Ungal choice: media wars in Chennai

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Media and blog circles are abuzz with the launch of Times of India’s Chennai edition. The Hindu now has serious competition. While Deccan Chronicle and the New Indian Express do have Chennai editions, I don’t think they are as formidable as TOI when it comes to a fight. Deccan Chronicle played the price game and claims No.2 position and the Indian Express was light years behind in terms layout and presentation.

I grew up in Chennai and my visits to the city of late have been short and sporadic. (thankfully – can’t take the heat). But some things have changed over the last decade or so. I think the precursor to the ‘change’ in Chennai was the shifting of Citibank’s headquarters from Mumbai to Chennai. All it took to change a city of millions were a handful of Punjabi families! The most immediate change was the sprouting of multi-cuisine and speciality restaurants. And then it was no longer taboo to acknowledge the presence of a ‘Naarth Indian’. Earlier, if you asked someone directions in Hindi, he will rudely look the other way. Today, you might get a nod or a wave. The BPO and manufacturing units moved in to Chennai and that brought in a lot of ‘migrants’.

This crowd is likely to lap up TOI Chennai first and may have been ready for TOI about 3 years ago. They perhaps miss the familiarity of their newspaper from other metros (chances are it is TOI there too!) and may find The Hindu too clinical for their liking. Oh, even in Bangalore, it is fashionable to turn up your nose and say, ‘The Hindu is too staid and boring’. In the same breath, people will curse the likes of TOI about their sensationalism…in-the-face marketing. Anyway, newspaper being such a habitual thing it will be tough to dislodge The Hindu from its No.1 position in Chennai. My father used to fume if The Hindu was not delivered before 6am and used to miss it like a child when he went out of Chennai. The other papers used to be just skimmed through but The Hindu delved into.

IE The launch of TOI has got its competion’s K’s in a twist. The Indian Express has gone in for a facelift (pehle kyon nahi socha?) and looks snazzy. IE has also gone in for a new advertising campaign with a cure-for-constipation-like baseline ‘100% steel. 0% gas’. I get the attempt is to stay true to the promise of ‘courage’ (steel) in journalisam. Taking a dig at the perception of TOI being obsessed with trivia and banal news is obvious. One of the outdoor campaigns reads, “I don’t want Shakespeare to write my news”, while another says, “Lectures turn me off, so do socialites”. Hee hee. Cool. When I was based in Mumbai, I preferred the IE over other papers for its editorials. But the effort from IE in Chennai seems at least 3 years late. Funny how competition makes brands get a face lift, eh?

The Hindu has blinked, despite being the leader, by dropping its price. The Deccan Chronicle has remained silent thus far.

TOI’s advertising launch has the hallmark of TOI marketing: lot of hoopla. Hoardings screamed ‘Next Change’ and gimmicks like a model wrapped in newspaper sari/dress strutted the streets of Chennai.

I doubt if Chennai can sustain four viable mainline newspapers. My wager is that The Hindu will remain No.1 and TOI will gain a No.2 position. I doubt if Deccan Chronicle can sustain its price advantage for long – given its contents and penchant for tabloid-style news (they have got the baap of sensationalism in the form of TOI!). There is likely to be a flight of journalistic talent to TOI. Even in other metros the slug fest is between 2 leading dailies.

Lifestyle brands and local retail & restuarant brands will most likely experiment with TOI. But in the long run, the average Chennaiite is likely to remain loyal to The Hindu.

What say? Enna solrel?

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19 comments

  • I do not think TOI should have launched earlier, i believe this is the right time because the metro migrants from northern part of India will anyway accept TOI now also!
    With the might that TOI carries with itself – the way it has become the No.1 print medium not only in Bengaluru but entire Karnataka by taking over Vijaya Karnataka – we never know when it would lead to decline in The Hindu’s circulation. Anyways, I prefer The Hindu any time because of its non-show off communication but unfortunately they do not have a proper presence here in Bengaluru.

  • Do not think the timing of the launch was way off. On the contrary TOI got it bang on . In all likelihood they would have waited for the response to DC .As rightly mentioned DC has modelled itself on TOI taking the page 3 as its USP. As of now the response to DC has been good and there is no doubt that TOI will wipe it off eventually !

    As for Hindu, it will continue to be No 1 for a long time for three strong reasons ,

    a) The migrant population is not as big as the locals -as like in the other metros. The local population has very strong skillsets which will take care of the requirements of the new age jobs. Will not need the services of the migrants to cater to the new job requirements

    b) The hesistancy of the migrants to consider Chennai as a career option – the thermometer bursting temperatures can be a turnoff.

    c) Finally the likely USP of TOI – PAGE 3- . The contradiction here is that page 3 people do not want to be in the limelight. The unwritten rule of the PAGE 3 circle of Chennai – “If you have it do not Flaunt it ” . Will not be surprised if TOI runs out of stories –a.k.a DC.

    TOI will have to go a long way to catch up. It will be a distant No 2. Though Hindu has revamped itself keeping in mind the latest trends . This has to do more with the youth and college crowd which forms a large base of readership than the impending competition .

    No matter what Chennai cannot keep away from its Idlis and Sambars even if the Parattas are strong . They will treat it as a ONE NIGHT STAND ! Ranjikanth Rules and not SRK !

