Chennai: The Times of India has hit the road in Chennai from today and industry veterans predict newspaper wars to morph into open street battles.
With The Times of India finally arriving in Chennai on 14 April, the national daily is making its presence felt – long standing market leader The Hindu has brought down its cover price to stem the rush of readers who would make a beeline for the new entrant in the market.
At the other end of the spectrum, Express Publications' The New Indian Express got itself a long overdue makeover, and donned a new jacket on 11 April that read 'Ahead of The Times; tomorrow's paper today.'
Choosing to compete on price, at least for now, Chennai's long-time favourite, The Hindu, will be more affordable at Rs2.50, down from Rs3.25 on weekdays, and on Sundays Rs3 instead of Rs4.50. It has left the cover price of other editions of the newspaper in Tamil Nadu untouched, for now. Price changes are effective immediately from today. The Times of India's Chennai edition is currently priced at Rs2 on weekdays, and Rs3 on Sundays. The New Indian Express is priced ar Rs1.50 on weekdays, and Rs5 on Sundays. Deccan Chronicle is priced at Rs1.50 on weekdays, and Rs2 on Sundays.
Some media planners opine that The New Indian Express's revamp has been a long time coming, and with The Times coming in, The New Indian Express has to take a lead, or at least match up to market expectations for the new-look daily to be in the reckoning. They do acknowledge, however, that The New Indian Express is, in some ways, either on par, or better than some of the existing dailies in Chennai, and if it were to keep up this momentum, it could well be capable of holding its own.
In addition to the price cuts, The Hindu's strategy includes securing its reader base in Chennai with a selection of supplements, most likely chaining that segment of readers who would be most susceptible to defect to The Times and other competition.
N Murali, managing editor of The Hindu has previously gone on record saying that with over 129 years of history, The Hindu as a newspaper stands by a certain set of values, and there are ''certain things'' that as a newspaper it would not do in terms of content. The Hindu's supplements, however, would adequately address that segment.
According to ABC data for July-December 2007, The Hindu has an average circulation of around 385,000 in Chennai. Deccan Chronicle, a relatively new entrant whose Chennai edition made its début around two years ago, has an average circulation of little over 300,000 copies. Sources indicate that The Timesa would like to take the number two position, initially.
As a marketing strategy, Bennett, Coleman and Co, which owns The Times of India, could choose to piggyback its Chennai edition along with its business daily The Economic Times, which has been in Chennai for some time. That will allow it to use the distribution clout of The Economic Times, and get a captive set of readers of offer The Times of India. Moreover, a city-based supplement called Chennai Times will compete with The Hindu's Metro Plus, the City Express of The New Indian Express, and the Chennai Chronicle of Deccan Chronicle.
Media planners expect The Times of India to be an immediate hit with non-Tamil population living in Chennai. They also expect the launch of its Chennai edition to impact the advertising pie of the existing players, which would not increase, but would most definitely be re-sliced. And ad rates are expected to go up, as they would be the only driver of growth. In fact, The Hindu has already hiked its advertising rates from 1 April, 2008.