If a year ago, someone had said we can move to a Work From Home model for TV news, I would have laughed, writes Zakka Jacob.

A television set mounted on a wall with a news channel playing on it. (Image for representation)
news News Thursday, September 10, 2020 - 16:31

While many of you who are reading this piece right now may be appalled by the TV spectacle around Sushant Singh Rajput, and the media circus around his one-time girlfriend and now accused No.1, the fact is TV news in India is still thriving. And all the more so because of, during and beyond the pandemic.

Broadcast Audience Research Council (BARC) data shows that overall TV news viewership has increased by 15-20 percent even after the lockdown lifted. During the lockdown, there was at one point, a viewership increase of as high as 50 percent. That was largely because people were at home and wanted to consume content and news was the only genre available that was live. But even after the restrictions have eased, there is still substantial viewership on news channels, including for the reality drama playing out over Sushant Singh Rajput’s death.

But this pandemic has changed the way newsrooms and in particular, news channels function. TV was always thought of as one of those businesses which can only function out of a central place. After all, there are systems and software that need to be in place to enable broadcasting.

If a year ago, someone had said we can move to a Work From Home model for TV news, I would have laughed. Today, at least 30 percent of our staff is working from home. Today, except the Production Control Room or PCR function, most other television functions can be done from home. Even anchoring and makeshift studios have been set up in the homes of some of our anchors.

At one point, we were functioning while divided into five teams, each of them working from a different location. Two teams were working out of our main building, the Express Corporate Park, two other teams in an adjacent building, and one whole team was flown down to Mumbai to be on standby. Working remotely, yet in sync, and that too in a complicated live industry like news TV can be a nightmare, but all of us at CNN-News18 and Network18 have lived up to that challenge.

It has also made us realise how smartly costs can be rationalised. Our entire digital operations, across something like 15 properties, are now being done almost entirely from home. Almost all of our editorial meetings now are done virtually. Guests on prime time shows are looped in virtually using videoconferencing software. The amount of money that companies are saving from reduced rentals and reduced travel would have been unimaginable, just one year ago.

I believe that the pandemic has made the TV news industry far leaner than it used to be. And the best part is, our revenues are climbing back. Slowly but surely, and we don’t know which way the economy is going to go, God forbid if there were to be a second wave or if the slump is going to last longer than a few quarters.

TV still has a long way to go. And a great service to provide. A 100 million more homes to be connected in the next ten years. Don’t let a few weeks of over-the-top coverage on the tragic death of a film star delude you into thinking otherwise. I would put my money on Indian TV being among the first media to recover, post the pandemic.

Zakka Jacob is Executive Editor – Output at CNN-News18.