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How Network18 cracked the digital code

Karthik Subbaraman, Managing Editor for Network18 Group’s digital news operations, talks about the winning strategy

The competition in India’s digital news landscape has intensified in the last few years. Leading players such as the Times Internet, Network18, HT Digital Streams, India Today, Zee Media, Indian Express, among others have made substantial investment in their products and resources to move the needle on digital revenues.

More than a dozen domestic news publishers and aggregators are vying for India’s Rs 2000 crore annual digital adex strictly on news, which is almost 7% of the overall adex on news in India including TV and Print.

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India’s digital news publishing industry, just like TV and Print, is advertising dependent. However, where the growth is limited in TV news now, and print is in de-growth mode, the active user universe for digital news is expanding at over 10% annually. India’s online news industry currently has over 500 million MAUs. 

To reduce the dependency on advertisers and to open up another significant revenue stream, several traditional and new age news platforms have been trying to build a paying subscriber base for their digital arm for the last three years.

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Network18’s premium offering, Moneycontrol Pro, claims to have over four lakh paying subscribers which could arguably be much more than the paying subscribers of all news platforms put together.  

Similarly, all newsrooms across the country have been trying very hard to integrate their digital operations with their TV or print offerings. However, none has been as effective as Network18, claimed the company.

Karthik Subbaraman

Sharing how the group has been able to do all this better than others, Karthik Subbaraman, Managing Editor for Network18 Group’s digital news operations, said that the news network has made a substantial investment in digital, editorial and technology, whereas, others are most likely to shy away from this and relying more on their traditional newsrooms to feed into digital.

He said the group, which happens to be among the top three in India in terms of monthly active digital userbase, continues to strengthen its offerings.

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“We are expanding across all of our brands and looking to further strengthen our teams with the top-class editorial, media production and content distribution talent. We are looking to broaden and deepen our offerings across the board. This means more stories in more innovative formats. From multimedia and graphics to text and podcasts, we are adding talent and capabilities like never before,” he said.

The group currently runs popular platforms such as Moneycontrol, CNBCTV18.com, News18.com, Firstpost among others.

Talking about the differentiating factors of all these platforms, he said, “Network18 speaks the language of India, in the idiom of India. Our network is as vast as our country and just as rich; it is without parallel. Moneycontrol is India’s most popular digital destination for business news and information and has one of the most successful subscription products in the world in the form of Moneycontrol Pro. News18 tells the stories that matter in every major language. CNBC is the digital front end of India’s most popular business television brand. Firstpost is India’s most respected digital news and opinion destination.”

In the last few years, the group has attracted some of the top names in mainstream journalists to join its digital products.

“While our reach is unmatched, what we are really proud of is our unswerving determination to put our audiences at the centre of everything that we do. Our readers, viewers and listeners know that they can trust us to be fair, to be fast, and to be innovative in our story-telling. Which is why the best journalists in the country work at Network18,” he said.

The news network, which is the largest in the country, has also been able to attract the best resources in the world of technology, product building and social media. Subbaraman said that the audience’s preferences and feedback are at the core of the group’s product building exercise.

“We are laser-focused on our audiences. This means having the best story-telling capabilities in the form of reporters, editors, graphic artists, video editors, designers, social media managers, podcast producers and other top-notch professionals. Our readers, viewers and listeners understand the value of trusted expertise. They also care deeply about a top-class product experience. That is also the reason why we are investing heavily to attract the best product managers and technology professionals to our network,’ he said.

Sharing the content strategy for Network18 digital platforms and how they serve all kinds of audiences, in turn, to gain similar advertiser traction for the platforms, he said, “Our readers, listeners and viewers are intelligent people who are also extremely curious. They care a lot about making sense of events and developments. They are looking for a sharp, cogent and concise explanation, not just information.”

The group has also been successfully able to integrate its TV and digital platforms in a way no other news network has done in India. Subbaraman said the group operates with the motto of One Network18.

 “Starting with news planning, our teams across digital and television work as one coordinated unit. Editors are present in each other’s news meetings. Expertise, both journalistic and production, is shared and made available to all our brands,” he said.

Across the world, digital is thought of as a little cluttered medium and critics say it is also marred with fake news.

When asked how does Network18 digital ensure that the content remains neutral and everything is fact-checked before it is posted online, he said, “Fairness, accuracy and integrity are at the core of what we do. It is a part of our culture; it is something that we strive to make our second nature at all times. Our journalistic code and editorial processes are designed so that every development is treated on merit and all sides get to have their say. Every story has a second pair of eyes looking at it, if not a third pair. If we do make a mistake, our policy is to own it up and correct it.”

The group has also revamped some of its key products in the recent past. Talking about the recent revamps, Subbaraman said, “We recently refreshed Storyboard18, India’s premier destination for the advertising and marketing community. Our special page on Muhurat Trading at Moneycontrol set a new benchmark. And MC30 is proving to be the go-to destination to know about the best-performing mutual funds in India.”

Subbaraman also highlighted that the group has the most employee-friendly policies in the sector. India’s news media, however, isn’t seen to be a very generous employer. The layoffs and salary cuts during the last 18 months (the Covid period) have further highlighted this aspect.

Subbaraman said that the group has tried to provide a sense of security to its editorial and non-editorial staff.

“Not only did Network18 reinstate salaries last year, we also did so retrospectively and paid out arrears. We are perhaps the only news media organization to do so. Our salary increases this year have been among the best in the industry and we are hiring aggressively. Ours is a culture that prizes performance and values people. Families of employees who succumbed to Covid receive the last-drawn salary of the employee for five years. Furthermore, the children of such employees are supported until they graduate,” he said.

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