NDTV, Aaj Tak, Zee News: Formidable troika  
 
     
  So different and yet so alike... Surrounded by shrouds of secrecy, the three big guns, have worked overtime to deliver what each believe is the best for these elections. And they have come armed with a slew of programming initiatives. With the exception of NDTV though, it is for the first time the other two are covering a Lok Sabha election. But the élan with which they are functioning makes them look like veterans in the game.
 
     
 

NDTV: Armed with an election gene

If any organization can really lay claim to have covered previous general elections extensively, it would be NDTV. No wonder, the organization feels that brand positioning for it during the elections is very simple.
'Elections = NDTV'. It's (covering elections or politics) in our DNA, the organization choruses

 
     
  It doesn't get bigger than the great Indian general tamasha, er, elections. 800,000 polling stations across the country, expenditure nearing Rs 7 billion. 4 million polling staff in action, an incredible figure of more than 600 million voters. In fact, as many people vote in Uttar Pradesh as one-third of the United States of America. "But being the world's largest democracy comes with responsibility. Just like being India's most trusted news channel comes with responsibility. We take that responsibility seriously," a cleverly worded press release from NDTV says.

NDTV's programming lineup for the elections have a distinct flavor of experience. Election Watch, Chai Stop, Follow The Leader, Battle Ground, Opinion and Exit Polls, And the winner is..., Jeet Uski Janta Jiski, Village Voice, Party Online, Party Political, Apni Party Apni Baat, Choti si baat, Campus India, Gustkhi Maaf (Puppets), Votenama, Vote Yatra, Gaon Gaon Se, Party Se, Small Talk, and University talk.

All these shows are distinctive in their approach ranging from in studio analyses to traveling the length and breadth of the country, stopping at highway Chai Stops, to traveling in trains with the masses and allowing them to express their opinion, to feedback from the student community and opinion polls in four stages with state wise analysis and the largest sample size ever NDTV has it all covered, across both its channels.
 
     
 

Though it is one of the criticisms, but NDTV has always turned it to its advantage --- studio-based analysis, which may be, at times, lengthy. And this time round also, there is no dearth of such programming. Jeet Uski Janta Jiski (opinion polls) on NDTV India, for example, being one such programming. It has its English equivalent too.

Because elections are all about public opinion, opinion polls are being extensively broadcast on both the NDTV channels to gauge the mood of the voters and predict the likely outcome of the elections. As one NDTV employee said, sometimes you get them wrong (opinion polls), but at NDTV, most of the time, we get them right.

It is another story that the opinion polls conducted by NDTV (in association with AC Nielsen and The Indian Express) up till now have been widely panned by politicians, mostly of the saffron hue.

NDTV also claims to be conducting one of the biggest polls exit polls where more than 75,000 voters are sampled by an independent agency exclusively.

Though the company went into a 'silent mode' just ahead of its formal listing on the Indian bourses late last month, this is peak season for both the NDTV channels whose ad inventories are almost full. Advertising industry sources said that more than new brands, it is the existing brands that have upped their spends on the two channels.

As far as its own marketing is concerned, NDTV has been mainly using on-air promos to tell the people about the programming lineup. But apart from that, some strategic press, outdoor and radio space too have been taken
with a special election page on NDTV.com

However, the ace that NDTV unveiled just before the elections was Vinod Dua, who has been brought in as part of the team specifically keeping in mind the general elections 2004. Moreover, his association with NDTV goes back to 1994 when he and Dr Prannoy Roy did some splendid work.

Roy and Dua ka magic chalega kya? Had it been a particular brand of refrigerator, it would have. But this is television and like the fickle minded Indian voters, one doesn't know for sure what would work on TV or not. Even if that means Dua and Roy combine.

 
     
 

Aaj Tak & Headlines Today: Going for the jugular?

The leader has launched an array of new programmes and segments to its existing programming portfolio keeping in mind the general elections. These initiatives have been implemented in a phased manner will mark the run-up to the elections, as well as set the agenda for its coverage. Not one to play it in a subtle manner, TV Today Network, the parent company for Aaj Tak and Headlines Today, claims, Aaj Tak plans to lead the coverage of the elections, "setting new standards for others to follow." A bit in-your-face, maybe, but it conforms to the whole attitude of the market leader.

