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Chasing Eyeballs

Knowing that there would be a huge audience for the broadcast of exit polls on May 20, television channels went overboard in trying to outdo each other through gimmicks, innovations and visual effects.

One channel which literally went overboard was News18. It used special effects, or VFX, to have its anchor circle the country in a helicopter as it hovered over state numbers and voter turnout which popped up from a map as the virtual vehicle approached.

Another national news channel featured a water tank as a prop without quite explaining the context, while another also used special effects to introduce an alien-looking figure in blue doing somersaults on the studio floor while holding up exit poll numbers.

Times Now went back to the drawing board, literally—they had their studio guests calculating things like swing factors and vote shares on blackboards.

The anchor who literally came down from his high horse was Republic TV’s Arnab Goswami. He arranged for guests to arrive right into the studio in chauffeur- driven cars where he personally greeted them—all 11 of them. Predictably, with 11 panellists and Arnab holding forth, no one got a chance to say very much.

Missing Link

With election frenzy at its peak, one would expect leading TV channels to make sure all hands were on deck. Among the English channels, one prominent face was missing—Sonia Singh, NDTV’s editorial director, has not been seen in a while and speculation focused on the fact that she is married to Congress leader RPN Singh and the return of Narendra Modi would be bad news for the channel and anyone connected to the Congress.

However, the real story behind her absence is her first book, just launched by Penguin, Defining India: Through Their Eyes. In it she interviews a range of leaders from various fields, including former President Pranab Mukherjee who admitted to her that visiting the RSS headquarters was like walking into the “Lion’s Den”. The buzz is that she will not be returning to full-time work at the channel. She will be missed, for being a thorough professional and not letting her husband’s political ideology dictate her political analysis while on air.

Back with a Bang

Narendra Modi’s obsession with using all available technological tools to get his message across is well known. Now, even as Namo TV— the BJP-sponsored channel being aired free of cost by DTH operators, such as Tata Sky, Videocon and Dish TV, and criticised by the Opposition as being a “propaganda machine”—has gone off the air, we will see a return of Modi’s Mann Ki Baat. Sources say it will air on June 2, and the first Sunday of every month, as Modi returns to power. The programme was earlier broadcast on the last Sunday of the month. It is broadcast on the entire AIR network and some private channels apart from Doordarshan. It was halted during the lengthy campaign for the general election—the last episode was broadcast on February 24.

Money in the Votebank

This has been the most expensive election in the world but the ones laughing all the way to the bank are the TV channels. According to insiders, some leading channels had pre-sold 10-second ad spots on the counting day, May 23, for between Rs 5 lakh and Rs 7 lakh—a record of sorts. The average rate on a national channel is around Rs 2 to Rs 2.5 lakh for a 10-second spot. One or two channels with “exclusives” which they saved for the D-day have demanded close to Rs 11 lakh for a 10-second spot. The total take represents a hike of at least 20 to 30 per cent against the 2014 general election. The hiked rates are not just restricted to vote counting but also extend to government formation and oath taking. This bonanza also applies to regional channels.

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