The sudden increase in the number of people watching TV news has led to massive changes in the ranking tables of English news channels in India, with ‘centrist’ channels like India Today and CNN-News18 making strong gains.
Latest data from rating agency BARC India shows strong gains for India Today Television, which has beaten long-time rival Times Now to claim the No.2 spot.
‘Centist’ channels like India Today and CNN-News18 also seem to be doing better among ‘non-elites’ compared to more well-off viewers who seem to prefer ‘nationalist’ news channels.
Earlier, for arriving at its website-published ranking of English language channels — including English movies channels — BARC used to draw data only from the well-off category A and B households. Category A and B are the top two of a fivefold classification (A to E) of households based on their consumption patterns and education levels.
However, for the latest period (week 17 or April 25 to May 1), BARC seems to have decided to use data from the full panel, including viewers belonging to C, D and E categories.
This has helped the viewership stats of centrist channels, even though Arnab Goswami’s Republic TV has held on to the top slot.
The impact of the expansion of the viewership class can also seen in other categories like English Movies, where it has benefited Times Group’s channels such as Movies Now and MNX, probably because they are priced more attractively for lower income groups.
The exact reason for the switch is not known, but may have to do with the assumption that English language content is now being consumed by everyone, and not just the highly educated and well-off sections.
SLOW AND STEADY
However, even before the switch, India Today has been making strong gains in its viewership and ranking ever since the Coronavirus lockdown was announced in late March.
Prior to the lock-down, in week 11, India Today TV was ensconed in its traditional position of No.3 with just 418 points. This was 35% below Times Now’s 644 points and 51% below market leader Republic TV’s 852 points.
It should be noted that these numbers reflect the viewing habits of the well-to-do, A & B segments of India’s population.
The next week (week 12 — March 21-27), all news channels across India saw a sharp jump in viewership due to the announcement of the pan-India lockdown, the Janta Curfew and so on.
While Arnab Goswami’s Republic TV saw a 130% jump in viewership in that week, Times Now’s viewership increased by 114%. Bhupendra Chaubey-led CNN-News18, the No.4 player, too saw an increase of 123%.
However, the biggest gainer from the imposition — even within the Sec AB category — was India Today, as it saw its rating zoom from 418 to 1,190 points — breaching the 1,000 mark for the first time.
Compared to 110%-130% for the others, India Todays’ increase was 185%.
This also helped the channel improve its relative position within the group. While its score was 35% below that of Times Now for Week 11, the gap narrowed to just 13.3% in week 12.
The channel continued to narrow the gap more and more over the next two weeks, reducing it to 8% in Week 13 and to 6% in Week 14.
Finally, in Week 15, India Today overtook Times Now, grossing 1,031 points against Times Now’s 815, which meant that India Today now had 27% more viewership in the ‘high class’ AB category compared to Times Now.
Times Now did manage a modest comeback in Week 16 (18-24 April) and grabbed the No.2 slot again, but the difference between the two channels was not even 3%.
THE AUDIENCE SWITCH
Week 16 was the last period for which BARC has given data for the AB segment. For the latest Week 17 (Apr 25 to May 1), the rating agency has used data from all segments of the population to arrive at its rankings for English news channels on its website, like it has been doing for most other categories.
While that has made a direct comparison difficult, it has also given a big boost to in the relative rankings of ‘centrist’ channels like India Today and CNN-News19. On the other hand, the move away from the ‘elites’ to the ‘masses’ seems to have eroded some of the edge enjoyed by ‘nationalist’ channels like Republic TV and Times Now.
The rise in the relative performance of these ‘balanced/centist’ channels in week 17 seems to suggest that the well-off, elite sections of the Indian society are more ‘nationalist’ than the relatively less wealthy/educated viewers — a trend that is in stark contrast to what is seen in most societies.
In a market like the US, the relatively well-off viewers tend to prefer left-of-center news outlets like CNN and MSNBC, while the relatively less-educated, lower-income groups tend to prefer more the ‘nationalistic’ and aggressive coverage of channels like Fox.
Back to BARC, the difference caused by this shift in the data-source can be brought out by looking at the relative performance/edge enjoyed by market leader Republic TV against ‘centrist’ channels like India Today and CNN-News18 before and after the switch from ‘high class’ to all viewers.
In the week before the switch, CNN-News18’s viewership was just 27% that of Republic TV and 59% that of Times Now.
However, after the switch (week 17) it has jumped to 42% of Republic TV’s viewership and 74% of Times Now’s viewership.
Similarly, before the switch (week 16), India Today’s viewership was 44% of Republic’s viewership. After the switch, it jumped to nearly 70%.
While Arnab Goswami’s channel notched up ratings of 4,804 points, India Today was not far behind with 3,312 points.
Compare this to the pre-lockdown situation when India Today would be lucky to report half the number reported for Republic TV.
The switchover to ‘All’ segment from AB segment also seems to have given India Today an edge in its fight against longtime No.2 Times Now.
Against India Today’s 3,312 points in the latest week (week 17), Times Now managed to score only 2,763 points. CNN-News18 too is not far behind with 2,033 points.
It remains to be seen, however, whether India Today — led by journalists like Rajdeep Sardesai and Rahul Kanwal — can hold on to the lead even after the lock-down period is over, when the ‘sample size’ (news viewers) will fall drastically.