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May 6, 2002 | 1025 IST
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Shuchi Bansal

There's good news for the news channels in India. According to industry estimates, advertising on news as a genre grew by more than 50 per cent, from Rs 2 billion to Rs 3.1 billion, in 2001 over the previous year. In 1999, news earned only Rs 800 million as advertising revenue.

In terms of audience share too, news channels have done much better than most other genres.

In 2001, the audience share of news channels - Star News, Aaj Tak, Zee News, CNN, BBC, CNBC and Doordarshan - jumped by 235 per cent. Contrast this with the sports channels, which suffered a significant 27 per cent loss in audience share. Even the Hindi entertainment channels gained only a minor 6.5 per cent in audience share.

"News has done extremely well, both in terms of viewership and advertising," observes Living Media's executive director G Krishnan, who also heads the Hindi news channel, Aaj Tak.

Does it mean advertisers have moved away from general entertainment and sports to news?

"Yes, there's been a shift, to an extent," he says. Agrees Star India's executive vice-president L S Nayak: "Though the advertising pie hasn't really grown, advertisers have put money aside for news. This has never happened before."

Clearly, news channels are becoming popular with advertisers and media planners for certain product categories such as insurance and banking, consumer durables and automobiles.

"News has a serious audience and the skew is towards the socio-economic category A, male viewer," explains Gopinath Menon, executive media director TBWA Anthem, which is also the agency for Aaj Tak.

But according to Krishnan, it is the gradual movement of the fast-moving consumer goods category into news that may bring about a real shift.

Aaj Tak, for instance, boasts of advertisers such as Procter & Gamble, Nirma and Pepsi. Media planners, however, feel that FMCG products, primarily targeting housewives, are unlikely to shift in a hurry because news viewership in this category is very low.

One of the major reasons for this shift in advertising can also be the fact that a news channel helps advertisers reach the consumer at a very low cost.

For instance, a 30-second spot on an entertainment channel at prime time costs Rs 400,000-500,000. A similar spot on a news channel is available for Rs 10,000-20,000. "Cheaper rates allow us to buy more spots, leading to frequency and higher recall," a Delhi-based media planner says.

The news category has benefited from the arrival of Aaj Tak at the beginning of 2001.

"Competition always makes a category grow," a senior official of a rival news channel observes. The channel gave tough competition to Zee and Star News, garnering over Rs 400 million in advertising revenue last year.

With several new news channels - NDTV, Star India and Sahara - in the pipeline, the category is all set to make headlines.

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