NDTV – A Nostalgic Drive!

In the last few days, social media has been buzzing with the news of the Adani group buying a large stake in New Delhi Television or NDTV as we all know it. A corporate house getting involved in the ownership of a news organization is no longer a strange thing in any part of the world.  So, why is there such an interest in this news of the Adani group buying a large stake or moving to acquire a controlling stake of NDTV? It is because the news company involved here is NDTV, an entity that has been a nostalgic part of the growing up of an entire generation in India. As more and more details of the transaction and what it entails are unfolding, I couldn’t help jog my memory back to the time when NDTV was all that we watched as far as current affairs on TV was concerned.

In its growing years, the generation I am referring to witnessed the evolution of News broadcasting in India from a staid, single-source sarkari Doordarshan to the opening up of the News broadcasting domain to private, professional and independent options in the mid-80s. As this evolution happened, the credit for being a pioneer in the private news broadcasting space at each step goes to NDTV.

My own tryst with NDTV as with many others in my age group started with “The World This Week” a packaged show on the world outside that was telecast on Doordarshan. So 10 PM on Fridays saw the recreation room with just a single TV in our B-School hostel, being house full with inmates even sitting on the floor and occupying every inch of the room to watch this program. Such crowds in our hostel TV room were reserved for Cricket matches or the Mahabharat serial usually.

The World This Week anchored by Dr. Prannoy Roy and another gentleman by the name of Appan Menon was the first and only source to catch a glimpse of what was happening outside of India back then. With its slickly edited visuals, carefully curated content from across the globe and more importantly accompanied by the clear, concise and measured commentary of Roy, The World This Week became extremely popular and soon Friday evenings meant Chitrahaar/Oliyum Oliyum and The World This Week. I vividly remember the visuals of the “Tank Man” at Tiananmen Square in China back in 1989 shown as part of an episode.

Even before The World This Week, as an anchor Prannoy had already endeared himself to a large section of the English-speaking TV-watching audience in India. That was as the anchor of the first election coverage program on DD along with Vinod Dua (who used to handle the Hindi part) for the 1989 Lok Sabha elections.  The Jodi of Prannoy and Dua speaking alternately in English and Hindi while presenting the trends of the leads and results trends is afresh in my memory. We in fact used the concept of Roy-Dua pair for a college skit and remember getting the second prize! In that pre-EVM, paper ballot box era, counting used to go on 3 days for a Lok Sabha election and the Roy-Dua pair would be on it for hours and hours together analyzing the election results.

As far as I can remember, Prannoy is the pioneer of Opinion polls, exit polls and all kinds of election analysis that we see today. To Prannoy and his team goes the credit for introducing many a few election-related terms that are part of our vocabulary now. Personally, for me, psephology as a subject interested me after I started watching Prannoy’s programs on TV.  Stuff like Anti-Incumbency, TINA factor, Index of Opposition Unity, First past the poll system, Winner’s bump and so on became familiar thanks to Prannoy’s usage of these in his election shows.

The early ’90s was a phase in which India was opening up on many fronts. The News broadcast domain was not an exception. So, when Rupert Murdoch’s Star network started its news channel – Star News, it was NDTV that was contracted to be the content producer. What we saw as Star News was essentially NDTV news with the editorial control totally with NDTV while Star TV was running the channel. While Prannoy has always been the visible face of NDTV, it was only known much later that his wife Radhika Roy played an active role in running the channel.

The NDTV English and Hindi channels which we see today I guess, came into existence after the arrangement between Star TV and NDTV broke up in 2003. The one fact that we cannot ignore is that NDTV as an organization has been a factory of talent in the Indian News broadcast industry. You name any anchor or reporter of heft in India and he or she would have schooled in NDTV sometime in the past. Whether it is star anchors/editors like Rajdeep Sardesai or Barkha Dutt or Arnab Goswami who are all brand names in their own right today or some of the finest reporters in the country, they are all from the NDTV school.  It is to the credit of the Roys that they were able to spot and nurture talent across the country in the News broadcast domain. There is no doubt that in the news media space, NDTV has always been seen as a brand of trust, credibility and professionalism.

It will be interesting to watch, therefore, what the future holds for NDTV with the recent developments. It is a fact that NDTV today is a pale shadow of its past. Blame it on the flight of talent or the financial woes of the Roys or the degeneration of the News broadcast industry overall, NDTV has not been able to maintain its leadership position which it held perhaps in the mid-noughties. Irrespective of what the future entails, I am certain that the legacy of NDTV as a pioneer on many fronts in the news broadcasting space in India will remain and hopefully it will spring back to a fresh beginning in a New Dashing TV avatar!

“Broken” News!!!

