With the aim of becoming a digital-first organisation, Network18 has been meticulously crafting its media tech strategy by actively transitioning from a sole focus on media to a media tech approach, Puneet Singhvi, CEO - Digital and President - Corporate Strategy at Network18, said.
This shift is prompted by changing audience dynamics and the escalating prevalence of digital platforms, he highlighted.
In preparation for the upcoming assembly polls, Singhvi stated that Network18's approach will encompass a mix of on-air, digital and on-ground programming. This strategy aims to foster audience participation and boost viewership.
With a positive outlook on the impact of the assembly and general polls on the network's news content viewership, Singhvi emphasised that a robust demand for advertising is anticipated. This favourable advertising climate is poised to enable the company to implement distinct pricing strategies.
Assembly elections are scheduled to take place in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Telangana and Mizoram towards the end of this year.
Singhvi said that the upcoming assembly elections and general elections will drive significant viewership for Network18's news channels over the next three to six months.
"We are already seeing traction on our channels including the HSM channels and we expect this to increase as the elections get closer. We will be doing a combination of on-air, digital and on-ground programming, including Open Mic and Chaupal, to engage our users and drive viewership. We are also seeing increased advertiser interest in news programming, which will help us further grow our audience,” Singhvi said.
"Elections for us are beyond just showing a graphic with some tally. It is a deep product that we are building which travels across platforms," he added.
Speaking about the election-related programming line-up, Sanghvi said that Network18 conducts fairly elaborated voter awareness programs, especially targeting young people to engage with them at the college level and other forums.
Moreover, Network18 will use its influential anchors to create platforms for people to discuss their achievements, objectives, plans and manifestos as the election nears.
“On the digital platform, we have a fairly robust reach into the hyperlocal space. That helps us understand what local voters are looking for, such as popular food joints in their area. This will provide a more comprehensive election coverage for voters,” Singhvi said.
“Network18 has been making strong election products for TV and digital, with high interactivity, top-of-the-line graphics and deep data on constituencies and candidates. This, coupled with insightful analysis by our anchors, has become a differentiator,” he added.
Speaking about Network18’s media tech play, Singhvi said that over the past year, they have diligently transformed their strategy, shifting from a pure media approach to a media tech focus.
“This change is driven by evolving audience behaviour and the increasing dominance of digital platforms. Digital is now central and pervasive. Our aim is to become a digital-first organisation, leveraging our robust television business's strengths in news coverage, video capabilities and prominent anchors. This empowers our digital growth. We are determined to make our brands accessible across various platforms, capitalising on our extensive brand portfolio,” Singhvi said.
He went on to say, “To achieve this, we have integrated our television and digital newsrooms, supported by technology such as our in-house app 'File18'. This streamlines content creation and publishing, enabling faster and more voluminous news delivery. This inward transformation also allows us to gather insights into audience engagement across platforms. This information will eventually enhance our advertising strategies with robust tech and AI experimentation. As a trusted news brand, maintaining credibility remains a core priority during our current phase of careful experimentation.”
Singhvi highlighted that brands are seeking both reach and impact. The current intense news cycle, featuring events like the Chandrayaan mission, the G20 Summit in September, upcoming elections, the Asia Cup and the Cricket World Cup, is driving significant user and audience engagement with news.
“Brands are drawn to news platforms that offer a seamless, comprehensive and insightful experience backed by trusted leadership. This attraction prompts advertisers to take a more assertive approach, particularly during these major news cycles and the upcoming festive season,” he added.
Singhvi pointed out that there has been a noteworthy increase in overall news viewership, rising from 7% to around 7.5% over the past six to eight months.
“This surge underscores the growing traction and interest in the news. Concurrently, financial markets have achieved record highs. Trusted platforms like Moneycontrol and CNBC play a pivotal role here. Notably, during market hours, CNBC commands 92% of the total viewership. Moneycontrol also exhibits unparalleled engagement, with users spending an impressive 10 to 15 minutes per session, a level of involvement seldom seen in news-related platforms,” Singhvi said.
Singhvi highlighted that the ad rate hike is not a short-term tactical move. He pointed out that the company has been able to achieve a significant uplift in ad rates over the past year, backed by its strong leadership across channels and higher engagement. He also said that the demand for advertising is expected to remain strong, which will help the company to drive differentiated pricing.
“Network18 is also doing a lot of innovative work beyond traditional ad formats, such as studio branding and other initiatives. This gives the company the leverage to unlock new opportunities and improve ad revenue. Overall, Network18 will be able to achieve better ad realisation across the board in the coming months, thanks to strong demand and innovative marketing initiatives,” he added.
Singhvi also emphasised that Network18 is working to create a more converged organisation, especially on the video side, by selling cross-platform packages that include television, YouTube and its own video platform.
On bundling digital with TV, Singhavi said, "We have never bundled our digital offerings. In our experience, when digital is bundled with mainstream media, its value diminishes. For meaningful traction and growth, digital needs to thrive independently. Our commitment to keeping digital separate remains unwavering."
"In terms of our approach, I'll address two key aspects - the festive season and our engagement during elections. In the digital realm, as well as across our regional networks, the festive period holds significant importance. This extended season commences with dedicated programming for Onam. We execute cross-platform initiatives spanning television and digital channels. Beginning with a microsite, we seamlessly integrate with local festivities, covering news, traditions and historical significance of events like Onam, Durga Puja, Diwali and post-Diwali activities. This approach ensures cohesive content delivery, interactive features and video-based programming across the digital spectrum,” Singhavi said.
“Our hyperlocal initiative is a strong asset, extending our presence to 350 districts nationwide. We collaborate with our team who provide video and text content from even the remotest areas. These stories capture local and human interest. This strategy enables us to utilise our distribution network for localised nuances, fostering engagement through coverage of local events. This approach is not limited to microsites. It involves deep content integration. Our advantage is amplified by our extensive regional television network, enhancing our reach,” he added.
He highlighted that in the lead-up to elections, Network18 strategically invested in creating a robust and interactive election product at various levels including state, national and even at the panchayat level.
“This product enables us to offer insightful visualisations, data analysis and in-depth content. Our team of dedicated stringers and journalists contribute content including video clippings and stories. We've also formed collaborations with television to stream these offerings across our digital platforms such as our website and YouTube. This comprehensive approach has transformed digital engagement from a brief one or two-day counting process to an extended and engaging platform. As a result, advertisers now have a more compelling and longer-term opportunity to connect with our audience." Singhvi said.