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Major investment in news gathering is our agenda: IBN News Network CEO Avinash Kaul

Kaul, the man behind the action, tells BestMediaInfo.com in a video interview that the change in name is more than a mere rebranding exercise. He throws light on the essence of the rebranding of CNN-IBN to CNN-News18 and its strategy to move to immersive journalism

BestMediaInfo Bureau | Delhi | April 25, 2016

Avinash Kaul Avinash Kaul (Click on the image to watch the full video interview)

Leading English news channel, CNN-IBN, changed its identity after 10 years of its existence to CNN-News18, after the Mukesh Ambani-owned Network18 renewed its partnership with CNN at the end of last year. The new leadership at Network18 has now shed IBN – Indian Broadcasting Network, set up by Sameer Manchanda, Raghav Bahl and Rajdeep Sardesai – from the flagship brand name. In all likelihood, its sister Hindi news channel IBN7 will soon drop the ‘IBN’ tag too.

BestMediaInfo.com caught up with IBN News Network CEO, Avinash Kaul, in a video interview to talk about the idea behind the revamp and what the channel would offer in its new avatar. Read the excerpts and also watch the interview:

Tell us about the rationale behind the brand revamp. News18 has always been your brand, but what prompted you to drop IBN from the name?

The channel is ten years old and with the passage of time many things change. We had done extensive ground research some five or six months ago. A key thing that popped up during the research was that the usage of the word ‘news’ in the brand name had a lot of relevance for the consumer. We already had a very strong international brand identity in CNN. However, IBN did not stand for anything much in that sense. So, there was an opportunity and we thought of using ‘18’ as the corporate identity and ‘News’ as the chosen platform that we are looking at.

Now that Network18 has shed the name IBN, when is the Hindi channel IBN7 scheduled for a name change?

It takes a lot of effort to relaunch and rebrand a news channel. We have just done it for the English channel. For IBN7, we are looking at a time frame of three to four months to relaunch it completely.

Would the relaunch help because IBN7 seems to be struggling in the Hindi news genre?

If you look at it in percentage terms, there was a time when we were hovering at around 5 per cent market share. Now we are at around 7 to 7.5 per cent. There’s a jump of close to 50 per cent during several slots but we are obviously not looking at these numbers and are eyeing a higher share.

What kind of changes would help IBN 7 grow?

It’s about strengthening all aspects of a news brand that includes boosting the editorial teams, looking at some fresh anchors, beefing up the verticals such as entertainment, crime, politics and sports news. With all these changes, we are hopeful of taking the game to a far higher level than where we are today. The first task would be to get into the top five channels after the relaunch and gaining from there to reach the top position.

You have promised to refresh the approach to news telling and to bring immersive journalism to the forefront. How do you plan to do that in the era of studio journalism?

That’s what we are trying to challenge. There was an era of studio journalism. And it didn’t come by default. Most news channels have been around for ten years now. The economy was great till 2008 and after that it hasn’t taken an upward swing as far as advertising is concerned. All that led to curtailing of resources which resulted in studio journalism. We are looking at reinvesting in news gathering and having a longish view of business. Without investing in core news gathering staff, you’ll never be able to move away from studio journalism. That’s why we are putting our resources on the ground on almost all big stories ? so that we can go more into the depth of coverage than the width of coverage.  We have invested quite significantly to boost our news gathering capability.

If you invest so much in news gathering, what are the revenue options you’re looking at?

It’s the longish view of the business.  It means that you plan for the next ten years. In the next decade, there will be many more revenue models that will emerge. The first decade was dependent on advertising. The second decade will be less dependent on that. Full digitization is yet to happen and the money will come back into the business. We have revamped and relaunched at a time when digital is just about to take off as far as the video content is concerned.

We had the opportunity to rebrand ourselves and redo our work flows so that we are able to chip out content not only to the first screen but also to the second screen. They maybe baby steps but they’ll go a long way. We are the first one in Asia after ABC in the US who’ll go live with Facebook newscast. We were the first one to have Twitter videos including Periscope. So, when it comes to digital we are already white-listed for monetization of our properties. We are also on the threshold of another revolution with the advent of 4G.

What are your views on opinionated journalism?

