MUMBAI: In the year of the Coronavirus, there were several other events and developments that made news across the 52 weeks of 2020. Once families were locked-in within their homes, news channels became a window to the anxious world outside for a majority of the Indian citizenry. It’s no wonder then that the TV audience measurement data during the lockdown period shows that the share of news in total TV viewership tripled from its earlier average of seven per cent of total viewership.
TV audience measurement body Broadcast Audience Research Council (BARC) in the third edition of its Yearbook offers these and more extensive insights and data on “What India Watched” in 2020, along with trends across the pandemic-struck months; with a special focus on four distinct phases, viz, Pre-Covid, Covid: During Lockdown, Covid: Unlock, and Year Ender. *
The viewership of the news genre rose to 27 per cent in 2020 as opposed to 2019, while general entertainment channels (GEC) and sports genre experienced a dip in viewership, show the figures provided by BARC in its annual yearbook. TV news channels benefited from the Coronavirus lockdown, growing their viewership from 7.6 percent to 14.6 percent of viewership, as per the report Titled ‘The Year After Two Thousand & Nineteen’. Meanwhile, the total TV viewership increased by nine per cent in 2020 when compared to 2019, the report said.
Television was a key force multiplier in the government response to the Covid2019 pandemic, according to the report. With its significant all-India penetration, TV played an important role in disseminating news and information about the pandemic and the government’s steps to battle it. Not surprisingly, communication by the Centre was on an upsurge during lockdown, and volumes for government messaging grew by 184 per cent (2.7X) during April-June 2020 compared to the same period in 2019. The April to June 2020 quarter (and successive lockdown periods) witnessed the highest volumes for government messaging, with the category showing a tripling of advertising over the same period in 2019. Overall, 2020 saw a 12 per cent growth in social/government ad volumes on TV.
Further, the prime minister’s addresses to the nation during this critical period set new television viewership benchmarks, with citizens tuning in to know every development with anxiety and anticipation. Every time the PM’s Covid-related addresses were aired, there was a noticeable drop in viewership of other major genres like GECs, movies and kids. In the early stages of the global pandemic, it took the PM’s first national address on 19 March for people to sit up and take note of Covid2019. That was followed by the announcement of a 21-day lockdown on 24 March. The telecast saw the viewing minutes treble that of his previous speeches.
Further, PM Modi’s announcement of the second lockdown on 14 April turned out to be the most tuned in amongst his seven Covid-related addresses-to-the nation, with 203 billion viewers tuning in. His fifth address to the nation on 12 May, where he announced a Rs 20 lakh crore financial package became the most watched address, with 4.3 billion viewing minutes. Similarly, his Independence day speech from the ramparts of the Red Fort clocked in a phenomenal 4.3 billion viewing minutes, up by over 40 per cent over the previous year.
Whenever events that seriously impact viewers’ lives occur, data indicates that TV viewers tend to ‘scan’ for more varied news and points of view by sampling multiple channels. This was true during the lockdown. Hindi News viewers sampling all 7-10 channels grew from 16 per cent in week 1 of 2020 to 30 per cent in week 12 of the year. However, this returned to its previous levels by the end of the year.

As in previous years, 2020 too had its ebb and flow – however what made the year stand out was the far reaching impact of the one epochal event which wasn’t limited to a fixed point in time and which still continues to exert its influence on all walks of our lives. The year gone by has been divided into four phases for analytic purposes in the BARC report, from the perspective of the all-encompassing virus as follows:
Pre-Covid Phase - 4 January to 13 March: There was a significant drop of news viewership during this period. The almost 26 per cent dip year-on-year can be viewed in the context of the same period in 2019 when news viewing was on unprecedented high levels on account of impending general elections, Pulwama terror attack followed by the Balakot airstrike and return of air wing commander Abhinandan Varthman.
During Lockdown Phase - 14 March to 3 July: This period coincides with lockdown announced by PM Modi. So given the disruptive situation which not just the nation, but also the whole world faced, it came as no surprise that news viewership scaled new peaks. With news genre viewership almost doubling in this period, peaking new scales by a stupendous 90 per cent.
During Unlock Phase - 4 July to 18 September: News genre viewership maintained their growth with news and updates of the pandemic still being anxiously followed by people.
Year-Ender Phase - 19 September to 1 January 2021: The spike in earlier phases viewership could be related to Coronavirus reportage, the prime minister’s addresses, and also to the round-the-clock coverage of actor Sushant Singh Rajput’s death. As restrictions were eased, news dropped in its share to 9.9 per cent during unlock and 7.3 per cent by the end of the year. Towards the end of the year, as the IPL was rolled out, a sports and cricket starved nation lapped it up and the sports genre saw a huge spike, eclipsing all other genres of entertainment and news.
However, the news genre is expected to maintain its relevance with Covid2019 and other economic disruptions, imminent state elections, political developments and so on. And not in small measure because of the prevailing uncertainties around vaccination and the spread of the virus continuing.
“2020 made a point when it came to television advertising and content consumption in India. Audience data reinforces the fact that television continues to be the screen of the Indian household. With over 100 million homes yet to receive a TV set, television viewing is yet to reach its true potential and has a strong opportunity for growth in the years to come," said BARC India CEO Sunil Lulla said in a statement, adding that TV viewership reached an all-time high of 1.27 trillion viewing minutes during the lockdown.Advertisement