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The Rediff Interview/G Krishnan

"We're expecting to generate Rs 30-40 crore revenue"

April 09, 2003

TV Today chief executive officer, G Krishnan, is stoic in the face of criticism related to his newly-launched English news channel, Headlines Today. The news is trivial, say some. The newsreaders resemble inexperienced school kids, write others.

But Krishnan is unruffled. "Sceptics warned us when we launched Aaj Tak," he says. "But look where we are today," he adds.

To quote broadcasting industry's official figures, Aaj Tak clearly leads the news genre market with a share of over 60 per cent. Will Headlines Today manage to replicate the success of Aaj Tak? Krishnan shares his plans with Yusuf Begg. Excerpts:

Why did you zero in on an English news channel considering that Star News did not grow very much?

Star News was an English news channel initially and then became half Hindi and half English. So we realised that there was a gap in the market. We're the first to launch an indigenous English news channel. We're making a statement.

Could you elaborate on the target audience?

We're talking to an age group of 18 to 34 and there are roughly 125 million people that fit our target profile. We believe that an 18-year-old does not read newspapers as his or her options of getting information have multiplied.

But if you give him news in English in a trendy format, he will watch. Why we chose this category is because viewers in this segment are most influenced by advertising. People in the older segment do not want to sample new products. Headlines Today is clearly for professionals living in the metros and mini metros for who time is a precious commodity.

How much advertising revenue will Headlines Today generate?

It's difficult to give a number. Ours is a very conservative estimate as we do not see substantial money coming out of the English market. However, we're expecting to generate Rs 30-40 crore (Rs 300-400 million) in the first year.

How does this compare with Aaj Tak revenues?

Aaj Tak generated over Rs 100 crore (Rs 1 billion) in advertising in 2002-2003. That is, in its second year itself, it earned more than two of its biggest rivals. We estimate that together, Zee News and Star News may have clocked Rs 80 crore (Rs 800 million) in advertising.

Will the advertising market for news expand?

The news market is expanding; both in terms of viewership and revenues. When we started, news generated Rs 125 crore (Rs 1.25 billion). Today it is closer to Rs 250 crore (Rs 2.5 billion). The total advertising industry is growing at around 10-15 per cent annually. Of this, the bigger growth will be in television advertising.

News rather than entertainment will grab a major chunk of this growth. For an advertiser, TV news is as important as a newspaper. You reach a serious audience via news channels. I expect news channels to make Rs 400 crore (Rs 4 billion) in advertising next year. TV news is a growing genre and is yet to peak.

How will you sell Headlines Today once NDTV launches its English channel complete with well-known faces like Prannoy Roy, Rajdeep Sardesai, Barkha Dutt and others?

Star News has been in the business for the last six years. When it was a completely English channel, its market share was 5 to 6 per cent. When it became Hindi and English, its market share went up to 12 per cent.

If presenters made such a big difference, Star News should have had a 40 per cent share of the market or 25 per cent, at least. The names that you mentioned did nothing for the viewership, considering that Star News was owned by one of the best media companies. So it's not true that people want to watch these people.

Is Headlines Today facing distribution problems?

Just teething troubles. We have met cable operators and they said that they would connect us. We have already distributed boxes to cover 14 million English-speaking homes.

Since the launch of Aaj Tak, the cable distribution industry has gone through a phase of consolidation. So while we distributed about 3,200 boxes for Aaj Tak, we may be giving out about 1,800 for Headlines Today.

Will some news channels be in trouble?

There are 45 million cable-connected homes. Out of this nearly 33 million can read or understand English and Hindi. If you can deliver audiences, there is no dearth of advertisers.

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