Today, in a filing to the Bombay Stock Exchange, TV news channel NDTV claimed that in line with the group’s “turnaround plan”, to bring down costs, the group will now focus on its core businesses of English and Hindi News channels, NDTV Convergence and its digital teams. This was perhaps a candid acceptance of two facts:
a. NDTV’s finances are in trouble, hence a “turnaround plan”, and
b. It wants to move away from non-news related non-core activities, which could include its earlier moves such as its NGT plea to obstruct the ambitious Sagarmala project.
The release further stated that to suit this leaner plan, NDTV group plans to lay-off around 25% of its workforce. This layoff comes within 6 months of a report which claimed that the failing channel had fired 70 staffers. The report claimed that while the editorial staff said that the TV channel was shifting to MoJo (Mobile Journalism), other sources told the media house that the company was facing some ‘financial stress’.
Reacting to the news, there were some sarcastic comments on the controversial channel’s fortunes. One such comment by senior journalist J Gopikrishnan caught the eye of Sonia Singh, wife of former Congress Minister R P N Singh, and currently the Editorial Director at NDTV. In a tweet, Sonia Singh claimed that NDTV was paying a “financial cost” of speaking the truth, and is not getting any “official ads”:
Yes they should actually to ask why NDTV isnt getting any ‘official’ ads.Speaking truth to power has its financial costs & we’re paying it https://t.co/IkHRLBQWo7
— sonia singh (@soniandtv) December 19, 2017
This tweet by someone in her position also reveals two facts:
a. Although publicly NDTV might be claiming that the lay-offs are linked to “mobile journalism” etc, the real reason is financial stress, as indicated by sources in an earlier report. Singh all but confirms this.
b. If indeed “official ads” refers to Government ads, then the claim that they have stopped, and this has caused financial stress, meant that NDTV was running on the revenue of such ads for the past few years, including UPA’s tenure.
This claim by Sonia Singh comes just weeks after social media users had outraged over the alleged partnership of NDTV and Niti Aayog. Niti Aayog had rebutted the charge but rather unconvincingly. The claim also does not seem valid at least for the period ending 30th June 2016. As per an RTI reply, The Government of India had paid a whopping Rs 15.33 crores as advertisement expenditure to NDTV and its group companies from 01/05/2014 to 30/06/2016. It is not known if anything had drastically changed since then:
Even if Sonia Singh’s claim is taken at face value, that “official ads” had stopped, it may not be the cost of “speaking the truth” as claimed by her, but may just be the cost of running a channel which has one of the worst TRP ratings in the business.
Broadcast Audience Research Council (BARC) is a joint-industry not-for-profit body that publishes weekly TV viewership data for India. As per its latest data for the week ended December 8 2017, NDTV was languishing at the bottom of the charts:
NDTV’s hindi offering NDTV India, which was in the dock for jeopardizing national security, isn’t even in the top 5 Hindi News channels as per the same data. In fact, when the ratings of NDTV English are compared with the Hindi news channels, one realises the abysmal viewership NDTV commands.
From the above, it does not take an Einstein to figure out why advertisers would want to stay away from NDTV. Any advertiser would want it’s messages to reach the widest possible audience. No one would want to advertise on channels which do not command respectable viewership.
Besides this, there is of course the baggage which NDTV brings. NDTV’s anchors conduct debates entirely based on fake news. Its promoters are under the lens of the IT Department for tax fraud. The group itself is under scrutiny of the Income Tax Department for concealing income. It would in fact make sense for any advertiser, especially the Government of India, to stay away from tainted groups like NDTV. For the moment though, it appears Sonia Singh has revealed more than she intended to.