Rise of Lok Sabha TV & the message for private news channels

In the second week of March, the Indian government’s Directorate of Advertising & Visual Publicity (DAVP) ran an ad on viewership in Delhi commanded by various channels.

17 Dec, 2012 by admin

 

In the second week of March, the Indian government’s Directorate of Advertising & Visual Publicity (DAVP) ran an ad on viewership in Delhi commanded by various channels. Lok Sabha TV, surprisingly, ruled. We can always dissect the advertisement and say that Lok Sabha TV presented a picture and slice that showcases its viewership gains, but that is the reality with all news channel rating adverts. The point is, Lok Sabha TV did well with audiences. This, in spite of the fact that Assembly election results of five states were announced in the first week of the month.

 

Normally, in the hustle and bustle and blare of various news channels on exit polls, panel discussions and speculation, a channel like Lob Sabha TV would be best forgotten. For, it is freeto-air and perceived to be the spokesman of the government, an entity in which we, the citizens of the largest democratic set-up in the world, don’t repose much faith.

 

But March proved otherwise. It seemed that the janta was no more interested in the speculation and exit polls – which often go terribly wrong. It would rather trust the desi Lok Sabha TV for hard facts. So what if its poll coverage seemed all too mundane, tilted towards some, and sometimes, even wrong?

 

For, as Nitesh Rohit says in his blog, windsfromtheeast, “Even today, when you browse through channels and come across Lok Sabha TV or Doordarshan, a certain amount of honesty can be seen in them.”

 

Understandable. And possible. As ‘It’s Anand’ says in his blog http://itsanandonline.blogspot. in, you have to admire a democracy where Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha debates can get high TRP ratings.

 

Understandable also that Lok Sabha TV turned profitable in August, for the first time since its launch in 2006, and at a time when private channels are swimming in losses. The 24-hour channel is entirely owned and run by the Lok Sabha.

 

In the first three months (April-June) of the current fiscal, the channel earned a total of Rs 4.83 crore – a whopping 1,500% rise in revenues over the same quarter of 2010-11. And the world is not open for the channel to sell itself, too. For, Lok Sabha TV accepts advertisements only from government departments and PSUs, with an ad rate of just Rs 600 per 10 seconds as against channels which charge Rs 10,000 on an average for a 10-second spot.

 

The channel CEO, Rajiv Mishra, went to town saying that the public broadcaster registered a growth of over 300% in viewership in the first quarter.

 

Why did I use the term ‘understandable’? Because statistics show that Lok Sabha TV is being taken seriously – as Mishra would like to portray his channel – and it is being viewed for hardcore news rather than the trimmings. Subtle changes are also being seen in programme formats, anchor deliveries, full-house debates and camera work. Anchors are more pleasant, better informed and better equipped to handle interviews. The Amritanshu Rais and the Dhiraj Singhs, with their past experience in private channels, have livened up the news floor all of a sudden.

 

And there’s more being promised by CEO Mishra. In August, Mishra told the Jammu and Kashmir daily, Greater Kashmir, that the channel is on its way to becoming self-reliant. Plans are already being drawn up by Lok Sabha TV to upgrade content in the next fiscal. “We want to attract young viewers and the content change will be guided by this factor,” he says.

 

He’s already put the money where his mouth is. On May 15, as www.loksabhatv.nic.in went live, Mishra said, “We are gearing up for convergence.” The website webcasts programmes of Lok Sabha TV both in English and Hindi, while viewers can also express their opinion and share feedback on the site.

 

Indeed, go to the Web if you want the youth to log in – Facebook, Twitter, YouTube... Lok Sabha TV is a going hammer and tongs to become innovative and interactive, and as a public channel, responsive to the legitimate expectations of the masses. I wish all government departments would think in terms of such openness and transparency.

 

On the other hand, the crucial and imperative USP of Lok Sabha TV – like its younger sister, Rajya Sabha TV – is the live coverage of parliamentary proceedings. Channel insiders say that a relatively new avenue for earnings has emerged from private channels demanding footage of Parliament proceedings to own and air.

 

Many of them have already drawn contracts with Lok Sabha TV to share content at an annual fee of Rs 3 lakh. This is apart from the preset norm of the channel billing news channels for special coverage like the General Budget, the Rail Budget and no-confidence motion voting, where charges are on per-event basis. 

 

But in spite of its bouquet of award-winning films, its discussions and documentaries on topics ranging from politics to international affairs, social issues to health, budgets to fiscal health, people and sports; its dedicated programmes on policies, etc – all private channels, barring one or two, don’t even have the

space in their news reels for these topics.

 

So, it’s tough being Lok Sabha TV. For one, the channel has a mandate, a Lower House mandate; thus it can be irreverent only to a limit. And there are days of zilch, for that’s what parliamentary proceedings often amount to nowadays. Last year in December, when the House interrupted by multiple adjournments, Lok Sabha TV had no option but to showcase Bigg Boss episodes to fill the gaps. According to an estimate, a good year comprises 90-100 days of broadcasting parliamentary proceedings; a bad year – like it has been in 2012 – the days may be half of the good ol’ days.

 

Shailaja Bajpai, the well-known columnist who writes about all things on TV, wrote in September about the Monsoon Session, “What we’ve witnessed is grown men and women, predominantly dressed in white, flapping up and down like agitated seagulls. Then Parliament adjourns for the day and MPs fly out of the door. The Session that ended on September 7 is the second least productive session of the 15th Parliament. Legislators worked for a quarter of the scheduled time and only four Bills were passed in the month-long session; as many as 100 legislations, some dating back to the Eighties, were left pending.”

 

In her Indian Express column, Bajpai wrote: “Had Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha TV been private channels, they’d have done what the private channels do in  similar circumstances:

invite parliamentarians to a studio shoot. But they are run on public funds, they are supposed to celebrate parliamentary democracy, not burn holes into it, so what can they do? Well, what they do is telecast discussions, with or without our honourable representatives, on worthy topics like child labour, contract labour or documentaries on the genius of India like Jagadish Chandra Bose (telecast on September 3, a Monday). What else to do?” 

 

For starters, Lok Sabha TV seems to be in the process of steeple-chasing bureaucratic hurdles and and culling red-tapism, at least in spirit. At the same time, what’s still missing is the essence of “public service”. Public service, missing, after so many programmes on various social malaises, such as child marriage, human trafficking and anti-ecological practices? Yes, I argue. 

 

Have you seen Robert Vadra and his notorious properties being debated on Lok Sabha? I was waiting for the Winter Session of Parliament to see that. Because, the land dealings of the ruling United Progressive Alliance’s chairperson Sonia Gandhi’s son-in-law should have been raked up by the main Opposition Bharatiya Janata Party in the House Session, which sadly hasn’t happened.

 

The larger point I am making is private news channels need to take cognisance that Lok Sabha TV and DoorDarshan style news is a hit with viewers, and not just shrill newscasters and the three ‘C’s of news - crime, cinema and cricket. A new paradigm in news is emerging as viewers value news as it should be, rather than how it is presented and debated these days on private news channels.

 

Feedback: abatra@exchange4media.com

Feedback: Category: Media Mantras Volume No: 9 Issue No: 27

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