When Arnab Goswami announced his resignation from Times Now and the parent company BCCL- Television Division, many in the newsroom were shocked, and a few broke down. But different emotions were playing out at the network’s advertisement sales team – of anxiety, and possibly fear. The one question on the sales’ team’s mind was possibly this – What are we going to sell now?
Sources in the company have told The News Minute than an emergency meeting was convened by the ad-sales team to discuss the strategy forward.
The loud golden goose
Arnab Goswami, as is well known, was the face of Times Now. But that also means that he was the money-spinner for the company. And with Times Now being their flagship channel, he became an invaluable asset for the company’s financial top line.
There are no public figures on how much money the entire television arm of the Times group (split into three companies: BCCL-TD, Times Global Broadcasting Company Ltd and Zoom Entertainment Co Ltd) , or any of its seven channels – Times Now, ET Now, Magicbricks Now, Movies Now, MN+, Romedy Now and Zoom – make. The companies are not publicly listed, so all numbers are informed estimates.
A source in BCCL said that of the total revenue of the TV business, Times Now constituted around 25-30%. Another source who was earlier part of BCCL pegs the share at 35-40%.
It is estimated that Times group’s TV arm rakes in revenues of around Rs. 150 crore from subscription alone.
According to insiders, Arnab’s show ‘The Newshour’ alone generated about Rs. 40 crore in revenue per year. The Newshour brand (including sales) is valued between Rs. 80-90 crores. A ten-second ad slot for the show hovers around Rs. 50,000, with members of the sales seem stating that negotiations with clients used to start at as high as Rs. 1,00,000 not too long ago. With the other shows in the channel hardly shoring up Rs. 5,000 for a ten-second slot, Arnab was the single reason the channel could make money.
In fact, insiders tell us that the ad-slots in the show were booked in advance till March 2017. All of these deals will now have to be re-negotiated, with advertisers asking for slashed rates.
And it wasn’t just about the numbers and ratings of The Newshour. “Advertisers used to love talk about Arnab,” a former member of the group’s sales team says, “they wanted to hear from us how he was in person, and what he did the previous night on air. Just getting to know more about him from us gave us a hook. We would regale advertisers with stories about him,” the former employee recalls.
Times Now’s entire sales strategy, in fact, was around Arnab, the former employee says, “The Newshour was the main product. We used to sometimes throw in ad-slots for other shows for free to make advertisers happy. It was only in the last couple of years that the management decided to put in some effort in branding evening shows. Otherwise, apart from some features shows like Total Recall, it was The Newshour alone which sold.”
Will the nest collapse?
For Times group, there are two immediate concerns. One is to find a replacement for Arnab Goswami to lead the news channels. The group is already in talks with several top editors and indications are that two people would lead the channel.
The other is to rework its sales strategy. An industry insider says that this is a huge hit for Times group, and unless they work out a brilliant strategy, it will be difficult to pick the company up from the impending slump.
“Arnab’s exit will have an impact not just on Times Now, but on the group itself. As far as ratings go, a lot of what happens next will also depend on who they rope in,” said the executive.
“His exit will first have an immediate and dramatic impact on Times Now revenues. On the whole BCCL’s TV business will take a hit, but one cannot discount the power of BCCL and revenues from the movie channel,” said a source in BCCL.
No one denies that this is indeed a hit for the network, but Mallikarjun Das, Head of Starcom India, says that it’s far from game over for the channel. “I do expect an immediate impact on Times group, but in the long term it depends on how they play it,” he says.
A good point to start to understand why, would be Times Now’s ratings. For the week of October-15 to October 21, the latest for which BARC data is publicly available, Times Now topped the ratings chart with 632,000 impressions. CNN News18 was a distant second at 289,000. Here are the top 5.
Times Now has a clear leadership over other channels, says Das, which will not be easily lost. He also points out rather interestingly that it isn’t just about the ratings of the channel falling, but also that someone else has to gain. “If no one else gains, the impact will be mitigated,” Das says.
Further, if the new editorial leadership at Times Now maintains the channel’s character, it could help them further. “There is a particular tone and tenor in Times Now. And viewers with a particular worldview identify with it, and if that is maintained, they will stick to watching it. There is a certain amount of loyalty which comes with news viewing,” says Das.
And the management at Times Now perhaps knows this. The internal discussion seems to be about demonstrating confidence to the market, to keep the channel together, maintain the character of the channel and correct one crucial mistake of the past – having just one powerful editorial face.