  • Biju, thanks for the comment. I think the point about ‘if you have it, do not flaunt it’ is very insightful. The wealthy in Chennai could rival their metro counterparts but do not flaunt it at all. And agree wholeheartedly about who is the real ‘thalaivar’ in Chennai. SRK is just another model whereas the local stars touch a chord. But underestimating the TOI would be a costly mistake…

  • I have been to Chennai once in my lifetime and know almost nothing about the city.Though this article is on Chennai, I want to make a general comment. I feel that there are 2 sets of newspaper readers that I can think of. The first set consists of serious readers who would want to know everything thats happening from Timbuktu to Tumkur on all aspects be it Politcs,business,local events or sports.May be, this is the set who loves the Hindu or The Statesman.And for them the serious dailies will remain the first read. The second set would be people who are the headline readers in the main pages, reading the complete news only if it attracts their attention. But this set consists of religious supplement readers. I think they can be called the Tabloid Brigade.I think this is where a TOI or a Mid-Day scores when launched in a new city.

    Talking of Page 3 – I am from Mumbai and the Page 3 section of TOI rocks there.Mumbai page 3 features very big celebrities be it filmstars, models or socialites. I miss that in Bangalore. Though they have Page 3 in Bangalore Times, comparitively the people are relatively un-known. Doubtful, if Page 3 is TOI’s USP anywhere apart from Mumbai.

  • Amrita, valid points about segmenting the reader types. From what I saw of the Times of India Chennai’s inaugural e-paper issue on the website, they seem to be downplaying the Page 3 bit. And scanning the blogosphere on the TOI Chennai launch – it confirms your view about ‘serious readers’. One of the bloggers wrote about the launch (when TOI was being test marketed with free copies) with the title: ‘Yuck, TOI is coming to Chennai!’.

  • I cant understand why a pro-China rag like the Hindu is so popular in Chennai ? Its not even a commie bastion. Can someone enlighten me ?

  • There are two things The Hindu excels at:
    1. The Sunday literary supplement
    2. The Friday classical music reviews
    Also, supplements like Young World have quite a standing here.

    I think it will be a while before we have a serious contender to The Hindu.

  • Suchi, Anon Coward – thanks for the comments. Yes the supplements have been ‘serious’ (at least during my Chennai days some 15 years ago) and cerebral.

    I have not been a regular reader of The Hindu of late so can’t comment on the pro-China angle. From what I read in the blogosphere they appear biased. But then, which paper is not?

  • Though I am not from Chennai, based on my experience with TOI in Bangalore and Telegraph v/s Statesman in Kolkata, I will give some points.

    I agree with Biju, that the migrant population in Chennai is very small (and will remain so for a long time), and TOI cannot depend solely on this segment to win this race.

    But what about the young generation? I don’t have any idea about the psyche of the students and young professionals there, but I think a substantial portion may like to switch to TOI.

    And Surely the DC will get hurt the most. Being seen reading gossip and fashion in TOI is lot better than being seen with DC.

  • I think there is some similarity between the scenario in Kolkata when The Telegraph launched. At that time the No. 1 english daily was The Statesman, which was considered as intellectual and cerebral by its followers and as old and boring by the nay-sayers (just like Hindu). Kolkata never had any substantial migrant population, the average educated bengali is still considered to be ‘high-thinking-plain-living’ intellectual.

    But TT won the race in short time (shorter than expected). And that’s mainly based on its popularity among the young generation. Obviously being a part of a big media group like Anandabazar Patrika helps.

    Don’t we see the similarities? I am not saying Kolkata and Chennai is same, but surely Hindu can learn some valuable lessons from this history, while defending its territory.

  • Avik, I think part of the reason why Telegraph succeeded was the ‘packaging’. They appealed to the younger audience but yet did not come across as flaky or superficial. And yes, the muscle power of ABP helps. In Chennai, The Hindu has not faced that kind of competition yet and that’s the reason why I think TOI has the best chance to become a strong No.2 in double quick time.

  • The majority of chennai commentators, i guess, are still expecting TH to retian its share and rule and ToI to be No.2. Probably this might be the mindset at TH too …. just by adding a couple of supplements like NxG’s and reducing to Rs2.5 the cover price TH can’t retain their Numero Uno spot. They need to do something radically different without shooing away it’s followers. ToI on the other hand has a large expectations from the other side of the divide, i’ve come across quite a few bloggers giving up TH for ToI & DC as an one month experiment.Also waiting to see DC’s reaction in terms of content, price & packaging ….
    Lets wait n watch ….
    Good one by you LBhat

  • Ram, many thanks! Nikhil, thanks for the link. Fairfax Media of Australia owns The Age and Sydney Morning Herald (I think). From the web version of both these papers it appears that they are more ‘with it’ at least on use of new media. They also have loads of content on the web. Interesting if this deal come through…

  • The “Toilet-paper Of India” gets launched in another city of India. Woe to Chennaites!! Love The Hindu. People call it communist and what other names!! My dad read it religiously, I do too!!

  • Interesting article. Personally I don’t think the timing really matters all that much if you are an established player like the times. From what I’ve heard Hindu is planning on returning the favor.

    @anonymous coward
    The Hindu is a commie bastion because its chief N Ram is a comrade. Me thinks the continuing the commie flavor is going to be Hindu’s biggest challenge.

  • But, i guess your last but one paragraph is exactly the point – the average chennaiite…. the average bangalorean until 5 years back would be loyal to DH… and then Bangalore changed, the ‘migrants’ started arriving in larger bunches, and the average Bangalorean is now no longer from Bangalore (at least the majority of the monteisable kind).. chennai might be hot, but if it becomes a hot place to make money, it could replicate the bangalore story…..have shared my views here … http://tinyurl.com/4m2g3h

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