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We have a great competitive advantage over others, says Anil Uniyal of Bloomberg|Quint

The CEO of India’s first news live streaming service and soon-to-be-launched business news channel hopes to break even in less than four years and says both TV and digital have to be integrated to get the right value

Anil Uniyal

In a market size that's as small as Rs 450 crore in revenue, including both TV and digital, Bloomberg|Quint is banking on its innovative content offerings to make a dent in the TV business news space. The soon-to-be-launched channel that's already live streaming its shows on social media is relying big time on the integration of TV with digital.

In an interview with BestMediInfo.com, Anil Uniyal, CEO of Bloomberg|Quint, talks about the launch strategy of the channel and competing in the cluttered space.

Talking about monetising the digital, Uniyal says almost 80% of the digital spend is happening on Google and Facebook, leaving very little for other publishers and OTT platforms.

Speaking about the delay in the launch of the channel, he said government permission has taken so long to come, which shows there's something that needs to be addressed fundamentally.

Excerpts:

The channel launch has been delayed so many times as the government clearances didn't come on time. Does that mean the ease of doing business still a far cry?

We acquired a licence from Horizon Satellite services in June and then we applied for a name change. Yes. It has taken time but we are told that we are not the only case and it is perhaps a policy issue as there are a bunch of us. Since it is for a bunch of us, something needs to be addressed fundamentally.

Are you in the position to give us any timeline?

We are told that it’s going to happen anytime now. But I can’t put a date to it since it’s at the Ministry level. From the product point of view, we have rolled out completely. We are live streaming on our platform with presence on social media platforms – Twitter, YouTube and Facebook. We are live on Bloomberg Terminal and also on various telcos and OTT players, including Vodafone and Zenga TV. We are in talks with other players.

What feedback and traction are you getting from webcast?

In the first ten days’ time, we got about 1.2 million views, which is very encouraging. We have not popularised it up till now, despite that, the initial response has been phenomenal. Currently, we are doing only six to seven hours of programming and over the next 7-10 days, we will go full-fledged 12 hours, which will allow us to cover the full market hours and that is when the swing will happen. We telecast in four slots, 8-10.30am, 12.30-2pm, 2.30-4 and then in the evening.

Television is still a bigger screen in terms of viewership and revenues. Isn’t it?

Yes. It is. While TV still rules the roost, the consumption of content is moving to digital, particularly for general and business news. So, while it is a play between perception and money standpoints, the money still resides in television. Our idea was to have content that moves seamlessly across platforms. That is how we built everything – technology that we deploy and the people we hire should have a mindset of multi-platform and not of silos. Also, this is the way our commercial teams approach the market since there is no point is someone selling the inventory, someone going for customised solution pieces and someone else selling digital spaces separately.

On the one hand you talk about platform-agnostic content and on the other hand people are talking about how digital content has to be tailor-made for the platform, snippets and short format. Attention span is also low.

The live streaming feed is also TV-like since we have given it a different production scale. Our VoD content is in a format and of the duration that is far more consumer friendly. The ‘must watch’ section on our site has all these snacky content.

All the business news TV channels, or in fact the business news websites too, look the same and carry almost similar content. What will your programming mix be like?

Market is undoubtedly the core for business news channels. On the business news site, I can’t term anyone as competition. Considering the product offering and promise, it is completely different. For example, moneycontrol is a tools site and now they are trying to get hands on news. On the other hand, ET.com is largely an aggregator for news. Others don’t have much focus on video content. The way we are placed with a lot of original content, opinion stuff, video and live streaming, it places us in a unique place compared to the other players.

In BARC numbers and advertisers’ charts, you will still be compared to this lot. When you launch the channel, where do you see yourself?

We had ‘winning’ on our minds and we will win. It’s a journey that we will have to go through, but the initial response and traction tells us that we are on the right track. In the last six months, we have signed about 20-25 advertisers including GE, American Express, Dell, MRF and HP.

Over a period of time, if you are able to create great quality content and are able to build a brand that stands for great content, you will eventually be able to monetise as well. There is a plethora of sources for news but those with credibility and authority are the only ones to survive.

An advertiser is coming to you for a solution because you are providing an audience, which could be residing on TV or mobile or desktop. As long as you are able to reach out to that audience, the platform becomes immaterial and the solution comes to the core of it. It’s not happening overnight, but we are into this for a long haul.

In their second outing in India, Bloomberg has made substantial investment in your network. What expectations do they have from you?

