Puthiya Thalaimurai (PT) – A news channel independent from any political party

Behind the idealism and the confidence of having seen early success, PT also has a systematic and calculated approach to build its own brand and expand viewership.

Launch last August. Its claim to fame: Independence from any political party. A new channel – Puthiya Thalaimurai (PT) –  has been making waves in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu. For years, politics, entertainment and news comfortably shared the same bed in the state. In the ’40s and ’50s, the DMK built its cadre by gathering people in street corners, reading and interpreting news for them. When cinema became popular, they mixed propaganda with the art – Anna and Karunanidhi through their screenplays, and MGR and Jayalalithaa through screen presence. The tradition continued in the era of television too. Sun TV functioned out of the campus of the DMK headquarters for most of its existence, and now that space is occupied by Kalaignar TV. To know how bad DMK is, watch Jaya, and to know how bad AIADMK is, watch Sun is the balance of media equation in TN.

PT launched a magazine, Puthiya Thalaimurai, that targeted youngsters, but without depending on the usual fare of cinema and politics. The success of the magazine – its circulation is about a lakh now – indicated that an independent news channel focussing on real issues like education, health and infrastructure would succeed. PT’s campaign started on August 15 last year, with a tagline that translates to ‘freedom to know the truth,’ and the channel itself was launched nine days later.

“When we were thinking about the idea, almost everyone I spoke to said it won’t work here. They said distribution will be difficult. They said there will be political pressure. But here we are,” says P Sathyanarayanan, president, Puthiya Thalaimurai.

Read the full report by N.S. Ramnath/ Forbes India in Money control.comNew competition for Tamil Nadu TV channels

The Love Triangle of Godmen, Indian Media and the Naive Public

Seeking ‘sampurna nirvana’, ‘moksha’, ‘enlightenment’, spiritual solace or whatever name you give to spiritual wisdom, has always been an expensive affair. Thanks to the introduction of technology, social media, 24*7*365 news channels and some unique PR strategies, the new age God-fellas are able to reach out to a larger audience.

The multi-crore controversial ashrams, mega-donations, special high-tech discourses, mind boggling foreign funds, exclusive telecast copyrights and the jet-set lifestyle of the gurus, everything has an enigma that has turned out to be a fatal attraction for the Indian audience, especially the middle class audience. The economic boom in the last decade has further improved the prospects of Godmen and their followers.

Be it the old, famous and renowned spiritual leaders like the Sai Baba, Osho, Asha Ram Bapui ji, Morari Bapu, Maa Amritanandamayi or the relatively newer ones like Sri Sri Ravi Shankar and Baba Ramdev, each of them have carved a unique path for themselves in the spiritual world.

The riches of today’s Godmen and the organizations they head are sufficient to give them the status of large organizations and corporations. The rise of several Godmen in the recent years has created a general belief that it is one of the shortest paths to create wealth. Or perhaps to evade the tax laws? Undoubtedly, cash speaks and cash rules in the Godmen market that exists today and is almost a parallel economy, in itself.

The Indian media has consistently maintained a love-hate relationship with the Godmen and has worked as per its needs and the TRPs. One of the most classic examples we witnessed recently was the explosive news coverage of Nirmal Baba, alias Nirmaljit Singh Narula. While it hasn’t been proved if the allegations against him are true, it was indeed ridiculous to watch the same news channels exposing the Baba, where his early morning discourses were being shown!

It is quite clear that in the TRP dominated era, even the TV channels look out for stuff that can boost their earnings. Why can’t they just skip programs in which they don’t have any faith or belief or if they are suspicious of the motive of the people involved in them. After all, if they are telecasting a program, it is the responsibility of the TV channel, to ensure that the program is rational and is not done by a controversial or suspicious person. But then, why do they need to care if the morning 5.30-6.30 slot, earns them decent money. It seems it all boils down to revenue generation and a purely business relationship.

It is not difficult to understand why the Indian middle class in the past decade has unknowingly helped several Godmen to transform into millionaires and billionaires from just being a saint looking out to make a living in the world. The new age God-fellas have chosen religion combined with lessons of self-help to dispel the proverbial ‘ignorance’ of life. In fact, all this is easy to do in India because we have majorly been a religious country, with an unparalleled diversity in all forms of faith. It is often said that we have more temples than schools in India. As numerous faiths collide in India, it has become far easier to give birth to new forms of religions and mixed faiths.

(courtesy: Youth Ki Awaaz & Astitwa)

Moreover, India is at the cusp of great urban development and it is happening in all cities. The peace and union of joint families is transforming into just one family norm, giving way to atomism. The isolationism, the fierce competition, endless insecurities and especially the stark uncertainties that life throws in urban cities becomes a great recipe for the Godmen to lure people. A cheerful peppy talk in alignment with the psychological condition of the person by the divine Godman is surely a stress buster for many people these days. For some it is a relief that some larger-than-life image is there to protect them and for some, it is just an unknown, unexplainable journey of discovering a spiritual guru. That’s India- more than a billion people with millions of faith backed by trillions of reasons!

