From the groundbreaking The World This Week (nominated as one of India’s five best television programmes since India’s Independence); the first private news on Doordarshan, The News Tonight; producing India’s first 24-hour news channel, Star News; and the country’s first ever two-in-one channel Profit-Prime — NDTV has been at
the forefront of every news revolution. Now with four individual websites in categories like automobile, gadgets, health food and wedding preparations, the company is focussing on building the third leg of the group, after television and internet. In an interview with BrandWagon’s Meghna Sharma, Vikram Chandra of NDTV talks about the three pillars of the company and NDTV’s future plans. Excerpts:
How does NDTV plan to diversify into digital and e-commerce while its core business is seeing low ad rates and high carriage costs?
TV has been our core business; it is the largest part of our business and will continue to be. But over the last few years, we have felt that there have been issues like carriage fee, low ad rates, distribution etc in TV which are beyond our control. So, our priority is to make the TV business profitable, which we are working on. We are grappling with it and need some external changes to come in.
But we have been feeling this for many years now. I actually started NDTV.com in 1999 because Prannoy (Roy) and I believed that somewhere in the future, digital is going to become big. In the last three to four years, we decided to accelerate it. We had already gotten into a leadership position, and we knew this is the place where we should place our bets and scale up as fast as we can to the position of dominance.
We have grown our digital businesses —the website, the app etc. This forms the second leg of the NDTV Group. Today, NDTV has three legs — TV being the core, then online and a few years ago we began to explore the third leg which is now publicly disclosed and rolling out. This involves having individual websites to build a nexus of content, community and commerce. The idea is to create an area where anybody who is interested in, say, gadgets, will not only get news and reviews but can also buy a particular phone. NDTV Gadgets360.com has 27 million unique visitors a month; Auto (NDTV Car&Bike) has 3 million unique visitors/month. Food (SmartCooky) has 3-3.2 million unique visitors/month. When you reach this scale, a number of things become easy. For example, advertisers come on board and you can sell products.
NDTV reduced its business losses in Q2 of the current fiscal. What were the reasons?
One must remember that at NDTV, we don’t measure the business as others do, because each of these businesses we are in, are working on different metrics. In case of TV, the relevant parametres you will look at are revenue, cost and profitability. On digital content, it will be how you are scaling, page-view growth and profitability. A shareholder wants to know what your combined value is; but look at Amazon. Till date, the company has never made a single penny as profit but it doesn’t matter because look at what it is building.For us, what NDTV is building is more important. For the third leg of our business, we are incubators wherein we are incubating and launching these businesses. So, if you want to judge our business, then it will be on the basis of how well we are incubating it. We have got funding for all four websites and the combined value is $ 112 million. Then, there is also Indianroots.com.
Apart from this, we have hired a new management for the sites along with funding to enable scaling up. So, I would say it has been a great quarter for us.
How is NDTV Prime faring? What is NDTV’s take on native advertising/ branded content? And surrounded by CNBC TV18, ET Now and others, is NDTV Profit struggling to find its identity/carve its own space?
Prime has been doing well and we have got many sponsors on board. However, I must make it clear that we will never partner with someone only for the money. Putting content on TV in exchange for money has never happened and will never happen at NDTV. But there are subjects like female foeticide, sanitation or saving tigers which need to be highlighted, but don’t bring in high TRPs. Therefore, someone needs to foot the bill. For such shows, we get sponsors aboard who feel for the issue. So we will partner with, say, Coca-Cola or Aircel to bring such campaigns alive. This is the kind of branded content that we indulge in. As for NDTV Profit, yes, losses have reduced but we still need to work on it.
After what happened with TAM, what is NDTV’s stand on the new measurement system — BARC?
The issue we had with ratings was that they were tampered with. The good thing is that BARC has at least acknowledged the fact that there are people who want to tamper with the ratings. I believe that the sample size is still very small. We are a country of 1.2 billion people where we are divided into urban and rural, metros, towns and villages. How can anyone cover this heterogeneous set of people through such a small sample size? Also, one must not forget that this is 2016, where digital plays an important role. BARC has been saying that it is looking at measuring digital platforms, but still hasn’t rolled anything out. Why should we be punished because someone saw the channel on their mobile/tablet and not on television? Look at what Zapper is doing. They have brought in new technology. And if we look at the numbers on Zapper and BARC, they are very different. The conflict is going to go on till measurement bodies evolve with time and technology.