When the BARC India (Broadcast Audience Research Council) figures were released on Thursday, the debate about what captures the eyeballs of English news watchers was put to rest once and for all. Belonging to influential media houses or sudden outbursts of hyper-nationalism have failed to impress. There is only factor that makes all the difference- Arnab Goswami.
Arnab began his own English news channel Republic TV on the sixth of May. BARC keeps track of television viewership on a weekly basis, and its nineteenth week of the year started on the same date. The figures of Week 19, which was Republic TV’s first week on air, were finally released on Thursday. As per BARC, Republic TV received over twenty-one lack impressions. As per BARC Report, Its closest rival Times Now received around eleven lack impressions, while the other English news channels received less than three lack each. An impression on television is equivalent to one hit on a webpage. Every time one tunes in to a television channel, it is counted as one impression irrespective of how long one stays put. In terms of market share for Republic TV, this translates to almost 51.9%.
What the BARC Report means is that in one week, Arnab’s Republic TV has broken to the top and captured more viewership than all its peers put together.
Times Now, India Today TV, CNN News 18, NDTV, News X, WION and every international television station broadcasting English news in India, together make up for the other 48%. This is a huge blow for the Indian mainstream media which always considered Arnab to be an outsider, especially to his previous employers Times Now. The Times Group which owns Times Now has been at loggerheads with Arnab ever since he quit in November last year.
Times Now continued to maintain a lead over its peers even after Arnab’s exit. Despite a steady flow of reporters and staff leaving the channel to help Arnab set up his own, despite relatively uncharismatic anchors replacing Arnab, the channel didn’t change its narrative. It consciously emulated Arnab’s patriotic stance and hard hitting line of questioning. It maintained a lead.
In the run-up to Republic TV’s launch, it allegedly received a notice from Times Group warning them about using the phrase ‘The nation wants to know’. This was a phrase Arnab had used so often that it had become synonymous with him. Since he worked at Times Now when he used it, they claimed the phrase was their property! Later, after launching Republic TV, Arnab named his weekly interview show ‘The Nation Wants To Know’. Arnab has a knack for showmanship, and this move of utter defiance and disregard towards his former employers enthused his cult following.
Arnab’s approach towards journalism has been quite different from other senior journalists. On a debate with rival Rajdeep Sardesai three years ago, he stated that he stayed away from Delhi unlike others editors-in-chief by design. This prevented him from getting mixed up with the establishment, and allowed him to report freely and go after the establishment whenever it was required. Arnab has been criticized for several things, but he remains one of the rare journalists of his stature who has never been compromised in any way. With such a reputation and a proven track record of attracting eyeballs, it wasn’t difficult to find backers. Billionaire MP Rajeev Chandrashekhar brought in the money and a stellar team of journalists and analysts were roped in in the run-up to Republic TV’s launch.
Arnab has perfected the art of giving people what they want. This was apparent in the runup to Republic TV’s launch. The social media groundwork was laid, and the suspense was built up gradually. On the morning of the launch, Times Now decided to air an exclusive piece of investigative journalism regarding Pakistan. But no one could steal Republic TV’s thunder. Arnab being Arnab had other tricks up his sleeve. He put out his own exclusive expose on Lalu Prasaad Yadav and Shahabuddin within minutes of launching his channel. The expose shook the Bihari political landscape, and very soon, the who’s who of Indian politics were seen giving their two cents on Republic TV.
Throughout the first week, almost every other English news channel aired exclusive pieces of investigative journalism. It seemed as if there was a concerted attempt to push the new kid on the block towards insignificance. But it seems Arnab had anticipated such a scenario. He also understood the importance of getting started with a bang. He exposed Lalu, Shashi Tharoor, Zakir Naik, Arvind Kejriwal, the Gandhis and the LeT, all in the first week. His peers could not keep up.
On social media, his rivals began tweeting in frustration. Republic TV’s senior reporter Aditya Raj Kaul took them on and put them in their place. Senior journalist from India Today TV Rahul Kanwal lied about Republic TV’s connections with the ruling dispensation, and was exposed by BJP’s Amit Malviya. Those who brought up the double frequency charge against Republic TV were shown the mirror. Apart from Twitter skirmishes, Times Group filed a police complaint against Arnab and his journalist Prema Sridevi because they obtained the Tharoor tapes they aired on Republic TV as employees of the Times Group. Technically this makes the tapes Times Group’s intellectual property, but this is likely to backfire on Times Group. The tapes will be used by the Delhi police as evidence in the investigation of Sunanda Pushkar’s death, so Times Group is likely to be accused of withholding evidence.
A fortnight after its launch, the entire mainstream media has ganged up against the channel. Arnab has successfully polarized the English news space, it is now Arnab versus the rest. With over half the viewership and with BARC’s certification, Arnab’s Republic TV is clearly winning round one.
We can expect the usual suspects to write op-eds about how Arnab peaked too early. What they do not realize is that this is the new order of things and that this order is here to stay. Investigative journalism and outbursts of hyper-nationalism will not help Republic TV’s peers. Corporate media with compromised journalists has no place anymore, and Arnab will decimate them.