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Interview: Kartikeya Sharma, Managing Director, iTV Network

“We wanted to make NewsX a channel that is not opinionated, a channel which does not come with pre-determined mindsets”

BestMediaInfo Bureau | Delhi | December 29, 2014

Kartikeya Sharma

Kartikeya Sharma

From acquiring NewsX which was in doldrums and then turning it around, slowly yet steadily, iTV is conspicuously creating a strong foothold in the media business, with a presence across print, regional channels and a scheduled foray in the business news space.

The network’s Managing Director, Kartikeya Sharma, talks about the challenges in the TV news space, the impact and influence of digital media and what lies ahead. Excerpts:

News is perhaps one of the most volatile genres witnessing rapid changes, courtesy digitisation and growing influence of digital and social media. How do you see the news business evolving in the coming years?

The television news space is very dynamic, and I think it is evolving in more than one way. It is not only changing in the technology and news delivery front, but also on the distribution front with ongoing digitisation. There is a two-pronged approach – one is the impact of digitisation on the industry in terms of consumption behaviour of the content,and another is subscription revenues, which is yet to fall in place. As digitisation is taking longer than expected, subscription revenues remain a matter of concern, but I am hopeful that it will fall in place ultimately and the content creators will be benefited at large.

As far as the social and digital mediums are concerned, I see convergence of text and video as one entity in the digital space, and, in future, it will not be wrong to say that there will be one news source that will be consumed perhaps on one common device like a smartphone.

In a recent meeting, WPP Chairman Sir Martin Sorrell said that this year the ad spends on large digital players will cross the ad spends on large traditional mediums. There is a space for both old and new mediums and both are still relevant. To say that digital eats into television or vice-versa is absolutely incorrect, and, in my view, both are complementing each other.

Digital media is increasingly becoming a major revenue source for content creators, including video on demand services. How prepared are you to make the digital medium a front runner of your business stream?

I think the biggest challenge in India for making digital medium mainstream is to ensure effective distribution equitably through all channels and distribution platforms. The challenge is to be relevant in all the technologies that are coming out. So, it is incumbent on us to be ready for whatever technology inventors dish out. While there is no substantial revenue stream from digital right now, there is a very bright future for digital revenues for us and we cannot shy away from this.

We are looking at an optimised site, which is using all our network resources and hopefully you will hear something soon about this.

Beginning with one news channel and scaling up to two national and four regional channels, and two newspapers, what is your vision and game-plan for iTV Network?

We are growing at a phenomenal pace, be it in terms of market share or revenues, although, these are not the only criteria for editorial products. India News is the fastest growing news channel in the history of Indian television. It has grown from 1 per cent relative share to 9 per cent in less than six months. This is a ‘good problem’ in such a situation. The problem is that how do I plan for so much success so quickly; If I commit to an advertiser at 3 per cent relative share at a certain rate for a certain period, the relative share rises to 7 or 8 per cent while the campaign is still on. So, we have always over-delivered and generated more value for our advertisers.

The success of NewsX is also unprecedented. We have organic products which think on their own and they have complete editorial freedom. Within our network, no two or three products will toe the same line, because every product has been given enough room to organically grow themselves. There is no diktat and every product can take its own line. That’s an achievement for me.

Let’s come to individual brands and begin with your first news channel, India News. While it has cemented its position and is now competing with Zee News for the 4th position, has the growth in viewership resulted in better ad rates and premium advertisers, and hence, more revenues?

The growth in revenues of India News has been 100 per cent;year on year, for three consecutive years and the channel has already achieved its break-even.

Coming to your English news channel, NewsX, what did it take to successfully turn it around?

I do not have a success formula. I remember when we acquired NewsX, a friend asked me ‘what will you do with it?’ I told him, ‘I will write you a cheque of Rs 100 crore and you tell me the success formula’. There is no success formula in this medium, but there are certain fundamental factors. We wanted to make NewsX a young channel which is not opinionated. A channel which does not come with pre-determined mindsets. We have created and brought the focus back to news and that is our tagline ‘NEWS. NOT NOISE’. We have held on to the fundamental aspects of news, which iswhat a news channel should be doing, and done our work honestly.

Regional news is another focus area of iTV Network. When will your existing regional channels achieve break-even? And would you expand into more regional markets before you achieve break-even of the existing regional channels?

It is a matter of time, that the potential of the regional news will be realised to its full potential and it is one segment, that others should watch out for. As a network, we are committed to expanding our presence in the regional space in south, west and east regions. We will expand in other markets at an appropriate time.

Do you think it is a sound policy to build news channels centred round ‘super anchors’?

I do not believe in such words at all. Post digitisation, content has become supreme. No super anchor holds the viewer during the ad breaks. If your content has power, people will stick to it.

There were talks of iTV trying to acquire Bloomberg TV India. What is the current status? If not Bloomberg TV India, are you ready to create another from scratch?

I am not in a position to reveal our strategy right now. Moreover, we are bound by a non-disclosure agreement. All I can say is, yes we are looking at the business space in both Hindi and English languages.

Events and experiential marketing is also an additional revenue source besides brand building exercise. Do you have plans to cover that segment with meaningful events?

We have taken a huge step in this direction. We have got together a team which is called ‘Skope’, under the leadership of Savvy Dilip, our Group CMO. We will soon be in a position to make a very large events portfolio because that is a good way to integrate our products, showcase them and market our properties.

Now coming on your print products, has the acquisition of The Sunday Guardian worked according to your plan?

I think, Sunday Guardian is a great product and it is the best weekend newspaper in the industry which has managed to build a niche for itself. Today, it is one of the foremost newspapers when it comes to exclusive stories and quality content. We have already added two more editions in Mumbai and Chandigarh, and launching four more editions very shortly in Kolkata, Bengaluru, Chennai and Hyderabad.

Is there any additional thrust for Aaj Samaj to strengthen and compete with big players in the Haryana market?

I see Aaj Samaj as a product which came out of a necessity that Haryana did not have a single newspaper belonging to the state. We have multiple editions with large circulation, and we are very comfortable working in that area. We don’t do business for competing with big guys or small guys, but it is about available opportunities in a particular market. It offers a lot of synergies with our news channel India News Haryana,which is an undisputed leader in the state.

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