News18 India commands 13.9% market share today: Prabal Pratap Singh

The pace at which major developments are taking place both nationally and internationally, one could say that there is no business like news business. Added to that is the all important Lok Sabha elections in 2019, which will be preceded by no less than five State Assembly elections. With 22 channels in the news genre, viewers can expect a deeper coverage from all the channels that are faced with tough competition to gain eyeballs.

News18 India has been going from strength to strength in the Hindi News space and as per BARC ratings for Week 41, the channel was placed in second position in Hindi News genre in Urban+Rural as well as urban markets. In the rural markets, News18 India is placed third.

Leading the channel’s charge is Prabal Pratap Singh, Managing Editor, News18 India, a veteran journalist with over two decades of experience in journalism.

Prior rejoining to News18 India, Singh was working as a consultant for various media houses. He was earlier associated with Aaj Tak as Executive Editor from 2007 to 2013, during which he was Head of the Special Investigation Team and had carried out some major sting operations. He is well known for his coverage on Afghanistan and Iraq war. Post Aaj Tak, he joined Live India as its Managing Editor. Before joining Aaj Tak, Singh had worked with Eenadu, The Pioneer and Rashtriya Sahara.

In conversation with Adgully, Prabal Pratap Singh, Managing Editor, News18 India, speaks about the channel’s approach to news coverage, strategy to tackle fake news, challenges faced by Hindi News broadcasters and more. Excerpts:

What is your approach to news coverage?
There are two things: the first and the foremost, whether a particular news is of any interest to our viewers and secondly, whether it has a social impact. If it is going to affect our viewers enormously, we will definitely attempt and telecast it. And if it is going to engage our viewers, we will put it.

What, according to you, are the reasons that the channel is witnessing such a significant growth week after week and being No. 1 in a lot of markets?
I would say that people love watching News18 India because of our differentiated content.

When we revamped the channel, we were the only ones to do back-to-back debates – at 7-8 pm and 8-9 pm. No other channel was doing it. We then introduced Prateek Trivedi with ‘Bhaiyaji Kahin’. It’s again a debate, but in a different format – it is not a studio-based debate, but is out of the studio with a live audience. It was News18 India that came out with this concept of three back-to-back debates and now everybody is following us. We were the first movers in that direction. It means that our viewers are watching these debates and hence, others are replicating it.

When we introduced a show like ‘Lapete Mein Netaji’ a year ago, nobody was doing such shows. Now, if you look at every channel, they have copied it - in one format or the other, but the concept is the same.

What is your strategy to leverage this growth and further strengthen the channel?
First and foremost, the plan is to do what we are doing best. We are trying to improve upon ourselves for now because what we have done, viewers have liked it and that is why we are getting the numbers. So, our focus will be to improve on what we have been doing. Secondly, we have a couple of things in the pipeline, which I would like to reveal when they are finalised.

Are there any slots that you feel need to be improved?
There are no specific areas; I would say that we are trying to tweak our programmes and that is why we use the word improvement. We are trying to make our programmes more interactive. For us, we can’t afford to take some drastic steps. Our channel is already being watched by the viewers and more and more people are coming to us. That’s an indication of the fact that we are being liked by the viewers. We already command a 13.9 per cent market share (Source: BARC, NCCS All 15+, Wk41'18, HSM) at the moment and are leaders in the evening primetime with a 17.3 per cent share. (Source: BARC India Market: India Urban TG: 15+ Time Period: Wk 38 2018 -41 2018 Mon-Fri 1900-2300)

Therefore, there is no need for me to take any drastic steps to undo the things that we have done till date. Yes, there is scope for improvement that we are working on and you will witness it in a couple of weeks’ time.

How is News18 India tackling the issue of fake news?
There is a programme that has been designed by our HR department, wherein we are sending our people for training as to how to differentiate between fake news and genuine news. We are training our assignment guys and our output guys that any news that falls in, how to differentiate between fake and genuine news. Our colleagues are been trained in this matter. It is a problem that we do encounter every day. And the problem becomes more painful when fake news is shared by the Twitter handle or the Facebook account of a renowned personality. Then you know it aggravates the problem.

As of now, there has not been a single incident of us putting out fake news on air. We have been very alert and cautious. You know as a journalist, you get a sense of it - whether it is fake or genuine. Most of the journalists get the rough idea; they get the sense of it whether it is fake or genuine. The moment your experience tells you that there is something fishy about this news, you become alert and then you probe it and only then do you put it on air. Even if you are late by half an hour, it’s better to put genuine content late than to put fake content just for the sake of putting it on air. It is a problem, but it’s not that big a problem that we cannot handle it.

I have told all my colleagues, my reporters that I don’t want any incorrect or fake news to be put on air. I have been very clear on it. The news can be late by 10-15 minutes, but you have to be factually correct.

How are you gearing up to cover the 2019 Lok Sabha elections?
We are in the process of preparing a detailed plan for covering the forthcoming General Elections, and this time we intend to come out with something different for our viewers. We will share it with you once we finalise things at our end.


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