So Rajdeep Sardesai has finally made a re-appearance on the Indian News Channel scene, after his well-publicized departure from NDTV. CNN-IBN has been airing news for about a week now. I conlclude that NDTV has some serious competition. And competition is always welcome! After all, NDTV 24×7 only had to compete with India Today’s Headlines Today in the English News channel space, HT was small fry, whichever way you look at it. CNN-IBN is a different ball game.
As “Editor-in-Chief”, Rajdeep now has his own news channel to play with, after realizing that at NDTV, he’d be the perennial Number Two. And the channel bears his stamp. Opinionated and aggressive, CNN-IBN’s anchors and news reporters don’t shy away from voicing their take on the news item they’re presenting/reporting. This is welcome, provided it isn’t taken too far.
In terms of look and feel and structure, CNN-IBN is an NDTV clone. Absolutely. This isn’t a bad thing, considering NDTV had modelled itself on BBC World when it separated from Star News. And the channel has poached some very capable NDTV staff. Ones that come immediately to mind are Anubha Bhosale, Bhupendra Choubey, Nilanjana Bose and Veeraraghav. (I know I’ve missed out on a couple of names). Numerous others look familiar too.
CNN-IBN has an urban focus, and it makes no bones about that fact. (That doesn’t mean it doesn’t feature issues from rural India). It tracks events more aggresively than NDTV does, and follows up on them too. A case in point is the recent demolition drive by the Municipal Corporation of Delhi.
I noticed that CNN-IBN has a more positive touch to it than NDTV does. I think NDTV lost its way somewhere in the second quarter of this year – its hour-long news bulletins lose steam around the 25-minute mark, and become boring, sometimes downright depressing. CNN-IBN often features stories of innovation, goodwill and hope from both rural and urban India. This is very very important, since it’s going to be what makes avowed NDTV watchers switch the channel to CNN-IBN. They may not even realise why they’re switching – it may be subconciously, but it will happen.
CNN-IBN calls itself a “journalist-driven channel”. They’re spot-on. Notice the way the channel centres its program promotions and advertisements around the anchor. This is very CNN-ish – remember the focus on Christiane Amanpour, Nic Robertson, Richard Quest (the last two were poached from BBC), Jonathan Mann, and another bearded buy whose name I can’t recall – something to do with a wolf. NDTV, on the other hand, is more programme-driven. The focus is on “The Big Fight”, “We the People”, “Walk the Talk”, “Bombay Talkies”, and the like – regardless of who hosts them. One the one hand, personality-driven programmes (CNN-IBN-style) will attract more viewership, but on the other, it’s hard to sustain the programme if the anchor walks away. That’s why NDTV was able to seamlessly transition the Big Fight from Rajdeep to Virkam Chandra, and is able to use all of Sreenivasan Jain, Shai Venkatraman and Miloni Bhat for Mumbai Live. CNN can’t afford that luxury; it’s got to keep its anchors happy. Also, NDTV’s top brass are now familiar faces on TV – Prannoy Roy himself, Barkha Dutt, Sonia Verma, Vishnu Som, Vikram Chandra. CNN has to build those reputations now. Expect poaching galore! Hmm – for these personalities, life has never been better!
What gives NDTV the edge? Its partnership with the Indian Express, and its ability to use Shekhar Gupta for Walk the Talk. Make no mistake, it is crucial for a partnership between a TV news channel and a newspaper, because of the manner in which people are increasingly using the two media. Through the day, audiences watch news channels, and stay abreast of the latest – hence the special focus on Breakfast, Lunch and the 9 o’clock news bulletins. What they want from their newspaper the following morning is not news per se – they got that already – but opinions and analysis of those issues from the previous day.
Personally, I am thrilled by the appearance of a channel that’ll give NDTV a run for its money. Expect better content from both these channels. And don’t forget to keep your eyes peeled for Arnab Goswami’s upcoming news channel too!