In the context of media, concepts of `national' and `mass' are changing rapidly ... .
Local newspapers... growing presence across the country.
THERE is media visible, and media invisible. For the opinion-making classes, the former comprises the young Turks of NDTV 24x7 and Aaj Tak , the self-congratulatory Times of India, the clever-clever ad films created in Mumbai, and the imagined sway of Tulsi and Jassi. But beyond the glitz of cable television and all-colour newspapers, is a media universe that is changing rapidly. Old notions of national and regional no longer apply, media access is becoming a highly unequal proposition in much of the country, and mass media is increasingly under assault from niche channels and publications.
Several interesting crosscurrents are at work in the national media scenario. Regional stalwarts are becoming major national players. Try this advertising line: "One newspaper, 8 states, 279 districts, 24 editions". That is the Dainik Jagran announcing its launch in Ludhiana last month. The tagline is, "First national daily to be published from Ludhiana". Or consider the Dainik Bhaskar, with 20 editions in eight States, counting down to the launch in March of its 21st edition in Surat. No English daily is expanding at the scorching pace of a Jagran or a Bhaskar.
On a smaller scale, the Rajasthan Patrika has expanded into Gujarat, the Prabhat Khabar of Jharkhand publishes from both Kolkata and Bihar, the Navbharat of Maharashtra is present in Chattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh, and the Eenadu now has a presence in Orissa, Delhi, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Mumbai besides its native Andhra Pradesh. In television, Sun TV's Surya has taken on indigenous competition in Kerala to emerge the leader there. These rollouts across states are undertaken with modern day marketing savvy. In 1997 in Jaipur, and in 2003 in Ahmedabad, the Dainik Bhaskar, originally from Madhya Pradesh, unleashed its door-to-door survey approach to entering a new market. It seems to deliver the numbers. Both leading Hindi newspapers are enticing advertisers with the multi-edition packages they have to offer. So are runners-up Hindustan and the Amar Ujala. The result is yet another not-so-happy media trend the encapsulation of smaller, feisty regional newspapers that had a reputation beyond their territories. The Jansatta, the Nai Duniya, the Desh Bandhu, the Nav Jyoti, the Choutha Sansar, the Ranchi Express, and the Sanmarg, have all registered a drop in readership in the last few years.
They cannot compete with the global-national-local formula that the market leaders have invented. The latter's local editions go down to villages to collect and disseminate news. At last count, the Hindustan had 24 editions in Bihar alone. Rural India now gets newspapers in the morning at its doorstep.
But it does not get TV. Completely contrary to the notion that terrestrial TV reaches more than 80 per cent of the country, the reality is that only 19 per cent of rural households possess TV sets. The readership surveys had spread the notion (on the basis of sampling) that this figure was 28 per cent, but Census 2001 which collected data on TV and radio ownership has demonstrated otherwise. NRS 2003 had a rural sample of 42,000 households, the census covered 138 million rural households. Radio ownership in rural India is around 31 per cent, going by census figures.
Television access across the country is also skewed. In rural Bihar, only one out 18 households possesses a TV set. In Punjab it is likely to be three out of five. Eighty-four per cent of rural households in Uttar Pradesh do not possess a TV set. Taking rural and urban combined, West Bengal has seven per cent of all TV owning homes, Bihar three per cent, the North East three per cent, Orissa two per cent. But Maharashtra has 16 per cent, and the four Southern states between them account for 32 per cent of all TV homes in the country (NRS 2002). And by studying census data for comparison, Doordarshan's former director for audience research, B.S. Chandrasekhar, who has recently done a study of rural TV ownership, has concluded that NRS figures are usually overestimates.
Cable penetration is also skewed, varying from seven per cent for West Bengal to as high as between 70 and 85 per cent for Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh. Again, this is according to NRS estimates. So regional is increasingly becoming national, States are developing media rich and media poor identities, and as India progresses towards becoming a mature media market, niche media is eating into the audience share of mass media.
Among niche publications, business periodicals make up 62 per cent of the niche market, sustained by growing volumes of financial advertising. This is followed by womens' magazines, film magazines, education and career, travel, IT, automobile and other periodicals. Over the last decade, general interest magazines have lost five per cent of their revenues to specialist magazines, according to the TAM ADEX analysis on Exchange4media.com. But they in turn have cut marginally into the advertising revenues of newspapers. In TV, niche channels are increasingly garnering audience shares. The trend is borne out what is happening elsewhere: last year in the United Kingdom, the five traditional TV networks were overtaken in viewership ratings for the first time by the combined might of smaller, specialist channels. In India, niche channels are flourishing, and if you take regional TV as niche, those channels now command over 40 per cent of cable audience. Super niche regional channels are likely to grow, there is now one for Coorg, two or more are starting up in Andhra Pradesh this year, and Aastha TV has two Sindhi channels for audiences in India and Pakistan.
As the trend grows, some niche channels will attract advertising out of proportion to their viewership. The "History" channel came in on the Star platform claiming to be in 15 million homes from the outset. Reality TV is also here, and when a Hindi business channel starts up later this year, that too will take advertising away from others.
Therefore, in the context of media, concepts of "national" and "mass" are changing rapidly. At the same time, the hype notwithstanding, large parts of the country remain immune to media influence. The "India Shining" promoters might like to think about that.
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