Bad News

Why English-language news broadcasting is a losing game

01 December 2012


ON A FRIDAY EVENING IN JULY 2006, a six-year-old boy named Prince fell into a 60-foot-deep borewell in Haryana. By that night, almost all the national television news channels were pursuing the story. India TV was an exception; instead of the Prince story, the Hindi-language news broadcaster at prime time aired a programme about a terrorist wanted in India and arrested in Nairobi, who vanished before the Indian authorities could get to him. When India TV’s CEO, Chintamani Rao, arrived the following morning for his weekly meeting with the channel’s editor-in-chief, Rajat Sharma, and other members of the editorial team, he realised that everyone else had spent the previous night watching Prince’s ordeal on rival channels. “The whole buzz was about Prince,” Rao recalled. During the meeting, they turned a television to Zee News to see what was happening to the boy. The anchor was going hysterical, Rao said, saying things like “Jab tak Prince nahi bachega, hum yahan se nahi hatenge. (We will not move from here until Prince is saved.)” Everyone laughed—“as if he would save the child sitting there in his studio”, Rao said. But Rao realised the story was compelling. “I said, ‘Shit! Guys, maybe we are missing something.’” On Saturday, India TV dispatched its own team to cover the borewell rescue, even though Rao knew “everybody [else] was already showing it”.

Prince was saved on Monday morning. When the data arrived a few days later, Rao discovered that, during the 50 hours between the boy’s tumble into the well and his rescue, Zee News had been watched by more than 40 percent of Hindi-language news viewers; India TV’s share over the same period languished in single digits. “This is what was working,” Rao said. “We realised more and more where the viewership was.” India TV rarely passed up another chance to broadcast a dramatic rescue effort.

Krishn Kaushik  was formerly a staff writer at The Caravan.

Keywords: television Krishn Kaushik ratings Channels TRP Broadcaster