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The Time Is Now- How Times Now reached the top

In three short years, times now came, saw and conquered. here ’s how the battle for english tv news leadership was won.

, ET Bureau|
Nov 26, 2008, 05.25 AM IST
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It���s an accepted fact that in the television medium, a TV channel is only as good as its content. What often gets glossed over, however, is the fact that many believe this to be true only of general entertainment channels (GECs) ��� where a popular reality show or soap can set TRPs soaring ��� or other ���entertainment-led��� channels.

It���s easy to miss out the criticality of content programming when it comes to news channels ��� a niche where no single channel can ever have a proprietary hold over news for very long. This fact alone, hence, makes clever content programming an imperative in the TRP and channel share sweepstakes. And sets the winners apart from the also-rans .

When it launched in January 2006, Times Now was merely yet another ambitious runner in the English news channel race.

But in a short span of two years ��� in November 2007, to be precise ��� the channel managed to dislodge a well-entrenched player like NDTV 24x7 from the top spot for the first time. And in the 41 weeks beginning January 2008 to October 2008, Times Now has remained the market leader among English news channels. The fact that Times Now managed to change the rules of the game in a category where familiarity ��� and legacy, to a lesser extent ��� rules makes for interesting reading.

In January 2006, leader NDTV 24x7 had a market share of 48%, followed by CNN IBN with a share of 29%. With a 11% market share, Headlines Today was the number three. In its early days, Times Now had business content during the day and general news in the evenings. To ensure that viewership was more broad-based , this strategy was tweaked six months after launch, and a strong focus was given to general news.

Chintamani Rao, CEO, Times Global Broadcasting, says, ���Business news is a specialist format and also has a distinct viewer base, while general news attracts a larger viewership during the day. Ever since we changed, the growth trajectory has been faster than the genre.���

Simply changing the focus of news ��� from business to general news ��� wasn���t going to be enough, though. Content, and the way it was presented, would have to be the differentiator. The tipping point for Times Now was the sensational rescue of five-year-old Prince, says Rao, adding that thereafter, the channel saw record viewer traction.

���Besides that, the presentation of other important events like the UPA government���s trust vote, the Monkey Gate scandal , the Budget Day coverage and, recently, the US presidential elections in an innovative manner has helped grow the channel���s popularity,��� says Rao. For instance, during the coverage of the UPA government���s trust vote, Times Now got a viewership share of 46%, compared to NDTV 24x7���s 22% and CNN IBN���s 17%.

Explaining how the channel used superior content to gain share, Arnab Goswami , editor-in-chief , Times Now, says: ���For covering the US elections , we tied up with CBS. But rather than just show the CBS feed, we had simultaneous live coverage of the reactions to the election results from 12 world capitals. Independent reporters were speaking to people in Tel Aviv, Shanghai, Sydney, et cetera to know what they thought of the US elections.���

Perhaps the most remarkable of Times Now���s achievements has been its ability to steal the limelight from even channels that it doesn���t directly compete with. During the pre-match coverage before the IPL finals, Times Now ��� which had roped in Mandira Bedi and Charu Sharma ��� managed get more viewers than even Set Max, the official broadcaster of the tournament .

Similarly on Budget Day, besides telecasting the finance minister���s budget speech live, Times Now roped in over 100 guests to share their reactions to the finance minister���s proposals. ���For every political figure, Times Now was the first stop and we had studios across New York, London, Singapore and Hong Kong. Twenty seven reporters across the country were covering the reactions on the street, talking to corporates and the common man,��� says Rao. According to television viewership rating agency TAM, on Budget Day, Times Now had a viewership share of 28% compared to CNBC TV18���s 24% share.

Another strong differentiator that���s worked in favour of Times Now has been its news-centric strategy . Rao reveals that there was a conscious attempt at the channel to move away from feature-led programming and focus on news instead. Revealing that while 72% of content on Times Now is news-led (as opposed to 55% of news content on NDTV 24x7), Rao says: ���The basis for a news channel is to provide news to its viewers and we have stuck to the true promise.

A TAM research commissioned by us in June 2008 clearly showed how Times Now���s news-centric strategy has given it an edge over competition. The share of news bulletin genre is highest for Times Now.��� That said, feature-based content on Times Now is also highly differentiated. In fact, Line Of Duty, a weekend feature that showcases achievers from the Indian armed forces, has even found a place in the Limca Book Of Records, apart from winning at film festivals.

On the marketing front, Times Now has kept the buzz going constantly. Says Sandeep Sharma, senior VP ��� sales & marketing, Times Global Broadcasting, ���We sell by learning and understanding the customer���s needs, building on the understanding of a client���s requirement and providing the benefits of the brand advertising on the channel.���

Punitha Arumugam, CEO, Madison Media, agrees. ���The numbers for Times Now have been quite good and it is definitely a channel where clients like to advertise,��� she says. The journey is far from complete, though. ���Year 2006 was the launch phase, 2007 for growth and 2008 for leadership . In 2009 we are looking at clear domination,��� says Sharma. Clearly, interesting times ahead.
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