Election times are always good for TV news channels. Not only there are hundreds of topics to report, discuss and debate, but also from the advertising viewpoint such phases are exciting as political parties splurge on buying airtime to get across their messages to the masses.
With general elections in India around the corner, interesting times are ahead for the media, in general, and specifically the electronic news media. Hersh Bhandari, CEO of Republic Media Network, in this interview holds forth on what the general elections mean for the news genre and whether news TV can give a run for money to the general entertainment channels — especially when 24-hour news garners mind-boggling number of eyeballs during election times.
Excerpts from the interview.
Is the news genre ready for elections?
The genre is prepared for anything, anytime, anywhere, not only within the country but also globally. Elections are around the corner. In 2019, News Genre garnered an 80 crore reach during election coverage on linear TV, while this year it is estimated to reach 90 crore people on linear TV alone.
What you think will be the level of interest from advertisers?
Like any Indian match in cricket, any event of national interest attracts advertisers. The Ram Mandir Pran Pratishtha event on January 22 was a great example of this. With approximately 60 days remaining until the elections, anticipation is building, potentially leading to an unprecedented advertising influx. The elections, often dubbed the “mothers of all festivals” in India, are expected to be celebrated by over 100 crore voters, making it historically the largest turnout in the world’s largest democracy. Additionally, during the 2019 elections, the reach of news genre surpassed some of the major sporting events like the IPL: 51 crore (2023) and the World Cup (2023) on Disney Star TV Network and lastly with 52 crore viewers having watched the General Election 2019 in the Hindi news genre alone.
There is a buzz about FMCG companies being back in the news with more intensity. What are your views?
I don’t think FMCG firms ever left the news genre; some great brands have been built on the back of news. Most brands like SBS Biotech, MDH and Patanjali stay in the news 365 days a year. Fast-moving consumer goods need to be on the fastest-connecting viewer platforms; it’s a no-brainer. Probably the only genre in the world that lives right here, right now, 24 hours a day. Elections will increase viewership on news, and advertisers have faith in the genre and realize the power of news much more post-COVID and, very recently, on January 22. It was the news that connected the country on linear TV. Moreover, a recent campaign on UK news channels reported a 22 percent uplift in purchase intent and a 10 percent increase in brand awareness (Source: Campaign Magazine, 2023).
Do you believe news is receiving adequate recognition in terms of pricing during major events?
Certainly there’s acknowledgment during these pivotal moments. However, there’s room for improvement on regular days. I strongly believe that considering the dedication and effort required to sustain a 24-hour news cycle, it merits greater recognition. It should be valued more for its reach rather than frequency alone. For instance, at a monthly level, Republic Media Network reaches 5 crore more people compared to ‘Bigg Boss 17’ in the same time slot. The discrepancy in rates is evident, and it’s a well-known fact. If we view live and breaking news as impactful events that defy real-time measurement due to their unpredictability, and if we regard news as a reflection of societal events rather than scripted narratives or reality shows, perhaps we’d engage in fewer debates about the future of news because the future is news itself. Advertisers need to appreciate what news brings to the table. Ultimately, it’s about acknowledging its importance.
Do advertisers view elections as an opportunity on linear TV, or some don’t see it that way?
Television remains paramount in today’s attention-driven economy, offering unparalleled efficiency and effectiveness for brands. Large brands channel a significant portion — over 60-65 percent — of their advertising budgets into TV, prioritizing the cultivation of brand memory and trust. The medium boasts 3X higher attention seconds compared to any other platform, with its impact enduring far beyond initial exposure. Advertisers approach opportunities with varying strategies, tailored to target demographics and specific matrices. Notably, linear TV is anticipated to deliver an estimated 90 crore during this election — a figure unmatched by any other medium. However, while spotlighting select tentpole election days and spot buys holds allure, such strategies may overlook the full potential of this significant event .
What’s your view on advertisers being somewhat cautious about the nature of the event?
You mean politics? Why are you so worried about saying it? Look, politics is part of our system. Now, you may use different narratives and excuses to avoid being a part of it, and that is an advertiser’s call. But the fact remains that it is an event involving 100 crore people who go out there and vote. Tell me, which other event — or to be specific cricket event — does that? Politics does not mean building toxic narratives around it, and one shouldn’t stop engaging in that environment. Respect the viewer for what they are consuming and telling you — ‘koi b desh behtar nahi hota, usko bana padhta hai’. Elections provide the opportunity for innovations and brand integrations. Republic Media Network is known for breakthroughs in terms of innovative solutions. An example of this is studio branding in the news genre.