Backing the wrong horse?

| Updated on January 24, 2018 Published on June 04, 2015


Credibility vs eyeballs: When Prannoy Roy, Executive Co-Chairperson, NDTV Group was given a lifetime achievement award by The Mumbai Press Club, he brought up the point of how top-quality media needs to command a premium in advertising rates. Do our ad men agree?

It is wonderful to see how far Indian media has come and I feel proud of it. But there are some worrying trends and we need course correction before it is too late. These are some things in my opinion and you can choose to disagree. Perhaps the biggest danger we face today is the tabloidisation of our news.

Every advanced country with a developed and mature media has a wide spectrum of news, from the credible news to the tabloid. In the UK it’s from The Times and The Economist to The Sun and the Mirror. In the US it’s from The New York Times to the New York Post. In television it’s from BBC and CNN to Fox News.

But in India there is this dangerous slide towards one end of the spectrum – the tabloid end. Why has every single news channel – except one – English, Hindi, regional, why has every single channel turned tabloid? Why are we trying to emulate Fox News when there are several other examples out there?

Why does every single news anchor today want to be another Bill O’Reilly? There are so many Bill O’Reillys around that they make Bill O’Reilly proud. In fact, some of them are better, they actually make him jealous.

Among the Hindi news channels, 25 per cent of their TRPs come from astrology news, another 25 per cent comes from saas-bahu (mother- and daughter-in-law) serial news and from highly graphic crime news.

I have heard a lady on a Hindi news channel who said after twirling her hair, “ Break ke baad aap ko ek rape dikhayenge” (we will show you a rape after the commercial break).

Tsunami of tabloidisation

I honestly believe that tabloidisation is the death of news and death of good journalism. But frankly, who is to blame? I do not blame our anchors or journalists for this ghastly tsunami of tabloid news. I also strongly disagree with the hypothesis which people bandy around that blames the Indian viewer – that Indians have base tabloid taste. If our anchors and our viewers are not to be blamed, why is India becoming no country for honest journalism?

Who’s to blame?

Many feel that the advertising fraternity must carry part of the blame. The advertising pie is distributed based entirely on numbers.

Many in the advertising fraternity tell me that our media buyers are essentially eyeball chasers, like the media equivalent of ambulance chasers. While our media buyers are skilled as much as the West and their media modelling skills are as good as anybody, for some reason they have not created methods that enable them to measure news on factors other than just numbers of eyeballs.

This is not the case in developed media markets. The circulation of The London Times, for example, is 400,000 while The Sun is five times of that selling two million copies.

We all know that Fox News has three times the viewership of CNN. Yet, the advertising rate for The Times is much higher than The Sun and the advertising rate for CNN is much higher than Fox News.

Do the numbers justify that? No. But the advertisers and media buyers place a premium on quality. The higher rates for credible journalism have ensured that both ends of the spectrum – credible news and tabloid – have survived and prospered.

Unless we model quality and credibility into our advertising rates and not just indulge in eyeball chasing, we shall go headlong into tabloidisation with no place for news at the serious end of the spectrum. Think about it for a second. Do advertisers really want their ads to come in a commercial break after an anchor announces, “ Break ke baad aap ko ek rape dikhayenge”?

The day our advertisers distinguish between tabloid news and serious news, India will see the growth of better-quality media and an end to the mushrooming of eyeball chasing tabloid television. Let’s stop blaming the viewer and look inwards to build models that take quality into account.

Edited excerpts from a speech made at the Mumbai Press Club’s Red Ink Awards

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Published on June 04, 2015
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