The mudslinging spat between Hindustan Times (HT) and The Times of India (TOI) over readership numbers in the two biggest markets – Delhi and Mumbai – doesn’t seem likely to reach a resolution any time soon, as both publications stand firm on their respective leadership status.
The claims and counter-claims between the country’s two largest read English newspapers have continued post the IRS 2014 results. It all began in January last year with IRS 2013 results that were finally put into abeyance after objections over its findings by major publications. For the record, a group of 18 publications had protested the anomalies in IRS findings and questioned the sharp growth in readership of publications from HT Media and Patrika Group.
It was then when TOI launched counter advertisements using Audit Bureau of Circulation (ABC) figures against HT’s advertisements based on IRS results.
This year too, both the newspapers started their battle in an exactly similar fashion and once again, it seems the battle between HT vs TOI destined to be an endless.
Rajan Bhalla, Chief Marketing Officer – HT Media, says “It is unfortunate that The Times of India (TOI) has started this blame game, and not only made blatantly false accusations about Hindustan Times (HT), but also dragged several advertisers and their brands into this baseless controversy. Clearly, this reeks of desperation, and is a reaction to the latest round of IRS results which have validated that Hindustan Times is the No. 1 newspaper in Delhi NCR yet again, for the 14th time, and is fast closing the gap with TOI in Mumbai. Given that our lead over TOI in Delhi NCR is almost 40 per cent with 23 lakh readers, out of which 18 lakh exclusive readers don’t even read TOI, this has created panic and hence, irrational behaviour from them.”
However, Rahul Kansal, Executive President, Bennett, Coleman & Co. Ltd, dismissed their leadership claim stating that “IRS does not distinguish between HT and HT 2 Minutes. So, one has to assume that 25 to 30 per cent of IRS number is also inflated on account of this scam product which is not helping advertisers. Therefore, even their readership has been inflated to that extent”
In their counter response HT hit back at The TOI saying its student (NIE) edition also does not carry ads. It also added that the 2013 IRS results were celebrated by them, claiming “ET is in the big league” (January 29, 2014), “TOI readership grows…” (January 29, 2014), “Mumbai Mirror grows…” (January 29, 2014). It is not just one article, all their publications – TOI, Mirror and ET – carried articles welcoming the news. They were part of the technical committee which designed and helped in conducting the IRS. So, if they had any problems with the methodology, they should have raised it before the results came out. These articles came out in Mumbai, when only the Mumbai results were declared and the results suited them. The moment they came to know that in Delhi the results were not in their favour, they changed their stance and started rubbishing the IRS.
And talking about Mumbai Mirror, it’s an interesting piece. You cannot subscribe to TOI or get a TOI copy alone at home in Mumbai. You are forced to take one or the other papers with it. If you do not read Marathi and are not a financial news reader, you are forced to take Mumbai Mirror. So, a lot of people are forced to take Mirror and pay the bundled price, but they obviously do not end up reading it and that is why the readership of Mirror is far lower than HT as well as TOI despite a higher number of bundled copies in the market. In fact, due to this reason Mirror actually should not be considered as a standalone paper as most of it is sold along with TOI, which results in a solus readership of just 1.94 lakh.
Rahul Kansal counters claims of HT Media stating that the Times of India in Mumbai sells at a cover price of Rs 6 which is the most expensive newspaper with an upfront offer on the masthead of opting for any second paper from the Bennett, Coleman Group. Out of 7 lakh buyers of TOI, some two lakh have opted for The Economic Times, some 4 lakh have chosen Mumbai Mirror while the rest have preferred Maharashtra Times as their second newspaper. So we are offering a combo deal for a price and it is a legitimate marketing activity without bundling any free product. While we are charging Rs 6 a copy, HT and DNA have been selling their copies at Rs 200-300 for a year. Thus we have priced our products 5-6 times more than our competition.
It seems there is no way forward in HT vs TOI spat as TOI has disowned all connection with IRS until their doubts of the recent reports are cleared and HT Media expects TOI to grow up and accept the defeat and move forward to face the advertisers demand to reduce their ad rates.