Be it the gritty reporting of Barkha Dutt or the fiery attitude of Arnab Goswami or the sharp business acumen of Raghav Bahl, the Indian news genre has been defined by these personalities over the last few years. As they float their own ventures, the spotlight is on them to see how they fare. Chandni Mathur of BrandWagon notes how they intend to disrupt, yet again.
‘Break through the clutter’
Arnab Goswami’s entrepreneurial story is as intriguing as his personality. A bespectacled, hardcore editorial guy who sensationalised English news and didn’t shy away from calling a spade a spade, Goswami left Times Now abruptly to set up Republic with a bunch of content professionals. “Launching an independent media network from India has been my dream — Republic is that dream,” states Goswami. “Putting this dream together has meant getting every nut and bolt, every brick and stone right, from the start. Along with my team, I learn something new and challenging every day.”
With a reported backing of investors like Rajya Sabha MP and Asianet News Network CMD Rajeev Chandrasekhar, DEN Networks promoter Sameer Manchanda and investment banker Hemendra Kothari among others, the holding company — ARG Outlier Media is working towards setting up an integrated studio in Mumbai with an aim to make Republic available on every screen ‘from TV to digital’.
Sources state that the channel and digital presence is slated for launch by March-April 2017 and the strategy is to have a mobile-first environment, which could include an app, mobile, web, etc. As a result, some key hires have been made to build the business including Vikas Khanchandani as CEO, Priya Mukherjee to head distribution, Jay Chauhan as COO for digital and CTO for broadcast, and Chitra Subramaniam as editorial advisor.
“Republic’s USP lies in putting the people first, in taking news out of the national capital and bringing the whole length and breadth of the country into the ambit of national news coverage. It lies in being independent with a vision to go global. And as importantly, it lies in being a media-tech company, which is unprecedented in our country,” Goswami states.
He will be leading Republic editorially with a team comprising a group of young, independent journalists with one aim — putting together compelling and dynamic programming to redefine the news experience for the viewers.
“For some time now, television news has stagnated,” believes the anchor turned entrepreneur. “Print is largely either transitioning to the digital mode or it is getting harder and harder to retain the audience. As far as digital news in India goes, there is a lot of crowd with too few differentiators. The opportunity is now to break through the clutter and shake up the system — both in terms of television news and on digital.”
But will Goswami’s firebrand personality dominate Republic as well? That’s a wait and watch for sure!
With his firebrand personality, Arnab Goswami, through his show Newshour on Times Now, changed the 9pm news slot with his signature style sensationalistic and loud demeanour. A final hosting of his show planned as a four-hour mega show was shelved by the Times Now management at the last minute. Goswami was the first to interview Congress VP Rahul Gandhi, where Gandhi was trolled for being ‘ill-prepared’ for the interview. After his abrupt exit from Times Now, Goswami immediately announced his own venture Republic, which attracted the ire of BJP MP Subramanian Swamy. Swamy said that the grant of license to the news channel to broadcast under the name of ‘Republic’ would be “contrary to law and a direct breach” of the Emblems and Names Act.
A final hosting of his show planned as a four-hour mega show was shelved by the Times Now management at the last minute.
Goswami was the first to interview Congress VP Rahul Gandhi, where Gandhi was trolled for being ‘ill-prepared’ for the interview.
After his abrupt exit from Times Now, Goswami immediately announced his own venture Republic, which attracted the ire of BJP MP Subramanian Swamy. Swamy said that the grant of license to the news channel to broadcast under the name of ‘Republic’ would be “contrary to law and a direct breach” of the Emblems and Names Act.
‘Watch the balance sheet’
“Once an entrepreneur, always an entrepreneur…” rings true for Raghav Bahl as he set up Quintillion Media within six months of his controversial exit from Network18 in July 2014 — a media empire then worth R4,500 crore (approx) which he sold to Reliance Industries. Since then, life has been on an upswing for Bahl, who launched TheQuint.com in English and Hindi, co-founded Quintype, invested in Sheroes, The News Minute, Da Vinci Quint and Youth ki Awaaz, partnered with Bloomberg to launch the digital product Bloomberg Quint, and is set to make a comeback in the broadcasting space by launching a business news channel under the same brand.
With a second innings in the highly competitive media business space, that too in one’s mid-50s, following a none-too-pleasant exit from a previous venture, Bahl has had a lot on his plate! But news has always been Bahl’s passion and he mixed this with his acumen for business along with his wife Ritu Kapur to build a digital empire but with much more caution.