India is a very big market for them. Despite being a big brand, the media facing side of Bloomberg didn’t work out to the desired expectations initially. Their expectations from the Indian market are very high and that is the reason why they ended up partnering with Raghav (Bahl). The arrangement has worked out beautifully – Bloomberg is big news brand globally with their terminal business. We have access to information that nobody else has. They are digital first globally and people are spending more money on digital. We have access to the international newsrooms, 4,000 reporters across the globe with about 70-80 in India. It has been a great partnership for us.

Isn’t survival getting tougher in business news broadcast space? Given that NDTV had to shut its business news channel. ET Now has recently broadened its coverage by blending general news.

Yes. It is challenging. The English business news genre – including digital – would not be more that Rs 450 crore. You won’t see a growth rate of 10-13 per cent unless you try something different and that is one of the fundamental reasons why people are going after customised solutions.

Even if you have a great solution, the challenge lies with dissemination because the consumption is moving across the platforms. With integration of platforms, one will be able to give more value to the client with the kind of solutions they are offering and have a better chance to succeed.

Also, with return path data (RPD) in a short time, a great marriage can happen between the two platforms. Over a period of time, the kind of profiling that you have for your audience is what is going to get you a premium in the market and that is what the future looks like.

Aren't all business news TV channels bleeding today?

I don’t think it’s true for all. The entire CNBC-TV18 set up is a profitable one, because of the huge distribution play that is working for them. They are an old player and the first mover advantage is still working for them. All the others are not profitable for sure.

What will it take to rewrite the CNBC-TV18 success in such a market?

We have been able to adapt to the digital world far more smoothly than anybody else. The fact that we started digital operations first is a great benefit for us. We were trained or forced to think digital first, mobile first and social-first.

We are nimble and new and hence, experimenting new things. We're young and hence, we are not scared. This is a great competitive advantage we have over others.

Is digital monetisable on its own, or the marriage between TV and digital the only way out?

Digital is a very tough game to monetise at this point in time. There is a huge supply and the clients and advertisers are also experimenting. They are not fully there though. A majority of spends would be on TV right now. That’s why digital is only about 15 per cent of the total spends. Even if there was Rs 8000-9000 crore spent on digital in India, about 80 per cent of this money is on Google and Facebook. So, what is left for the publishers, OTT players and everyone else is hardly anything, in the range of Rs 800-1000 crore. This number has to go up and it will take time. As per the immediate needs of clients and their marketing and sales objectives, TV is working but there is a gradual shift and we are experimenting more on the digital front.

Do you think independent digital news platforms have a bright future, given that the cost of generating content is so high and the consumer is not willing to pay for news?

I think India is not a subscription model as nobody pays for content, let aside news content. The entertainment content is also not getting paid for. The only viable business model in this is advertising led and how do you end up safeguarding yourself from this battle of price, CPM and the 10-second race. Hence, I think we need to get into more content creation as the moment you get into co-creation of content with the client, it gives customer solution and brand solution. This cuts across platforms, which will help you monetise and you will be able to overcome these challenges.

Going forward one can still experiment with freemium models with some content behind the paywall. As for Bloomberg|Quint, we haven’t even thought about it yet.

Considering that you put in almost equal amount of production money into digital as you would put in television, when do you intend to break even?

We have a business plan that has got slightly pushed because of the delay in licence but we are placed comfortably. We had staggered our plan in a way that we will still be able to match up with those. Any business will not take less than four years for breaking even, but our idea is to break even earlier than that.

Do you see video consumption driving the future of news?

It's a combination of video, infographics and text. Everything depends on your comfort level. There are people who are more than comfortable reading long text articles and they might not be watching video at all, while some others love infographics. There are viewers who enjoy watching videos. It also depends on what the story merits. Everyone keeps talking about video consumption online, but it is not getting monetised to the extent that people expected it to.

What are your views on available digital measurement systems, especially when brands are apprehensive about bots?

Whatever measurement is available on digital is an absolute number, unlike on TV where it is more on estimates. This is a great advantage with digital even with current players like comScore. You are correct that bot is a challenge in itself and a lot of people have burnt their fingers over this. It is now left to the advertisers to be far more demanding about measurability from the publishers and the larger platforms.

Do you think BARC’s television + digital measurement will bring any respite?

It will be great when it comes but how long it will take is a question. Internationally too, programmatic buying happens on television at a lot of places, I think it is a matter of time that it comes to India.

How much satisfied are you with the progress BARC is making?

It is based on estimates and extrapolation but it is difficult for anyone to set up a sample base of 200 million. So, the best way would be RPD, which will increase your base instantly and hence the chances of error – particularly in niche genres – will decrease.

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