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Newsrooms have turned war-rooms in Maharashtra

 

If the year 2005 marked the beginning of an acrimonious fight among the english dailies in Mumbai, the year 2011 could go down in the annals of history as a period of war among the Marathi dailies.
CHANDRAN IYER | Maharashtra, April 1, 2011 13:22
Tags : newsrooms | maharashtra | dna | ht | war | divya marathi | dainik bhaskar | Ata Ami Janunghenar Tumchi Marji | dinkar raikar | abhilash khandekar |
 

At a time when the newspapers in the US are gasping for survival, their counterpart in India are fighting one of the biggest corporate wars. Well, the battle ground this time is Maharashtra, which is presumed to be nothing less than the heaven for the print media industry (Leave aside the national dailies, the local language newspaper market in the state is pegged at Rs.1,000 crore and is growing at a rate of about 20% annually). In fact, now this war is not just confined to the English newspapers like The Times of India, DNA and Hindustan Times (HT), but has also spilled over in a big way in the Marathi domain.


If the year 2005 marked the beginning of an acrimonious fight among the English dailies with the DNA and HT launching their edition in Mumbai and indulging in price war to grab the market share, the year 2011 could go down in the annals of history as a period of war among the Marathi dailies. The triggering point of this war is the ensuing launch of a Marathi newspaper Divya Marathi from the stable of India’s largest newspaper Group Dainik Bhaskar Corps Ltd. (DBC) in Aurangabad in May 2011 to be followed up in other cities. This news has turned the newsrooms of the Marathi dailies like Lokmat, Maharashtra Times, Sakal, Loksatta and Pudhari into war-rooms where the challenge is not only to prevent poaching of human resources, but also protecting the market share. If critics are to be believed, the new paper from DBC’s stable could have biggest effect on Lokmat, which is the market leader.

 


Not to say, the center of the action is Aurangabad from where the first edition of Divya Marathi will be launched followed by other cities like Nashik, Kolhapur and Pune. In fact, the rumblings have already begun with the Bhaskar Group unleashing a hoarding campaign at strategic locations initially with men having their mouth plastered and  with a line reading “Thamba ani Waat Paha” which means “stop and wait”. After a week of suspense, the men were freed of the plasters and the hoarding in Marathi read “Ata Ami Janunghenar Tumchi Marji” which in English meant that “ We (Divya Marathi) will be coming to you to know your preferences.” Certainly, the hoarding was designed to convey that Divya Marathi will connect with the people and give them what they want. What’s more? The group completed its first phase of survey in the city of Aurangabad, where it contacted 7 lakh people to know what they wanted from a newspaper and also distributed gifts after the survey.


Sounds impressive! But then, the Lokmat Group didn’t sit idle, instead they counter-attacked. In fact, they “hijacked” the whole campaign by putting up counter hoardings saying “Ata Chalel Apli Marji” which meant “your choice will be given preference in our paper.” They even went door to door asking people what they wanted in the newspaper and distributed similar gifts. Another interesting development which is taking place in Aurangabad is that “the senior officials of the DB Group have taken rooms in Ajanta Ambasaddor, a Five Star hotel which is situated very close to the office of Lokmat and are indulging in “diner diplomacy” and public relation exercise to woo the advertisers, vendors, senior journalists, politicians and “whose who” of Aurangabad,” a local journalist from Aurangabd said. But to checkmate them, what Lokmat is doing is “to keep prying eyes on all the people who are visiting them and then giving them a counter call so that they do not get brainwashed by the Dainik Bhaskar Group,” the journalist added.


Interestingly, neither Lokmat, nor Dainik Bhaskar Group is ready to admit that they are on a warpath. While State Editorial Chief of Dainik Bhaskar Group Abhilash Khandekar  says “we have not initiated any war. It is just that we see immense potential in Marathi domain so we are expanding here”, Group Editorial Director of Lokmat Dinkar Raikar too maintains that “they do not perceive this as a war, but it’s the competition for which they are gearing up for.” However, that really doesn’t seems to be the case. In fact, to take on Lokmat, Dainik Bhaskar Group has already roped in its veteran journalist Kumar Ketkar, who earlier led the editorial team of Loksatta as its Chief Editor. Ketkar, besides being an excellent journalist with more than 40 years of experience, knows in and out of Lokmat because he was once the Editor-in-Chief of Lokmat. When asked about the launch, Ketkar said “Yes, it is true that we are launching from Aurangabad.” But he refused to divulge further details. However, commenting upon the just started media war, Sanjeev Unhale, a senior journalist and now the editor of a Marathi weekly Gaon Gaadha says, “it is not going to be easy for the Bhaskar group to dislodge Lokmat from its position as the latter has presence in every nook and corner of the region and they have been making preparations six months ahead of their rivals launch schedule.”


No doubt, the strength of Lokmat is that it enjoys brand loyalty because of its long innings in Maharashtra, but then, the strong points of Divya Marathi is its deep pockets and presence in the northern belt of the country, which gives it an edge over others in the state. Certainly the war of the dailies seems to have begun in earnest in Maharastra, and who will emerge as the winner can only be answered by time. Anyway, the real winner in this war is going to be the reader!


 

Dainik Bhaskar (DB) Group has decided to launch a Marathi daily, Divya Marathi soon. The challenge now is on Dinkar Raikar, the Group Editor of Lokmat, to counter the move. But how? Raikar spells out his views in an interview with TSI Media Watch:


Dainik Bhaskar is starting its edition from Aurangabad. Do you think it will have an adverse impact on Lokmat?


I don’t think so. Lokmat is a very deep rooted newspaper. We have been the No.1 paper in that region and that too for nearly 30 years.


In what ways are you revamping your editorial and marketing strategies to counter this new threat?


We don’t consider it as a threat, but at the same time we are pulling up our socks. There is certainly no room for lethargy. We do not reveal our strategies, but we always keep on innovating.


Media analysts perceive it as a media war between DB and Lokmat Group. What is your perception?


We don’t think on these lines. Media analysts are at liberty to have their opinion, but we know what we must do to remain the No.1 paper in the region.

 



 

 

State editorial head at Dainik Bhaskar, Abhilash Khandekar, is a veteran journalist with more than 30 years of experience in the print media. He is also a fine sports journalist. But the task which he has in his hand to launch Divya Marathi in Maharashtra is much more than a game. So, how does he plans to win it? Excerpts:

Why do you want to start the first edition from Aurangabad?


As a group we had clear plans to enter into Maharashtra. We are already there in the market in Hindi, Gujarati and English. We strongly felt that there was enough potential in the Marathi language. Since we had to start it somewhere, we chose Aurangabad as we felt it could be a good place to launch. 


So, will you be taking on Lokmat in its home turf. How difficult it could be?


It would be challenging. But then, we as a group, love challenges.


What is going to be the USP of Divya Marathi?


We are the largest group in the country. The fact that the Dainik Bhaskar Group is entering into Marathi domain itself is a USP. Besides, having edition in more than a dozen states we also have radio stations.


Are you going to initiate a price war to garner readership?


We will take decisions which we feel will be appropriate. All options are open.
 

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Issue Dated: Feb 5, 2017