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TOI, HT fight over leadership spot in NCR

MUMBAI: The two print giants are fighting it out. The battleground is the National Capital Region (NCR). The Times of India (TOI) has bitterly contested The Hindustan Times’ (HT) claim that it rules that market.

It all started when the HT started providing subscription numbers that showed it was ahead of its rival TOI in the NCR. TOI in an advertisement on 13 September stated that ‘The Truth shall prevail. Specially at 6 am.’

Bennett, Coleman and Co. Ltd (BCCL), which publishes TOI, said headline circulation data for English newspapers in the NCR was misleading. A close examination, in fact, shows that TOI is far ahead of HT by a substantial 38 per cent margin when it comes to regular, “fully loaded” copies.

The ad further summoned readers to get a personal experience of the newspaper’s leadership by taking up the TOI challenge, contacting the office and visiting a newspaper depot.

TOI said that based on the Audit Bureau of Circulation’s report (July-Dec 2013), HT ‘has come up with a claim that its circulation in Delhi NCR is comparable with that of The Times of India.’

BCCL executive director and president Arunabh Das Sharma told ET, “We are challenging media planners and ad guys to visit any of our depots in Delhi and see for themselves that there is not a single depot where we don’t outsell HT.”

It then went on to dispute the numbers by mentioning that a closer examination of the ABC figures revealed that as much as 26 per cent of HT’s claimed circulation (10.6 lakh copies compared to TOI’s 10.4 lakh) comes from a rehashed, mini version called ‘HT 2 Minutes’.

“HT 2 Minutes, which rarely exceeds 12 pages and is priced at just Rs 1.25 against Rs 4.50 for the regular HT, is inserted into Hindi Hindustan from Monday to Friday and carries only a small proportion of the ads that appear in the main newspaper. For instance, between September 1 and 6 this year, it carried less than 30 per cent of these ads. From an advertiser’s viewpoint, this means that as much as 26 per cent of HT’s circulation in Delhi NCR, in all likelihood, does not carry its ads. Moreover, the ones that do get carried might not even reach the English-speaking reader that they were originally intended for,” it said.

BCCL also criticised the findings of the Indian Readership Survey (IRS) 2013, by saying that the recent revalidation by the Media Research Users Council had been an opaque exercise.

BCCL executive president Rahul Kansal told ET, “We utterly dispute the IRS 2013 but even if we were to consider it, in Delhi region our group has 3.2 lakh more readers than HT group.”

This is not the first time that TOI has challenged HT numbers. In its 13 June issue, The Economic Times took on HT numbers with a headline which read ‘All Down & Out, HT Up and About, Media industry foxed’.

In response to this, HT published a story in the main edition of its 14 June issue saying ‘TOI cannot digest readers’ message, shoots messenger’.

IRS 2013 has already been criticised by major newspaper groups as being badly skewed. With the fight for leadership coming to the fore, despite of the IRS and ABC findings, there might be more criticism in store for IRS whose findings were questioned by publishers of Dainik Jagran, Dainik Bhaskar, India Today, Anandabazar Patrika, Outlook, Daily News and Analysis (DNA) and The Hindu, among others.

“The IRS findings also include the incongruity of HT having a readership in Noida of 10.7 per issue, which is impossibly high”, BCCL said.