The news channels have undergone a radical transformation, whereby the news has not only changed in its definition and content, but also in the manner in which it is presented. A rise in comedy and reality shows; the emergence and establishment of trivia in news; and most significantly, the end of political news dominance; this is the face of the news channels today.
A CMS Media Lab analysis for 2007 has revealed.
The research indicates that TV news today is no longer political, but has become more augmented, with sports, entertainment, and crime stories being an integral part of the news in bulletins. It is not surprising then that a decrease in the number of political stories has coincided with a rise in the number of sports, entertainment, crime and human interest stories.
According to CMS Media Lab, the time spent on political news in the year 2007 has come down by more than 50 per cent, as compared to 2005 (from 23.1 per cent in 2005 to 10.09 per cent in 2007), and the sports, entertainment, crime and human interest news have more than doubled (from 27.9 per cent in 2005 to 53.1 per cent in 2007). At the same time, agriculture, education, health and environment news have not seen any net change; their coverage has been as insignificant in 2007 as earlier (see graph).
CMS Media Lab specializes in tracking and analysing media trends in the coverage of news in TV, newspaper and radio.
The relevance of content in news has obviously seen a decline, with stories of ghost hunting, celebrity tracking on the rise. The rise of trivia in news has made the hitherto market followers, like India TV and Star News, the market leaders now and has established their place among the top four channels; their success has prompted other channels to follow suite. Star News also introduced another successful experiment of integrating Bollywood and cricket in the prime time slot, a move that helped end Aaj Tak'sreign at the top. A few channels also successfully introduced the concept of ?Citizen Journalism?. The impact though was lost; while some channels became celebrity centric, others merely looked to build more content.
In the news making business today, it is not the market, but the viewership that decides what is shown, and how. Herein, the use of the terms ?breaking news? and ?exclusive? have been so repeatedly used that they have seized to be significant. Also, the focus of the news and its interpretation is lacking. News today means entertainment that holds the attention level of the viewers! This is why the prime time slot of the number one rated news channels has registered a fall in the number of news items; the 8-9 pm slot has been reserved for comedy, reality shows, crime and Bollywood or cricket news. Here again, in the quest to be different, there is a competition to see who can make even the most trivial issues sensational news to create hype. Serious national and international issues have been sidelined; the agenda is to make the news entertaining as opposed to it being enlightening or informative.
During the course of CMS Media Lab tracking, it was also found that locations from where news is presented have also undergone a change. Instead of the field, studio discussions (graphics, dramatization, features) and live footage have become integral to the news today. These make for an easy bulletin, besides being cost effective. Also, imitations are on the rise, with each channel having virtually the same thing to say (and show). So even if news channels maybe on the rise, the choice for the viewer is limited with their contents being more or less on the same lines. It is interesting then, that rural India is still nowhere in the news bulletins, though coverage from small towns has, in relation, increased. News from Delhi and Mumbai though, still accounts for more than fifty per cent of the news. Here, one needs to ask how nationalistic are the so-called ?national? news channels?
Despite appearing different in their agenda and their coverage of national and international issues, in both the Hindi and English language news channels, the prime time had about half of the news originating from Bollywood and cricket.
2007 has been a year of experimentation for the news channels with respect to content (incorporating reality shows, comic programmes etc), style, presentation and some channels even experimenting with new names (like Janmat becoming Live India) and a new fleet of presenters. Despite all this, it didn'treally help them in becoming one among the top five most watched news channels.
Increased competition has unwittingly led to creation/manufacture or fabrication of news, the fake ?Live India Sting Operation? being an example. Such instances have once again raised the question of media regulation and their need for self-regulation.
With the national news channel space already heavily competitive and cluttered, the year 2007 saw the entry of new city/region specific news channels in the market. For the coming year, the battleground will be the regional space.
News channels could face tough competition in the coming year, with the old channels having to live up to their expected ?standards?, and the new ones having to establish themselves in order to survive and create a niche in this grueling and competitive ?business? of news making. It will be interesting to see if the news channels are able to sustain the changes that they have brought about in 2007. More importantly, 2008 is likely to raise more questions on media ethics and regulation, and that of news priorities like ?public benefit? and ?social responsibility?; and where they stand.
(The writer is Head, CMS Media Lab and can be contacted at [email protected])