The programming initiatives will provide - or attempt to do so - comprehensive information on the scenario, and complement the channel's coverage of the elections in the bulletins. The election-related programming initiative has been christened Chunaav 2004: Aap Ki Sarkar.

Some of the main properties of Aaj Tak are Vote Bank, a psephology show that analyses the various permutations and combinations, and projects the swings that are likely to take place; Aaj kA MP is a report card of MPs; Election Express is a travelogue presenting the common man's perspective; Kahani Chunav Ki, Thodi Si Bewafai, featuring politicians, who have changed parties, and alliances over the years; Yeh Raaste Hain Vote Ke, and Chunavi Chaat, present the lighter side of campaigning and elections. True to the channel's attitude, the programme names are, by and large, based on Hindi films and the motifs used are very common day so that the target audience of Aaj Tak has no problem in understanding them.

Chunavi Qawwali, a colourful and musical election show that takes an unconventional look at elections 2004. The show aims at capturing the essence of the great electoral battle through rhyme and repartee, rather than the regular fare of reports, interviews and analysis. The endeavour of Aaj Tak, in effect, is to deliver contemporary issues pertaining to the general elections to its viewers in a colourful form. Speaking on the election-related programming initiatives, a TV Today statement, quoting spokesperson Rajesh Sheshadri, said, "The viewers have always relied on Aaj Tak for comprehensive coverage and analysis of the elections. These initiatives are in-line with our commitment to the viewers of providing relevant and credible information."

Not to be left behind, Aaj Tak has also commissioned an opinion poll on the elections, and other specific issues pertaining to it. Headlines Today, India's first 24-hour English news channel too, has elaborate plans. Surprisingly, it is Headlines Today that has got the main theme of this election right by christening the programming Battle of the Alliances, which these elections are turning out to be.

As part of this overall electoral theme, Headlines Today has created numerous segments, including a SWOT analysis of the outgoing Cabinet. Speaking on various Headlines Today initiatives, Sheshadri said, "Creating an analogy with the battlefield will capture all the strategic aspects of electioneering in terms of flanking, defense mechanisms and all other movements in the programming."

 
     
 

Zee News: Targeting the Hindi heartland

Zee News, the first Hindi news channel of the country, couldn't have got one thing wrong: politics in India is never boring. And Zee News is planning to encase this excitement through a bouquet of programmes related to elections called Singhasan kA Final.

It could be anything from Mumbai's own Govinda joining politics to Laloo's political rhetoric. Janata Mange Hisaab, Chunav Chaupal, which brings the people and its elected representatives face-to-face with a host of issues on the agenda, Daurey Par Netaji are some of the election-related programmes that Zee News has. Adding sparkle to the whole proceedings is Daurey Par Abhinetaji, what with so many film and TV artistes' in the electoral fray or campaigning for their respective parties.

People's opinions matter. Zee News will feel the pulse through weekly opinion polls called Kaun Kitne Paani Main. These would relate to party performances and issues affecting the common man. There will also be informal chats in Chunavi Gupshup at random venues, where people would be casually asked about what elections mean to them and about their political preferences.

Shatranj Ke Khilari is a half-hour programme featuring studio discussions with leaders of different parties pitted against each other, while the election trivia comes in the form of Chunavi Chatpat. Zee News feels that the icing on the cake, however, is Chunavi Bhatti, brought by popular comedian Jaspal Bhatti.

His three-minute sarcasm packed skits - like parts of the Jaaved Jafferi show on Aaj Tak - does tickle the humour bone of viewers.Commenting on the show, Zee News group director, Laxmi Goel, says that the endeavour is to bring relief to the otherwise heavy content that marks election programming.

Zee News has marketed its election related programming, but the channel would like to play down that aspect as Goel says, "Why should everything boil down to commerce? We have sold airtime, but we would have covered the elections anyway."

 

 
     
 
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