So, as we can see, the love triangle of Godmen, Indian media and the naïve public is really interesting. The same media that highlights the Godmen as the ultimate saviors, turns them down to expose their frauds. The same public and followers go mad when they discover that their saviors are just common human beings with same selfish ambitions like the rest.

The nexus between religious institutions and money has always been a reality of human civilizations, and it continues to be so even in the current era. While the public has often been duped of its modest donations by some aspiring God-fellas, it will indeed be interesting to watch how the relationship between Godmen, common man and the media changes over the years, as rational thinking and scientific organizations work religiously towards issues related to blind faith and superstitions. Nevertheless, one thing is for sure these days. The common man has endless options in the form of a spiritual guru, even with tempting discounts, perks and of course, special mental peace packages! So eventually the ‘nirvana economy’ is indeed exciting, interesting, mystic and of course, rich!

India’s star news channels & Baba

P.N. Vasanti , Director of New Delhi-based multidisciplinary research organization Centre for Media Studies (CMS) writes in liveMint.com: 

A classic example would be the numerous shows featuring Nirmal Baba (alias Nirmaljit Singh Narula) on almost 35 channels, including 15 news channels. Paid slots showing a large number of devotees getting advice and solutions to problems have made this former businessman into a baba reportedly worth crores (a few reports claim an annual turnover of more than Rs.200 crore!)….

….They may find a place on our numerous channels, especially the dozen-odd spirituality channels such as Aastha TV, Sanskar TV, MH1 Shraddha, Sadhna TV, Dharm TV, Paras TV and Sanatan TV. They may even help hold up ratings on a general entertainment channel.

….My issues are twofold. One, these are paid slots and not news or current affairs programmes, so what are they doing on a news channel? Many channels do not even inform the viewer that it’s a paid programme and not produced by their channel. Second, where is the moral and ethical responsibility of any news media in promoting such blind faith and superstition?

…In September 2011, the News Broadcasters Association (NBA) issued an advisory to its 45 member channels “to voluntarily improve the broadcasting standards by desisting from airing such reports (on matters propagating, promoting and advocating superstition, occultism and blind belief)”

….And yet, we see a large number of NBA members such as Star News, Aaj Tak Tez, IBN7, India TV continue to promote and regularly show paid programmes featuring Nirmal Baba, even today.

She also heads the CMS Academy of Communication and Convergence Studies. Read the full column http://www.livemint.com/2012/04/18222552/NEWS-MEDIA-AND-IRRATIONAL-BELI.html?atype=tp

India’s own(ed), Anand Bazar Patrika News

ABP STAR News

The MCCS on Monday announced that its popular Hindi news channel, STAR News, will soon be rechristened as ABP News. Bengali news channel STAR Ananda will be ABP Ananda and the Marathi news channel STAR Majha will be called ABP Majha.

The three 24-hour news channels are owned by the Media Content and Communications Pvt Ltd (MCCS) – a joint venture between the Ananda Bazar Patrika Group and STAR India Pvt Ltd. Both Ananda and Majha are No 1 news channels in their respective markets since inception.

Star India Pvt Ltd and ABP, the principle shareholders, have agreed to discontinue the Star brand affiliation with the MCCS. Going forward Star wishes to focus on building their brand on their core business that is general entertainment.

The core business of the ABP is news and it wishes to promote and establish its own brands in the broadcast news space through its subsidiary company – MCCS. MCCS has sustained its affiliation with Star brand for 8 years and both have benefitted from this association.

In these years the three news channels have evolved into respected market leaders in their segment, which has helped MCCS become a strong and respected company in the broadcast news space.

It has quality resources in its employees and built good equity among its stakeholders – loyal viewers’ base, clients, distributors and vendor partners.

Content on all three channels are managed by some of the finest editors, journalists, anchors and technical professionals who have consistently maintained the highest standards of honest and ethical journalism. They would continue to maintain high standards of news quality, with same integrity, transparency and speed.

TV Today scoops a dozen at award do as it is praised for its ‘path-breaking work’

The night of the prestigious National Television Awards, 2012, belonged to the TV Today Network as the group walked away with 12 awards on Wednesday.

The network’s English news channel Headlines Today won seven awards, while the Hindi news channel Aaj Tak got three awards.

Dilli Aaj Tak and Tez, the other Hindi channels of the group, bagged one award each at the glittering awards ceremony that took place at The Lalit hotel, New Delhi. The channel scooped up awards in categories ranging from hard news and investigative journalism to entertainment.

The Headlines Today show, Saas And The City, won the Best Entertainment News Show award for its episode ‘Revisiting Ramayan’, while Denzil O’Connell bagged the Best Entertainment News Anchor award.

The channel also won an award for the Best Use Of Graphics In A Promo.

Aaj Tak won the Best Promo For A Channel award for ‘Badal Gaya India’ and the trophy for Best Current Affairs Programme (Home And International) for Doctoron Ki D-Company.

It also won a special award for the Anna/Lokpal show, which gave an extensive coverage on the Lokpal Bill.

