Monday, January 12, 2009

Local Schlocal

Sorry, this is my Monday Rant and I've not bothered to hyperlink anything, so apologies in advance.
You know, the speculation about NDTV Metro Nation shutting down has been doing the rounds for quite a while. Metro Nation along with Good Times are frankly pointless channels. I mean they could have been a lot better, but I really don't see any reason to watch them - everytime I've made the mistake of pushing the red button, you see rehashed Express Newsline or Times City stories along with a load of Delhi cliches on the lifestyle stories. As a city channel it fails royally.
Of course, in my honest opinion, it is a lot better than Good Times which tries to be something it isn't. When you have Discovery Travel and Living why watch second-best? Yes, so they have a captive audience on Kingfisher aircraft, but only the brain dead watch Good Times on the aircraft that don't have Live TV, I flew to Port Blair on an aircraft that didn't have live television and I watched the airshow. Trust me, it is more entertaining.
Back to the point, it seems that NDTV has put plans of a Chennai Metro Nation on hold. Good. But as someone told me the incremental costs of launching a channel should be minimal and good 'flanking channels' always help with advertisers, but by all indications from the movie hall, Metro nation has ridiculously high operating costs. Their traffic jam of an OB-van, you might have seen it float around Delhi with its indoor studio acting like a bad roadblock sometimes on the Def-Col BRT stretch (now you know why I dislike them even more!) costs over half a lakh to run everyday. Their employee costs are insanely high - with one insider saying that more people are employed there than watch the channel. Which I might even agree with given that the distribution is horrible - the bar on Tata-Sky is silly. OK, their anchorettes are pretty, but big deal, they don't have exclusive rights to vapid bimbettes.
The channel was a bad business idea to begin with. I agree with trhe concept of city channels, localised news channels is the direction that the US has taken. In the Bay Area and Orange County I got essentially local news on NBC and ABC with cut-outs during the Today show. For pure news there are other channels - CNN and MSNBC, but even on CNN you have cut-outs to the local news affiliate.
But India isn't a 'hyper local' market as yet and I don't think we'll get there for a while either, though I do believe we will get there all right. By our nature we like discussing news and affairs of the world (or maybe just in Delhi) - OK, the world for us is India and to an extent Pakistan, because as a people we are horribly insular to our local geographical neighbourhood. Zimbabwe could in chaos, but they're just a pesky cricket playing nation against whom we score records and whose administrators vote for the BCCI all the time. Who cares? Maybe only The Hindu reader, but that paper's maniacal obsession with Sri Lanka makes you wonder if they're a vested interest. But, that is another debate on our foreign coverage - long live the interwebs.
Localisation of news will happen - there is some of it happening already (see the papers, though Metro Now's imminent demise proves that Delhi is not the best local market for stand-alone papers with little or no national content either), but I think NDTV bit off a bit too much, too early. There will be several city channels - slick ones not the cable owned channels on various platforms from TV to the Internet by 2015. And bad as it might be, I do believe that MetroNation should survive, not in its current avatar, but it would be sad to see them go the way of BiTV - another concept ahead of its time.


Eye for India said...

There are tens of news channels in local languages for local/state news across India. Will the biggies will probably buy them in the long run?

For instance I think I saw a local channel's live footage during the Ahmedabad bomb blasts. Same with Bangalore.

And most of India does not watch the news dished out from Delhi or Mumbai. We have our own sources.

shyam said...

The best kept secret about leveraging incremental costs (aka playing for scale), is that it is only possible when you are efficient and your processes are well thought-out. That little factor is quietly ignored by the champs who try to use it as an excuse. It is quite simple: the weakest link in your chain will determine how strong the entire chain itself is going to be. Inefficiencies in the system negates any incremental cost advantage, in fact, it can wind up costing you a lot more.

Meld that little thought with how most media houses function (and let us not inconvenience ourselves here by factoring in egos), you will easily see why most are only assembly lines that produce only one car per facility for their lifetimes. Most of these ops are hugely inefficient, pretty much gutting the 'incremental' theory from the word go. Unless you are an entertainment channel that plays out tapes, which the news channels are not.

The US networks work in a different way. The local channels are not owned by the big networks. They are affiliates of one big network or the other, which allows them to retain the local touch and feel, while leaning on the big boys for the larger stories. It works out well for both parties. What we are attempting here is well, putting up yet another assembly line. A wheel reinvented for the million time is still just a wheel and in this case it is quite an expensive wheel.

Eventually, India local will be a mix of the US affiliate model (the Suns and Buns and Asianets doing probably a multi-lingual set up) and the cable-only model followed by Asianet's ACV in Kerala.

p.s: if this how you rant, you should rant more often.

Anonymous said...

think you missed a path-breaking event in journalism on Monday Jan 12. R-Adag, realtors, RIL least trusted on ethics: Mint poll. This is very courages of Mint. No other paper would have had the courage to write any thing against the Brothers. Least of them, ET. Way to go Mint, or will it be time to go!!!