A news channel has two main aspects. One, there’s reportage that’s coming from the ground which we have already strengthened.  The other aspect is debate and discussion. What we have done in that area is look at exclusive experts. So, we have Vir Sanghvi, Swapan Dasgupta, Ayaaz Menon, Ajay Bose and the like with us. It has raised the level of intellect in the discussion.

It has made us more meaningful because there are more serious experts and veterans in the newsroom. We are still looking for more intellectual space so that the news discourse could be taken to an even higher level. For us, it’s not about aping what’s happening in the competition. It’s time for a reinvention. We are hoping that we will become a catalyst of change as far as news channels are concerned.

Internationally, there was a time when Fox News had overshadowed other news channels. But if you look at the current numbers, CNN is there in the top bracket and that’s solely on the basis of news reportage. That’s something we are confident of replicating in India. And as far as opinions are concerned, we are perfectly fine till the time there’s no agenda.

Why is brand differentiation so difficult in the English news space when the number of players is so limited?

Brand differentiation will only happen when there’s a content differentiation of sorts. We are trying to differentiate our content. We are putting a lot more focus on weekend programming and making it feature oriented as well.

We have started a new journey and it will take five or six months for a full ramp-up of our programming. We are already working on our features production. You will see a lot more immersive stuff happening.

Why are you not inventing something new instead of going back to what was being done seven or eight years ago?

Going back for us means that we return to our fundamentals of news reporting. Today, we have newer brands like Huffington Post or even our own Firstpost, and new types of apps. The breaking news space has been taken over by news apps. The environment has changed and so has the technology. Today, it’s not much about how many stories you break it’s about how well you do each story. That’s what immersive journalism is about.

Do you think the golden time for TV journalism is yet to come or were the old times better?

I’ll say the best is yet to come because today there is no longer a logjam in cable network. Your content can reach freely everywhere. The more you invest in content, the better it is.

Good content will always find takers, be it advertisers or subscribers. There was a time when everyone was talking about newspapers dying in the West. Now papers like NYT have put things behind paywall and today they are doing really well. So, it tells us that there are always takers for good content. People had thought that social media would make news channels irrelevant. But that doesn’t seem to happen. There would always be need for a credible medium. The second screen is here to stay and that’s what we are focused on.

What else will you adopt from CNN apart from the look and the news presentation?

It will be more about the basic fundamentals of how you do things. For example, during the Paris attacks, CNN had put around 100 reporters on the ground. We would like to do something on the same scale. We need to get multiple angles to a story. We can’t do it immediately but we can work in that direction. We are working closely with CNN to learn how we can better our digital offering and how we can see more seamless integration between TV and digital. We want to utilize the second screen better.

With the relaunch what is the new target group (TG) you’re focusing on?

Till about week 40 of last year, we were only talking about 53 million households being addressed by the audience measurement system in India. In one week it went to 155 million households. So, for the last 25-odd weeks we already have a new huge TG that has come. Now, in the GEC (general entertainment channel) space, you would have seen more focus on the rural segment. We are also looking at exploring the possibilities in this segment as well. We are trying to be more dynamic towards our offering. We have had some analyses on what can happen in the rural segment. It has enough surprises for us. Once we have more audience meters in the rural segment, we’ll have more data to focus on the rural segment and how English channels could penetrate that market. In six months you’ll have BARC rating for the digital segment as well. It will give you a fair idea of what all you can do with the second screen.

Any specific initiative you’ll take to attract new audiences to the channel?

If you want a viewer segment that’s interested in finance, then you’ll do more of finance programming. If you want more entertainment or sports, you’ll put more resources in that. We are attempting that with all the programming. It’s more about what kind of audience you want. With a differentiated weekend programming, we are trying to get audience from every cohort.

How’s the revamp of the digital platform from IBNLive to News18.com panning out?

We have moved our online property from IBNLive.com to News18.com. We also have a new app that would be upgraded from time to time to have more second screen capability built in. Our social media assets have already been revamped.

IBNLive was among the first big digital players in India but it couldn’t hold on to the leadership position. Do you think the digital medium is far more competitive than television?

Digital is far more competitive because things there are quicker and the number of entry barriers is lower.

In conversation with Avinash Kaul, CEO, IBN News Network

[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TQSxwo4Rj20[/youtube]

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