Network18’s structural and programming changes during COVID-19

The company has changed its programming lineup.

MUMBAI: News channels are at the forefront of this war against COVID-19. Providing news, busting myths and allaying people’s worries – they are doing it all. This even when they too are facing social-distancing challenges.

Network18 CEO Avinash Kaul says that employee priority is one of its top concerns. “We have come up with a corona response team to provide assistance to our colleagues and their families. Our human resource and admin teams are working tirelessly to keep a tab on all the employees’ health through a unique self-declaring tool called 'symptom tracker’, which is made accessible to all employees,” he says.

The government, while declaring 21-day lockdown across the nation, added news media under the essential services category. Hence, news channels across languages are operational 24x7 with a reduced workforce or via work from home.

“The network’s news channels have brought about new working protocols and offered flexibility to its employees. Similarly, the editorial teams are working round the clock and from different locations to stay on top of the COVID-19 story,” says Kaul.

Since more and more people are watching the news for the COVID-19 update, Network18 has tweaked its programming to cater to the changing demand wherein a special line-up of shows providing healthcare, fitness tips are broadcasted for the viewers.

Busting myths and countering fake news is also a task for news channels. Kaul says, “We are providing helplines and are ensuring that the viewers have information on their fingertips, be it counselling through doctors, helping the viewers on separating fact from fiction and allaying general fears of the public.”

The group has a bouquet of 14 regional channels, two business news channels in English and Hindi and two general news channels in both English and Hindi. The network gives 360-degree covering socio-economic and political aspects of news to viewers related to the pandemic.

In this regard, Kaul says: “CNBC cluster has been focusing on analysing the economic impact of the pandemic. CNN-News18 has lined up a set of special programmes that include Corona Warriors, Corona Files, Corona Control Room and Doctor Call-In which dwell on various aspects of COVID-19. News18 India attempts to give clarity on myths related to the virus through a show called Khabar Pakki Hai.”

Even though news viewership is at an all-time high, it isn’t translating into ad revenue. “Advertising in April has seen a slow start for sure but one has to compare it in the context of a pre-existing slowdown in the economy, end of a financial year with plans of new fiscal being made and different way of working through online apps,” he says.

Kaul mentions that it takes time for things to adjust to the new way of working and Network18 is already seeing a lot of interest by various advertisers, who are looking at various creative ways of reaching out to audiences. “We are actively engaging with clients to help them with innovative solutions to gain from the huge rating upsurge that news is seeing. We remain optimistic about the future too,” adds Kaul.

Additionally, channels have taken the onus of creating campaigns to reduce panic among viewers. One such is Network18’s #MakeYourOwnMask which aims to create awareness about basic infection prevention and control measures by wearing masks outdoors.

He adds, “We also launched #IndiaGives, a campaign to financially support the country’s most vulnerable citizens during the coronavirus lockdown. As a first step, the over 6000 employees of the Network18 group have contributed a day’s salary to the PM’s National Relief Fund, to be used to provide succour to daily-wage workers whose livelihoods have been affected due to the shutdown.”

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