It’s a common belief that “The More the Merrier”. Particularly if you are a consumer. One always gets a better deal if there is choice. The fact that you can exercise your freedom of choice makes marketers to provide a better deal in terms of Quality, Quantity, Value for Money, the works. It is also said that in a crowded market place, brands try to differentiate themselves. Differentiation by way of form, quality, price, positioning in the mind or overall offering and vie for the consumer’s wallet. But in India, there seems to be one product category which defies all these economic fundamentals. Here More is actually Less!!! Even in an overcrowded market place there is hardly any product differentiation. From one brand to another, they only provide good advertisements for “Cloning”. And when the number of players increase the overall quality keeps falling. Irony dies a thousand deaths at our drawing homes every day and night. Yes, welcome to the world of 24*7 News channels in India!!!

breaking news

I belong to what I refer as the Doordarshan generation. A generation which grew up without much choice for anything but stayed contented. During our growing up times, DD was the only source of entertainment as well as visual news. So the 9’o clock prime time news bulletins were indeed bulletins which walked us through the important happenings of the day. The news readers were news readers and not “Anchors”. They were reading news and were not engaged in endless hysterical debates. At our homes, one of our favourite games at the dinner table used to be guessing who will be the newsreader that night – Among people like Minu, Geetanjali Iyer, Rini Khanna, Tejeshwar Singh, Usha Albuquerque, Sunit Tandon, Neethi Ravindran,…,… Blame it on my memory if I missed a few others.  Apart from consuming news, as youngsters we also had the opportunity to imbibe the way they modulated their voice, their English diction and the overall presentation.  Even sans the choice the prime time news bulletin served its purpose effectively of keeping us informed of current affairs in India and abroad.

Now cut to what I call as “Boredarshan” times and rapidly transcending now to “Boordarshan” times!!! Today, in the 24*7 news channel space we are spoilt for choice.  Or are we???

At any point in time, try to exercise that power of your choice. Across all channels invariably prime time news will start and end with debates where the participants across channels will be the same. I guess for the political parties, it is easy to prepare one spokesperson for a topic and make him/her parrot the same arguments across all channels. In any case as he/she moves from one channel to another, he will anyway meet the same counterpart from the opposition as well!!! Not just prime time debates. A new book is hitting the store? Between 2 days you will find the author providing “exclusive” interviews to 10 different channels! (As per English dictionary, the word “Exclusive” in its noun form means ‘an item or story published or broadcast by only one source! So how does showing up in different channels is termed exclusive has been elusive to me).  Come Friday and a new film is being released? You will see the film crew parading from one studio to another in the National Capital Region doing the same silly things in the guise of “Promoting” the film! And somebody emerges as the newsmaker of the day? You could meet her/him in all channels that day. (Except if the newsmaker is Lalit Modi 😃 He only gave interview this time to one channel that too in Montenegro! While the other channels also reached the Adriatic coast he changed his mind and refused to oblige). The questioners sound the same. The questions sound the same. There is a race among channels to get interviews from the newsmakers that very same day. And on weekends the channels dish out similar content like Retro Bollywood stuff, Tech reviews,…

Not just content. If you look at the style – Among anchors and reporters there seems to be no differentiation.  All anchors by and large keep interrupting and do not allow the participants to complete one sentence. As I had penned in my earlier post DA 24*7 (Read here) we find Devil’s Advocates in all hues 24*7 in news channels. Come weekends all the “Star” Devil’s Advocates take a break and leave their fiefdom to their juniors who undergo on the job training to what else – interrupt!!!

Even on form, differentiation seems to be zilch. The template across all channels seems be a crowded screen with too many details populated.

And oflate their own marketing and advertising also look similar. Every channel claims to be No.1 in viewership😲 Damn the devil which is in the “*”!!! And all of the channels cry hoarse against Noise, Sensationalism,… and exactly do that. Day in and Day out!

So what’s going on wrong here? One could blame it on the TRP driven advertising revenue model for the channels. So when one channel with a certain content/style/form gets high TRPs, the others follow the same. But I would blame it on the “TRP model” itself. I am not too sure if the present TRP system captures the preferences of the viewers accurately. For a diverse country like India, I do feel a more heterogeneous viewership capture system is the need of the hour. Lest in the garb of “the Nation wants to know” we will continue to hear more noise and less news – across all channels. And if you still recall  “broken Record” of yore, news will continue to be that – “Broken” News as you switch from one channel to another😞😞

Postscript: Recently I was forwarded this clip on WA. Wonder if we will ever get to see such an interviewer who doesn’t interrupt and an interviewee who doesn’t get flustered and stays calm throughout, in these times in India. Check it out.(https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_MATAqeiL-4)