Completing two years in March, TheQuint.com already crossed 10 million unique visitors in December, 2016. Meanwhile, Bloomberg Quint claims to have crossed a million visitors within six months of its launch. Unlike TV, digital content is aimed at a younger demographic and thus the challenge is to present serious news in a way that appeals to these audiences. As a result, TheQuint.com plans to include more multimedia features.
Bloomberg Quint will see an integrated play and with TV coming up in the next few months, its revenue streams will be more defined. A free-to-air channel initially, it aims to be more perspective-led with deeper analysis and opinions. “News has moved beyond TV. The level of engagement fluctuates on TV but it’s pretty high on digital,” he mentions. “Thus, there is no point in having a vanilla TV product.”
With around Rs 700 crore in his kitty from his previous venture, he does have a financial cushion but the most important lesson he has learnt is to pay close attention to costs and watch the balance sheet like a hawk.
“I understood that you should leave enough cash on the table to service the product and therefore now, the Quintillion Media balance sheet is strong and fully funded with no stress,” says the entrepreneur.
Quint is being funded by Bahl himself as he doesn’t want to enter the market at such an early stage. Similarly, Bloomberg Quint too is being funded by the partnership, of which Bloomberg has a 26% stake. “We will look for external investors only after it establishes itself,” Bahl reiterates.
Having successfully built Network18 as a media conglomerate, Bahl had to step down as MD in 2014 after Reliance Industries wrested control of the group by converting the debt it had extended to the company in 2012 into equity.
Within six months of his exit from Network18, Bahl set up a digital first venture Quintillion Media, which incidentally means 10 to the power of 18.
Announcing his comeback to television, Bahl signed a JV with Bloomberg to launch a digital product — Bloomberg Quint and a TV channel, which awaits regulatory clearance.
In 2003-04, he got two trusted NDTV lieutenants Sameer Manchanda and Rajdeep Sardesai to partner with him to launch Global Business Network (now TV18)
‘Use your experience to diversify’
“If you do well as a woman, be prepared to be hated,” said Barkha Dutt at a media forum in 2015, and well, Dutt has had no dearth of haters over her two decade journey at NDTV. Be it her tough reporting of the Kargil war or the conflicts in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iraq, Dutt never shied away from getting her hands dirty and breaking off gender barriers. She has now moved on from being a hardcore reporter to floating a multimedia content, production and events company, MoJo Live Media.
After spending 20 years at NDTV where she grew from a trainee reporter to the group editor, Dutt felt the time was ripe to diversify her interests and explore multiple platforms that were emerging with changing consumption patterns. With a finger in every pie, Dutt has started off by partnering with Bahl’s Quint.com to cover the UP Assembly polls. While she is writing contributory columns for The Washington Post, The Week and Hindustan Times, she is set to sign another major print contract.
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Dutt is also in final stages of talks for television where she will be doing multiple shows. She is also involved in the events space and is planning two conferences this year — one on gender issues and the second will be on the lines of an idea festival. Her aim is to provide talent and content that goes beyond herself to these platforms. “I want my company to be platform agnostic to enable me to diversify in different directions rather than having a single product that jostles for space. I want to use my experience to diversify and create content on multiple platforms,” she says.
Unlike some of her counterparts, Dutt is steering her ship away from the news genre by focussing on events and content production. Ask her if this is a conscious decision, and she states that TV budgets are in trouble. “I am not giving up TV but the way the industry has evolved, after 21 years of doing the same thing, we also need to evolve and start adapting to technology,”
She has learnt a few entrepreneurial tricks and wants to self-fund the company rather than bring in many investors. Speaking like a true businesswoman, Dutt states, “The seed capital is in place and I will funnel the revenue back into the company. I will take a very small percentage for myself.” However, she is in talks with a few investors already. But Dutt is happy to start small. “I’m not looking to create a big media empire. We are happy to be known as a boutique,” she says.
Dutt emerged as a prominent figure after her frontline war reporting on the Kargil conflict between India and Pakistan in 1999 for NDTV.
For the 2008 Mumbai attacks, she was blamed for sensationalising the events, putting lives at risk and causing deaths by identifying on live television where the hotel guests might be located.
She was embroiled in the Radia tapes controversy in 2009 which revealed lobbyist Niira Radia allegedly asking Dutt and other journalists to mediate with the ruling Congress party about Cabinet posts.
In 2016, Dutt along with senior journalist Shekhar Gupta got together to co-found ‘The Print’, a news media start-up, and Dutt moved to a consulting role in NDTV. But the alliance is no longer in her scheme of things.