The Times of India consolidating in Chennai
The Times of India consolidating in Chennai
Monday - Jul 07, 2008
Bhavana Puljal - Televisionpoint.com | Chennai From the Gateway of India to the Marina Beach is a tortuous journey passing through the Arabian Sea and reaching near the Bay of Bengal after kissing the Indian Ocean. Chennai has always been the citadel of the conservative, the sober and the eclectic, a market that no non-South Indian media group has been able to fathom.
But for brothers Sameer and Vineet Jain of The Old Lady of Boribunder (The Times of India), the near monopoly enjoyed by the kin N. Ram and N. Murali was a party they had to gate crash. And they have done it in style, launching a Chennai edition of The Times of India three months back with typical elan, hype and a bruising price war.
For the Jains, Chennai is arguably the Last Frontier in their relentless quest to be the overwhelmingly dominant English language newspaper of India. For N. Ram and N. Murali, the latest media war promises to be a grim battle for survival.
Even as sultry and humid Chennai sizzles with the heat generated by the duel between The Hindu and TOI, the executive director of Times of India Ravi Dhariwal lets slip with typical nonchalance. "We are consolidating in Chennai. We have recently launched in Jaipur and Goa". Dhariwal says.
Consolidating just after three months of launch? Well that's typical Times chutzpah for you. If you believe Dhariwal, TOI seems to have already captured the Rs 500 crore market in Chennai, the third largest in India after New Delhi and Mumbai.
Not that the Left leaning Hindu patriarchs Ram and Murali are waiting with folded hands for the Jain' to ambush and then annihilate them. They have retaliated by launching their own version of a price war.
"We don't want to give it an undue advantage by the way of price of the newspaper and hence we reduced our price to Rs 2.50 from Rs 3.25. By this way the readers get an advantage of Rs 27 a month," says N. Murali, joint managing director, The Hindu Group of Publications.
But a question that even Rajnikanth and Kamal Hassan will find difficult to answer is: Is a price tag of Rs 2.50 low enough when TOI is offering subscriptions at a throwaway Rs 1 per day? Always take claims with a pinch of salt. But some claims need to be taken seriously. While The Hindu has a circulation of Rs 3 lakh in Chennai, Dhariwal claims that the print run of TOI on the day of launch was 2 lakh.
What media analysts are waiting with bated breath is the manner in which the latest war pans out. For that will not only deliver a verdict on the strategy of the Jain brothers to go for slash and burn expansion, but also decide the fate of Hindu as the most formidable print media house in the South along with Malaylam Manorama.
In a first of its kind in the world, TOI has launched an ambitious plan to break the mould of a newspaper being city specific. It has had mixed results in markets like Kolkata, Hyderabad and Bangalore. Chennai is clearly the last frontier, with Jaipur and Goa being the obvious winning streaks.
This war is further complicated by the fact that the Deccan Chronicle is already a brutally aggressive player in the Chennai market. The paper claims a circulation of 3 lakh in Chennai though analysts reckon that it commands 30% of the market, while Hindu still controls more than 50%.
"Deccan Chronicle recently launched its Bangalore edition. Apart from this, we are planning our Coimbatore and Trichy edition which might be a reality in a year from now," avers Bhagwan Singh, chief of bureau, Deccan Chronicle's Chennai Edition. It has also launched a pink paper called Financial Chronicle in four markets in association with the International Herald Tribune, and has tied with NDTV to provide content for a local metro channel.
In many ways, this media war is reminiscent of Mumbai in 2005, when both Hindustan Times and DNA invaded the hitherto impregnable market of TOI. Both have decisively broken the TOI monopoly in Mumbai, though there is still no final verdict on who is winning the war.
N. Murali is not about to give up. "We are more interested in protecting the already existing market which was around 50% earlier," he says.
One thing is for sure, Murali and Ram will have to do more than, much more than merely protect their turf, till we wait for the circulation figures notching in.
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