India is already has as many news channels as those for all other genres such as general entertainment, films and sports put together. The trigger for the burst of fresh launches, according to those in the business, was the elections. According to estimates, more than Rs 300 crore has been spent on political advertising on TV so far. While this was the lure for some, for others the attraction was the assumed influence a news channel wields over politics and politicians, say those in the business.
The new promoters mainly included real estate developers, regional businessmen as well as large corporate houses, some with alleged political leanings. In March, for instance, TV18 Broadcast, with Reliance Industries as its primary investor, launched a Bangla news channel followed by one in Kannada. Three more, targeting Gujarat, Orissa, Haryana and Himachal Pradesh were added last month, said Jagdeesh Chandra, head, ETV News Network. Chandra said all the relatively known 70 news channels in the north are making losses except the ETV Network. I have no idea why people want to get into this business, he said.
Another player to branch into regional markets was News Nation, a network co-promoted by industrialist Abhey Oswal, father-in-law of Congress MP Naveen Jindal. After a successful launch of its Hindi channel, the group launched new channels in UP and Uttarakhand. Notably, Oswal already has a stake a little less than 15 per cent in NDTV Ltd.
Supreme Court advocate Pradeep Rai, who has represented politicians such as Amar Singh, Lalu Prasad and Mulayam Singh Yadav in several cases, has launched a national channel, APN, with its primary focus on UP, Uttarakhand, Jharkhand and Bihar. Once the elections are over, we will launch dedicated channels in all these markets alongside the national news operator, said Raju Sareen who heads marketing operations for Rai. APNs editorial team is led by Inderjit Budhwar.
A number of the new entrants have direct or indirect affiliations with parties or leaders. In Kerala, an RSS-backed channel called Janam (people) was launched last month. Madhyamam Group, with connections with the Jamait-e-Islami, relaunched its general entertainment channel MediaOne as an exclusive news channel. Kerala Chamber of Commerce launched News Now. In Andhra Pradesh, launches include TV8, Praja TV, Express TV, ABC TV and YTV besides SixTV.
Haryana was well-served by the so-called national TV channels until a few years ago. But in the past three to six months, at least half-a-dozen news operators tossed their hats in the ring. Some prominent names included Haryana Express promoted by real estate company P7, Eyewitness, Khabar Fast and Fast News. Other incumbents include India News Haryana, run by former Congress leader Venod Sharmas son Kartikeya, Haryana News backed by former minister Gopal Kanda, and Tehelka News owned by Trinamool Congress leader K D Singh.
Other markets to have witnessed launches include Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Orissa and Maharashtra. News Express, the channel that in March ran a sting operation alleging corruption in exit polls, entered Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra, which is seeing a proliferation of city-specific channels, too, in Pune, Nagpur, Nashik and Aurangabad.
News viewership remains small (less than 8 per cent of the total on TV); its share in the ad pie is even smaller to sustain so many channels. Till March 2014, a total of 792 channels had been given permission to run operations in India, and 392 of these were news channels. In 2013-14, total TV news garnered around Rs 2,000 crore in advertising and 80 per cent of this went to the top 10 players. TV news has become a playground for a lot of non-serious players, especially in the regional markets. While some enter to earn political brownie points that can be encashed later, for others a news channel is a potent weapon rendered essential in todays political warfare, said Vinod Mehta, who was media adviser to former Haryana CM O P Chautala before he co-promoted a Haryana-centric news channel Total TV. After selling his stake, Mehta has now launched an internet-based Hindi news channel, VM TV.