Dilli Aaj Tak won an award for the promos of ‘Aapka Chunnav’ campaign while Tez bagged the trophy for Best Entertainment News Show for its show, Dhoondte Reh Jaoge.

Pudhia Thalaimaru: A refreshing change

In just two months after its launch, an independent television news channel in Tamil gallops to number one position in viewership. It has more to its credit than merely warding off political affiliations, writes MAYA RANGANATHAN

In television-saturated Tamil Nadu, news that Pudhia Thalaimaru (New Generation) television channel has emerged as a leading news channel in the region in about two months went largely unnoticed. In a state where television news has come to mean propaganda with political parties launching their own channels, where “objectivity” amounts to simply not believing any source entirely, and where sectarian interests dictate news coverage, the success of an “apolitical” television channel is something to write home about.

The SRM Group launched Pudhiya Thalaimurai, with the tagline “unmai udanukudam” (truth instantaneously) in August 2011, buoyed by the success of the weekly Tamil magazine by the same name which was launched in 2009. In a press meet ahead of the launch, managing director of the group T R P Sathyanarayana had reportedly said that the channel would seek to fill the void in the regional televisionscape for a channel that had no political leanings, that provided more than film-based entertainment and that was as informative as it was entertaining targeting the youth.

At first glance, it can be said that the channel has succeeded in its aim. The success is particularly significant, as it came at a time when the only other apolitical news channel in the region, the NDTV-Hindu, launched in 2009, was floundering and had accumulated Rs. 20 crore in losses. It has since changed hands.

Perhaps, the initial success of Pudhiya Thalaimurai lies in that the SRM group chose a time when there are alternatives to the cable connection in the form of DTH (direct-to-home) television, which is of late becoming more popular owing to the “cable war” that the DMK and the AIADMK are embroiled in. Speaking in another context, Asian College of Journalism (ACJ) chairman Sashikumar pointed out that first tussle between the DMK and AIADMK in the nineties was over the issue of establishing the huge network required for cable television. Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa’s announcement of the setting up of Arasu Cable Corporation is a measure to combat the overarching reach of Sun TV and the monopoly Sumangali Cable Vision enjoyed in the State. It is said that more and more viewers, tired of their favourite channels being blacked out in the political war, are turning to DTH which only costs marginally more. Interestingly, the government also imposed a 30 per cent entertainment tax on DTH which has been stayed by the Madras High Court.

But Pudhiya Thalaimurai has more to its credit than warding off political affiliations. The periodic news bulletins are interspersed with talk-shows, discussions, news features, district round-ups that attempt to present information unlike the other Tamil television channels. For instance, “konjam soru, konjam varalaru” (A bit of food and a bit of history) traces the origin of items in the Tamil cuisine while “Yuppieskku mattum illai” (Not just for the yuppies) attempts youth-talk that is not contrived. Its programming thus differs drastically from that of other channels that have more or less followed the pattern set by the commercially-successful Sun TV. In terms of salary packages it offers, it is said to be competitive.

Its presenters are young, dressed neither in the formal DD style nor the “loud” style of Sun TV. They are like everyday youth that one gets to spot on Chennai roads dressed in decent casuals speaking a Tamil that is neither classical nor Anglicised. It is perhaps for the first time that Tamil viewers get to hear the news delivered in a conversational tone, devoid of the particular intonation pioneered by Sun TV, copied by other channels and parodied in Tamil cinema. The sets are reminiscent of The NDTV-Hindu where the television newsroom, complete with staff walking around, is seen in the background. Interestingly, the news team from the NDTV-Hindu seems to have relocated to Pudhiya Thalaimurai.

Its news segment also differs in terms of content and not just for the perspectives that it takes. The focus is more on social issues, which also helps it to steer clear of political leanings. Its young reporters are dressed in salwar kameez and jeans. Unlike other Tamil channels, it covers more than the regional and political and has a fair amount of information about the national and international which has so far been relegated to the English news channels. Pudhiya Thalaimurai’s success turns on its head the assumption that Tamil viewers are not interested in anything that is not associated with “Tamil” and in its attempt to redefine “Tamilness.”

It is, however, a little early to predict if it will set trends the way that Sun TV has. While Sun remains the undisputed leader in entertainment in the region, the success of Pudhiya Thalaimurai has had an effect on Sun TV, if sources are to be believed. It has apparently caused a rethink on Sun TV policies, including Maran’s dictum that it is the organisation and not the individual that should be projected. But changes, if any, are yet to become apparent.

The channel, however, is not without its detractors. Preceding reports of the channel topping the list of news channels in Tamil Nadu, there were reports that Pudhiya Thalaimurai was far from “objective,” the criticism stemming from the seemingly changing stand on Koodankulam nuclear plant. Its “political-correctness” has been seen as an attempt to offend none and appease all. It remains to be seen if it is able to tread the tightrope when faced with a crisis. After all, the SRM group has a finger in almost every business pie. It is when one of its interests is affected that its resolve to remain apolitical will be tested. Till then, it is a welcome fare for the Tamil viewers.

(courtesy: MAYA RANGANATHAN & THE HOOT)