CNN-IBN: New Kid On The Block

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!

Books I read in 2005

In continuance with the “look back at 2005” trend, here’s a list of the significant books I devoured in the past year, in no particular order. I guess I’ve missed out on a couple; will update this entry later.

India Unbound – Gurcharan Das
The Elephant Paradigm – Gurcharan Das
iCon – Jeffrey S. Young and William L. Simon
Timeline – Michael Crichton
Angels and Demons – Dan Brown
Wings of Fire – A.P.J. Abdul Kalam
Ignited Minds – A.P.J. Abdul Kalam
Jack – Straight From the Gut – Jack Welch
Iacocca – Lee Iacocca
Business Maharajas – Geeta Piramal
The 7 habits of highly effective people – Stephen Covey
5-point someone – Chetan Bhagat
Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman! – Richard Feynman
The Dilbert Principle – Scott Adams

Dada makes it to Parliament and other stories.

I was initially planning on putting up a post regarding how our Parliamentarians (and indeed, our legislators) seem to spend all of their time in the Parliament (and Assemblies) debating endlessly over frivolous, needless issues, and then the only bills that are passed (and consequently, the only laws that are framed), are ones that are irrelevant to the real problems that face us. The immediate motivation for that came when the honourable MLAs in the Vidhan Souda in Karnataka decided to rename their capital. Exit Bangalore, enter Bengaluru. Wow! How much work did that take? Zilch. Nothing.

Other examples that come to mind are of course, Mumbai’s dance bars, renaming Indian Airlines as “Indian”, “upgrading” Pune and Bangalore airports by “allowing” one flight each to Singapore and Dubai (by AI and  IA only, of course) – never mind that both these airports are already jam-packed with airplanes and passengers, with no room for capacity expansion at all. Tough decisions like sorting out the VAT mess, expanding the tax net, urban land reform, dealing with the sever power shortage in major states, getting rid of illegal slums in our cities, downsizing the Government, – I have barely scratched the surface of the list of problems that *really* matter to all of us. But while I was contemplating how to write that post, along came something so ridiculous, so unbelievably stupid, so frivolous, that it simply eclipsed all of my thoughts on the topic, and established itself as the new nadir of our Parliamentarians’ conduct:

Sourav Ganguly’s exclusion from the Indian Cricket Team was made an issue in Parliament.

Not only that, politicians from Bengal – including the (previously thought-of as sensible) Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, and minister Ashok Bhattacharya have made their displeasure public. An “irate” Buddha called up Sharad Pawar  – the new BCCI honcho – and demanded his (Ganguly’s) re-instatement into the squad, Bhattacharya opined that Sourav was the victim of a “deep conspiracy”, and finally, the proverbial last straw was when the Speaker of the Lok Sabha, Somnath Chatterjee – former Parliamentarian of the Year – said that he would allow a discussion on the issue next week in Parliament.

My eyes widened in horror as I read this last piece of news in the papers this morning. Surely we elect this 543-strong bunch of people for reasons better than to debate the composition of the Indian Cricket Team! I have nothing whatsoever to say whether Dada’s exclusion from the team was right or wrong – that is not the matter here at all. Even if it were a very unfair decision, should our MPs be debating this? Do they have nothing better to do? After spending the last two weeks haranguing over the Volcker report (And what came of that debate? Nothing, since some Committee is still “looking into it”.), trading charges over whether the NDA-did-it-too-not-just-us, and then the Questions-for-money scandal,  next week we will be subjected to more ugly scenes of Bengal-vs-Maharashtra in Parliament, since folks around the country have reduced this matter into a delightful Bengali-pride-vs-Marathi-arrogance fight. Sharad Pawar has pleaded, and most rightly so, that sports and politics should be kept separate. Sensibly, he said that “there is no point discussing it (the selection process) in public”.

You want to talk about sports, if nothing else, Parliament? Take this, then: Why is KPS Gill heading the Indian Hockey Federation for the last 12 years (more, I think), and why has Indian Hockey not improved an iota in this timeframe? Why do we still have to change our coaches every year? Why is Priyaranjan Dasmunshi heading our Footbal Association for years and years now, and why don’t even stand a chance in the qualifiers of the Football World Cup. Why are these individuals not accountable for the results on the field? Why is the Indian public not a direct stakeholder in the manner in these federations are run? Why is it that the only organisation that is auotnomous, that is (or used to be) free from politicians’ clutches, the BCCI, has managed to make itself the richest cricketing body in the world, and that cricket has remained the only sport in which the country can make it to the Top 5 in the world? That it is the only sport which has a healthy and vibrant domestic league (which is not postponed year-after-year)?

These are, again, matters which need debate, followed up by tough decisions and firm actions that not everyone will find welcome. Do our MPs have the stomach for this?