Will India Today’s gamble to rebrand its Headlines Today television channel pay off?

Media watchers and market analysts are observing the recent rebranding of Headlines Today as India Today TV with keen interest. As rebrandings go, this exercise is undoubtedly bold, running many risks. Is India Today a strong enough brand to work magic in the visual and print media together? Can a print brand’s appeal be superimposed on a television network to get better TRPs? Will core readers of India Today, the flagship 30-year-old magazine, switch to watching the India Today TV channel, snubbing NDTV and Times Now or News X?

 

Marketing mandarins believe that a brand provides the pull and the marketing the push. In this case, there seems to be some confusion between the branding and marketing strategy. The rebranding is the brainwave of Kalli Purie, the new group editorial director, who has said the main intention behind the exercise is to serve as a “credibility booster” for the 12-year-old channel Headlines Today. She said India Today would bring a web philosophy to the television screen as well as “snappy headlines”. What this means is native advertising, shorter advertisement breaks, etc. It is difficult to imagine viewers being won over with snappy headlines, which has been a long-running philosophy of the India Today group.

In media, we know that a print publication develops a readership that does not necessarily render into TV viewership of a TV channel. Brands in each segment are viewed separately. As Hector Pottie of the branding company Prophet London said in the Guardian: “In today’s world brands live or die on what they do. If the experience is poor then loyalty won’t last long. There’s a lot of choice and if the minute a brand isn’t giving me what I need I’m not likely to stick around.”

So the question really here is what will India Today TV give what Headlines Today couldn’t? What does India Today stand for that Headlines Today didn’t? Rajdeep Sardesai’s stint as an anchor of a prime time show and Karan Thapar’s show has given the channel some heft and viewership. But will this be enough?

Already, the channel has plunged headlong into a battle for TRPs with Times Now. It claimed to have toppled Times Now (on the back of its coverage of the Lalit Modi story and interview), while its editor Rahul Kanwal accused Times Now of trying to reclaim the top spot by “hook or by crook”.

According to BARC India, an industry body that measures television audiences, India Today TV became the top channel in the last week of May, with a viewership of 354 (000’s sum, a unit used to calculate reach) to Times Now’s 264. Till late last year, NewsX was the top channel based on TRPs in the six metros. Ratings by different agencies differ and are based on different parameters.

It is debatable whether the India Today print brand has grown additional sinews in the last decade to pass on excess pulling muscle to its TV network. The magazine and the group began to lose prominence in the last decade when the digital churn started. This was because the group chairman Aroon Purie believed there was “no point sending the good money after the bad”, as he often said about digital investments. Still, India Today tried several digital strategies, most of which didn’t work too well. The main portal was once put behind a pay wall, then a website with “snappy headlines” was launched, and then a commerce website only for invitees was set up – all with lukewarm success.

Connecting brand identities

Cross-connecting brand identities is a risky business. Times Now takes its brand equity from its print variant but that was no rebranding. Today, the channel and the newspaper travel different paths. Times Now today is a big brand in its own right and does not need rebranding as Times of India TV. Zee’s newspaper is DNA, where no effort is made to link the brands as one family. It is what you provide that matters and not the branding.

Aaj Tak has done well without the India Today logo hanging anywhere near it. At the same time, some regional editions of India Today with the same branding have shut down, showing that in regional languages the brand pull doesn’t work. So where does this brand equity work?

In the case of the TV channel rebranding, many will argue that the magazine was the weaker brand among the two and actually the magazine should have been renamed as Headlines Today, with the bright future of TV and the dismal future of print in mind. Both the television channel and the magazine need to rejuvenate in the coming years. That anxiety has set in in the group is evidenced by the fact that India Today magazine has had four editors in the last two-three years. The TV rebranding too can be seen as part of this struggle to regain its pre-eminence.

साभार- स्कॉल डॉट इन

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