TV news becomes big business in India

As Indian TV companies vie for ratings, viewers are turning in ever-growing numbers to the live coverage of internal troubles and the tension with Pakistan.

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By  David Cass Published  June 10, 2002

Television news is enjoying a ratings boom in India, proving again that live news of conflict can often produce a boost for viewers who tune in mainly for light entertainment and soap operas.

It all began six months ago with the live broadcast of armed militants running towards the parliament buildings in Delhi as police fired their weapons in the background. It was real and it was happening on home soil, unlike the live war coverage available on CNN, BBC World and other international news channels.

Since then, the resulting military build up, tension across the Line of Control between India and Pakistan and detailed coverage of sectarian riots have continued to attract viewers. The result is that advertising revenues for television news have jumped between 30 and 40% in the past year. The Indian TV advertising market is worth around $1.92 billion.

The Reuters news agency quoted L.V.Krishnan, chief executive of monitoring company TAM as saying, “News as a genre has grown phenomenally in the past few months. If some spark gets ignited on the war front then viewership will only increase further.”
Viewing figures peaked during the parliament attack, a row over a disputed holy site in Ayodhya, and May’s attack on an army camp in Kashmir which has brought the two nuclear neighbours to the brink of war.

Aaj Tak, which is available in the Gulf through E-vision, brought the parliament attack live to 17.1 million viewers after the May 14 raid, TAM said. Star News, owned by Rupert Murdoch's News Corp, reached 10.5 million viewers after the attack while Zee News had 12 million viewers during that week.

"During the time of the parliament attack, our viewership jumped up by more than 200 percent," said Aaj Tak head G. Krishnan. "During events such as these...interest in soaps and serials may take a backseat temporarily."

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