New Delhi: The controversy over Bollywood star Sushant Singh Rajput’s death has dominated Indian news channels’ airtime over the past month, according to an industry report on TV viewership released Thursday.
The report has been compiled by industry body Broadcast Audience Research Council (BARC) and market research firm Nielsen. It is the 11th edition of a BARC series detailing the impact of the Covid-19 crisis on TV viewing and smartphone consumption behaviour.
The report lists five big news items that dominated TV news airtime each week from 25 July to 21 August. Barring the week from 1-7 August — when the Ram temple’s bhoomi pujan was held — news channels dedicated a majority of their coverage to the controversy over Sushant Singh Rajput’s death. That week, news related to the Babri Masjid-Ram Janmabhoomi dispute pushed coverage on Rajput to the second slot.
Actor Sushant Singh Rajput was found dead in his Mumbai apartment on 14 June. His death was initially believed to be a suicide, but the case has since been handed to the CBI amid suspicions of foul play. Several news channels have dedicated hours of airtime to what they claim is crucial evidence in the case, also holding panel debates on the circumstances and speculation surrounding Rajput’s death.
In different weeks, the coverage surrounding Rajput has eclipsed that on the Kozhikode Air India Express crash, cricketer M.S. Dhoni’s retirement from international cricket, and the political crisis triggered in Rajasthan by former Union minister Sachin Pilot’s rebellion that has now been quelled.
Good news for TV industry
The BARC report comes with some positive news for India’s general entertainment channels (GECs), which were left reeling by the Covid-19 lockdown amid a complete halt on shooting. According to the report, GEC viewership is back to pre-Covid-19 levels — the report uses January as the yardstick for pre-Covid times — with the return of fresh content.
The easing of restrictions under Unlock has allowed filming to resume, although certain conditions still apply. The return of original programmes has pushed GEC viewership in both the Hindi-speaking as well as southern markets, the report states.
Overall time spent on video streaming services is back to pre-Covid levels, the report adds. Ad volumes, it states, have also gone up by 12 per cent as compared to the pre-Covid period.
Among other notable findings of the report is that this year’s Independence Day event — featuring PM Narendra Modi’s address — garnered the highest viewership in three years. The viewership this year, the report said, was 29 per cent higher than in 2018 and 41 per cent more than last year.
The report also states that the Ram temple bhoomi pujan, which was beamed live, was watched by 16.3 crore people.
It says, overall, smartphone use is slightly lower now as compared to pre-Covid-19 levels, attributing the drop in recent weeks to the ban on Chinese apps (including the wildly popular TikTok).
Total TV viewership, the report adds, has shown a consistent growth over the past 12 weeks, with the average daily time spent 13 per cent higher than in the pre-Covid period.
In April, when the lockdown was in effect, news channels had seen a massive increase in viewership, with overall news consumption registering an over 200 per cent growth over January, according to BARC-Nielsen estimates. Movies had the second highest share in television viewership.