Times Network is gearing up for a large-scale expansion across digital, Hindi and Business News this year.
In an interview with BestMediaInfo.com, MK Anand, MD & CEO, Times Network, said the company wants to be among the top five digital players in 2022. Anand is also eyeing at breaking into top 5 legacy Hindi news brands with Times Now Navbharat.
Speaking on the launch of ET Now Swadesh, Anand said that the Hindi business news segment has the potential to surpass the English news and the company looks at ET Now as a strategic standalone business.
Anand also talked about the need for viewers to pay for news through subscription and blamed the policies for stagnating the growth of news segments.
As the TV news industry awaits the release of BARC India’s viewership ratings for the news genre on March 17, Anand said the broadcaster has accepted the rating release date under protest in duress.
There have been reports that some broadcasters are still not confident about the process and systems followed by BARC India for computing ratings and wanted the release to be delayed further.
“We don’t want to be bad corporate citizens. Have accepted March 17, 2022, as the release date for BARC ratings under protest in duress,” Anand told BestMediaInfo.com.
The television business is predicted to grow in double digits for the next five years. What are those factors that will ensure the growth of Times Network’s TV business?
With economic development and the number of households increasing the usage of electricity, appliances and technology, the growth in TV is yet to hit a ceiling. The news and related content growth is yet to bloom.
For us specifically, our growth will be propelled by our newly launched Hindi franchise for both business and general news. The launch of Times Now Navbharat and ET Now Swadesh will fuel 15-20% growth for the network.
Elections are also an important factor for our growth. The way things are going, year after year, even the state elections are becoming as big as Lok Sabha. These are big events that can give us the requisite platform for growth.
Looking at the massive growth in digital advertising, what is your game plan for the digital businesses of Times Network across platforms?
On digital, our target is to have 110 million active monthly users from the current 55 million monthly active users by the last quarter of FY 2022-2023. Our initial priority for digital was to create a strong framework and to ensure we are there among the top search results. We have populated our digital platform with functional content.
We will be building digital as a standalone property. The video architecture which is already being laid and the current broadcast engine to provide videos will be adding substantially to the original digital video content on digital.
When it comes to monetisation, I believe that consumers should pay to consume news and broadcasters shouldn’t be much dependent on advertisers. But considering the competitive environment in the Hindi space, the Hindi channel has been launched as a free channel, which allows us to push the Live feed on YouTube, Facebook, etc without being in breach of our operator agreements. Most of the Indian broadcasters have become big on digital purely by going this route. We aim to become one of the top five digital news platforms by the end of this year.
News channels get a substantial amount of revenue from YouTube itself. What role will YouTube play in your digital monetisation strategy?
The revenue coming from YouTube has become larger compared to what it was. But the value that the broadcast industry provides consumers is a lot more. YouTube has become big because of the unfortunate structure of our market being non-pay. But it is nowhere near the size of the economics required to run content that is going on YouTube. It’s totally fine till the time it is a side medium to generate revenue.
YouTube is an important medium, but at the content level, it is under monetised by a huge margin. Even if the YouTube players are getting paid ten times, it won’t be able to surpass the basic economics of running those channels.
We’ll be focusing more on our YouTube strategy, but more than using it to increase revenue, we prefer it as a good marketing medium.
How has been the ongoing elections for Times Network and how are you planning to capitalise on the next Lok Sabha elections due in 2024?
We have called ourselves India’s election news headquarters in the last 5-6 years during elections. In the recently held assembly elections, among all English news channels, Times Now was way ahead of the competition in terms of presentation and content.
We also carefully curate content strategy in the run-up to elections. Recently, we executed two conclaves in the run-up to the UP and Uttarakhand elections. We are already working towards making the 2024 elections coverage as spectacular as possible. No other news network can catch up with the kind of political strong holding Times Now has. The one area we need to work upon is the production, technology and graphics part of it.
How was this election season in terms of growth in ad rates and revenues for Times Network compared to past election seasons?
Between Bengal and UP elections, we witnessed 2X growth for English news channels while the overall growth in the revenue was 3X with the addition of Times Now Navbharat.
Do you think that connected TV is going to be big for news broadcasters and what are your strategies in that direction?
We are already part of connected TV through Airtel, Jio and MX player, etc on their apps. Currently, we are in the process of developing our own connected TV app. We hope to be able to launch that in Q2 of FY 2022-2023. We are already in talks with connected TV partners like Apple and Samsung for the same. We aim to get around a million users on connected TV in the first year of launch itself.
How is the return of ratings for news television going to pan out for Times Network?
In the last five years, we have complained several times to BARC regarding various issues. But nothing has happened. We, therefore, clearly are not satisfied with BARC’s redressal mechanism and therefore justice and FairPlay. Having said that, we don’t want to be bad corporate citizens. We all came together to conceptualise BARC, which makes it our child. Therefore, we have accepted March 17, 2022, as the resumption of BARC ratings for news channels under protest in duress.
Where do you see Times Now Navbharat in the next two years?
We hope to break into the set of top Hindi News channels with good quality content and strong distribution. We already have an advantage with our established brand, Times Now. We are very orthodox in getting our distribution right. Everything from the right LCN position on the EPG to On-platform marketing, be it landing pages or EPGs, are being worked on in great detail. Needless to say, the channel is available on all the platforms without exception. We never shy from marketing. During the launch of the channel last August, we went all out with our brand and trade marketing. In the next phase, we will be launching a strong consumer campaign in Q1.
With all this, we aim to break into top-5 legacy news brands by the end of 2022.
You recently launched ET Now Swadesh. How has the market responded to the Hindi business news channel?
The advertisers’ response has been great. It’s a product that we have been able to break even within the six months of its launch. We can only gauge the audience's response when the ratings come out. It will take time for it to build saliency among the audience. We did not do mass marketing around it at the launch times because it is a niche product. We will now be getting aggressive on the marketing front of ET Now Swadesh.
Also, people’s interest in equity, funds and portfolios is increasing, which will help the whole business news ecosystem to grow. Over time, Hindi business news will become bigger than English business news as a category. We plan for ET Now to become a standalone SBU as Times Now is within the Network.
How can toxicity on news channels be curbed?
Without guidelines, the toxicity of content on news channels will always remain subjective opinions and empirical observations. But this toxicity is a result of our economic model. We need to question the policies in place that are designed to keep cable subscriptions as low as possible. In the resultant market structure, news channels can only hope for a nominal and paltry price leading to subscription revenue being forever insufficient. Due to this news channels rely more heavily on advertising than Entertainment businesses. TRP ratings thus play an important role for channels as ad rates depend on relative ranks.
To garner high TRP ratings, channels play around content, which at times becomes provocative and borders on unethical. It is a vicious cycle. The policymakers should work around this and mandate that the news channels be provided with some minimum support subscription price. Advertising led free-to-air services may be fine for Entertainment. For News, it is counterproductive. News channels set the standards for dialogue in a democratic society. In our current situation, there is an incentive to actually lower that standard.