Anuradha SenGupta on CNN-News18’s differentiated weekend strategy

CNN-News18 has been sprucing up its weekend programming with differentiated and innovative formats. The idea behind this refresh is to invest in in-depth and specialised programming that offers viewers food for thought and reflection on the weekends. In line with the same, the channel is also ready to launch a slew of new programmes on the weekends. 

Anuradha SenGupta, Consulting Editor, CNN-News18, has created and anchored a variety of shows covering the entire spectrum of show formats on news television, including live shows, discussions, large audience format shows and interviews. 

In an interaction with Adgully, Anuradha SenGupta speaks about CNN-News18’s investment in weekend programming, differentiated programmes and offerings, new programmes being launched by the channel on weekends and more. Excerpts: 

What is the objective behind refreshing the weekend programming? Why do you think it was necessary?

Almost all the news channels, without fail, focus on studio based discussion of the news and that’s become the formula. So far it’s been successful which is why everyone’s invested in it. But premium English language speaking audiences have migrated, to a large extent, to digital media. A certain kind of viewer - the English speaking global Indian with instant access to the best quality news and entertainment content on digital media, has been lost over a period of time. The challenge is to figure out how to woo them back. People who have stayed loyal to TV news, also complain about noise and agenda. The idea behind refreshing weekend programming on CNN-News18 is to get all these people to enjoy, respect and value news TV. In the process spend time with us.

Has there been a study or research on the viewership patterns during weekends? Was there any research done to see what viewers are looking for during the weekends?

Obviously we are constantly monitoring all the research that's available. But specifically - have we done a focus group study before we launched the new stuff - then no. The call to reinvent the genre and offer new kinds of programming is one we have taken as one of the most established and respected news channels in the business. If we don’t do it who will?  If we don’t do in such a dramatically changed media landscape, we won’t be living up to our brand or our legacy leadership.

What would be the genre of these new programs?

I would love to say that your weekends will never be the same! But I would rather you say it after you experience our new programs.

First let me remind you of CNN NEWS18’s strong legacy in weekend programming. We have some of the best known and longest running marquee weekend shows. I’m sure you’re familiar with Rajeev Masand’s ‘Now Showing’ and Cyrus Broacha’s ‘The Week that Wasn’t’, that have been on air for over a decade. In 2016, I launched Virtuosity, hosted by Vir Sanghvi, that’s a current affairs show using the interview cum discussion format. There’s also Off Centre – the conversation show where I try and map the heart and mind of India. These show come from the world of news but they are more reflective, offers deep thought, and have higher production values.

Now about the new stuff. For starters they will be part of the news zeitgeist.

Take ‘Reporter’s Project’ that launched on August 11th. Like the name suggests it’s a show where reporters go to where the news emanates. They spend time talking to people, making their own observations, and then return to piece together compelling narratives.

At CNN-News18 we have a really large, widespread network of experienced reporters. No matter how remote the location, our reporters can and will go there. We will also rely on the News18 Network of regional channels that are massive repositories of local knowledge and journalistic expertise. I hope that you will see dogged, solid and gutsy journalism. For instance in our first episode we have reported from the villages on the Rajasthan-Haryana border. Our reporter  spent time meeting locals and Gau Rakshaks to understand what was driving young men to such violence. The idea was to get into the mind of the Hindi lynch mob.

The other report takes you to the North-East edge of the country, Assam.  For this story we  travel extensively in Assam to record the stories of D-voters who have been left out of the controversial NRC and most certainly look at a future in which they will be rendered 'stateless’.

In a completely different vein is a micro-program, that encapsulates all the online buzz every week. It’s fresh, charming and it borrows from the digital approach of short, sharp, succinct content.  ‘Hooked’ is a four minute capsule that’s approaching news TV in a fresh way.

 Is weekend programming a new trend in weekend news programming as most of them rely heavily on the entertainment genre?

Most channels have over a period of time looked at the entertainment space to create weekend programming. But we have to go beyond film reviews and celebrity news. So Rajeev Masand has just done up in four mid-year Bollywood Roundtables; Vital Signs with Dr.Sanjay Gupta will be up in September. You will see special interest shows in concentrated thematic spurts.

 Before you decided to refresh your weekend programming what kind of programming did you do on the weekend?

Cyrus Broacha’s ‘The Week That Wasn’t’ is something that no other channel does. According to me, that was and still is path breaking. Today, stand-up comics are talking about news all the time. Then we have Rajeev Masand’s show, we have Vir Sanghvi in ‘Virtuosity’, we have me doing ‘Off Center’, we have the Tech and Auto show that we launched a few months ago and now we’ve got ‘Reporter’s Project’ and ‘Hooked’ which we will do every weekend.

There is a lot of talk about fake news. How is it affecting the news genre and how is CNN-News18 tackling this menace?

We have a large research team at CNN-News18 and we make it a point, if you watch our screen, if you watch any of our primetime discussions, to provide data and fact support to everything we do. We are very aware of the menace of fake news and we are very conscious that all the material that come to us are whetted for their veracity.

A show like ‘Reporters Project’ is a also way to counter fake news with credible journalism. To get people to see the ground reality as reported by trained journalists. Today a lot of people look at little videos shared via WhatsApp and that becomes their reality. In ‘Reporter’s Project’ trained journalists are going to these places, shooting the place, meeting people, making notes, discussing the information, correlating it with research and only then putting out stories. Can you think of a more effective way to counter fake news?

This year is a very crucial year for news channels leading to the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, your thoughts?

This is the most exciting period and also the most challenging. This time period requires us to be at our best. Watch this space.

 How are the current market dynamics affecting the English news genre?

The opportunities and challenges for us are the same as for anybody else in this field.


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