terms of content, despite being a very new, nascent channel that was just a year old, we have set the agenda many times without compromising on our credibility as it is the first attribute of a news channel.

If you look at our prime time, it starts at 4 pm with branded programmes one after the other and each getting promoted heavily both within and outside the channel.

In terms of content, the focus was COVID-19, and we were the first to identify the common enemy of the world and, of course, India, which is China. Our focus on exposing China began way back in April. This is now being done by all in the genre.

We have been very focused on COVID-19 related information in a very formatted structured way. And then there is global news on which we have been focusing on news across the US, China and North Korea. Today, even the Hindi news viewer has an increasing hunger for global news. There was a global perspective on our news coverage, which was widely loved by viewers.

Which markets are delivering the most viewership for TV9 Bharatvarsh?

TV9 Bharatvarsh is leading across almost all the markets in HSM in terms of ATS, with the channel leading at the No.1 position in terms of ATS.

In fact, as per BARC data for Week 26, in 22 out of 30 markets in HSM, TV9 Bharatvarsh holds the Top 3 positions. An incredible feat, considering that the channel is just over a year old and is already way ahead of most of the legacy news channels in these markets.

What are your observations on the growth of the overall news genre on television ever since the COVID-19 crisis broke on the national scene?

There has been a growth of over 200 per cent in news viewership in the weeks post the lockdown due to COVID-19. This created a massive increase in sampling of news channels and News as a genre saw peaks like never before. Even in Week 26, News genre’s share is around 11 per cent of the total TV viewership, which is way higher than the average share of around 7 per cent that the news genre used to have during the pre-COVID-19 period.

The increased interest in News on TV will continue, especially as newspapers have taken a beating during the pandemic. This growth of the genre will further translate into business growth for the news channels.

As India emerges out of the lockdown, we have seen TV viewership numbers go down from the lockdown period, as was expected. How can the news genre build on the viewership base of the lockdown period and retain the new viewers?

As mentioned earlier, News viewership is still higher than during the pre-COVID-19 period. This phenomenon will continue as viewers are turning to news channels for daily updates on not just national but also international news.

Today, even the Hindi news viewer has an increasing hunger for global news. news channels will need to lead with content as per viewers’ expectations to stay ahead of the curve. A lot of TV9 Bharatvarsh’s recent growth can be attributed to this agenda-setting content, with focus on global developments across China, the US, North Korea that saw increased preference across viewers. This content strategy was soon followed by the rest of the news channels.

Broadcasting bodies like NBA and NBF have raised issues on TV9 Bharatvarsh’s viewership growth – including manipulating data, TV9 Bharatvarsh’s growth trajectory being in variance with the news genre growth, anomaly in time spent trends, defying BARC’s BIO News Analysis. How do you address the points that they have raised?

Those doubting us should do their homework. They should look at their logger and study our content vis-a-vis viewership numbers.

The growth of TV9 Bharatvarsh has come with synchronised efforts across an agenda setting content strategy, world class new look, focussed distribution and innovative marketing.

Television news industry is replete with examples of channels that made a mark riding on a crisis/ calamity. Think Aaj Tak and Bhuj earthquake, ABP News and Mumbai floods, Times Now and 26/11 attacks, etc. We were the only channel which relaunched pre-COVID-19 with new look, new programming, aggressive marketing on regional local channels and digital platforms (our strategy is now being followed by the competition just like they are trying to replicate our content formulations) and better distribution (for instance, our position on DD Free Dish changed because somebody vacated their position and you can trace back our growth to the day this change happened on DD Free Dish).

Even we would have felt threatened or bad if we were a 15- or 20-year old news channel and a new player had overtaken us. But complacence and scepticism are not the solution. The sceptics only need to study the basics to understand the growth that we are delivering.

TV9 Bharatvarsh has seen a viewership growth as India entered the unlock mode – in Weeks 23, 24, 25, 26, and people have started going out of their homes and re-joining their work, vis-a-vis the peak lockdown period of Weeks 12, 13, 14, when the news genre saw the highest numbers. How do you explain this growth of your channel?

As mentioned earlier, we were lucky that our re-launch got pushed to the third week of March, when we had unveiled a completely new look, a refurbished prime time with new show formats. This was followed by aggressive distribution and innovative marketing.

As luck would have it, the lockdown helped TV9 Bharatvarsh with a lot of sampling among news viewers. The extensive promotions across regional news channels and digital further helped in driving the channel from a fringe player into the big league.

The growth trajectory of the channel began with the re-launch and is continuing as we adapt the best practices across content, distribution and marketing as per learnings from the earlier week.


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