REPUBLIC BHARAT TO DISRUPT HINDI NEWS SPACE: GOSWAMI

As Republic Media Network gears up for its next expansion phase with the launch of its Hindi news channel Republic Bharat, there are questions being asked about the place for yet another channel in an already cluttered market.

28 Jan, 2019 by RUHAIL AMIN

As Republic Media Network gears up for its next expansion phase with the launch of its Hindi news channel Republic Bharat, there are questions being asked about the place for yet another channel in an already cluttered market.

News of the launch of Republic Bharat has seemingly unleashed a competitive spirit amongst news players in the domain. We recently witnessed how Zee Hindustan came out with an aggressive outdoor campaign targeting its competitors and others are following suit too. Republic Bharat could give its competitors some sleepless nights.

If we look at the most recent pecking order of Hindi news channels based on their latest ratings, Aaj Tak continues to lead in the space followed by News18 India, ABP News, Zee News and India TV (Source: BARC India; Week 3; HSM (U+R): NCCS All: 15+ Individuals). One important thing to note here is that barring the top slot, the rest of the slots keep on rotating and there is no clear leader, so to say.

Republic Bharat has already started on its aggressive strategy by roping in top names from competitive channels. Though the media house is tight-lipped about its new team, it recently appointed Shamsher Singh of India News to lead the new editorial product. Singh has worked in the Hindi news space for over two decades and has been with news organizations like Aaj Tak and Zee Hindustan.

For Arnab Goswami, MD, Co-founder and Editor-in-chief of Republic TV, the move to launch his new venture is to disrupt the Hindi news space, which, according to him, has forgotten to report news.

In this exclusive interview, Goswami talks about the rise of brand Republic, his plan to launch a global venture in the next two years, and why his critics can’t stop talking about him. Here are excerpts from our conversation:

Q] Around 20 months after the launch of Republic TV, to what do you attribute your success and how has been the journey so far?
I think it is unparalleled success. We are now closing on 100 weeks of being No. 1, and that makes us one of the most successful brands in the media right now, certainly in Television.

One of the greatest contributions of Republic TV is that it has expanded the English News genre by about 73%. So compared to before launch and now, if you were to take May 1, 2017 and January 31, 2019, there is 70%+ expansion of the genre. I think that is the greatest contribution of any new entrant.

Q] In one of your earlier interviews, you said that anybody in our industry who does things based on political highs and lows is playing a very short-term game. Now you are launching Republic Bharat just before the general elections. What is the rationale behind launching the channel at this time?
I completely stand by what I said earlier. The launch of Republic Bharat is following what we are closing in on the 18 or 20 months of leadership of Republic TV. Any team that launches a new channel needs time to re-galvanize itself before launching a big product.

Hindi is not a small market; it is a very large market and hence I needed this time to get my focus back on building a new product. Republic Bharat is not launched with an eye on the elections; elections happened to be scheduled at this point of time. The level of investments that we have made in technology, in people, in processes and in the state of our operations ensures that it is not an election-specific channel.

I don’t do these fly-by-night operator things that you launch a channel before the elections and you close it down after the elections. Other people do that. I launch brands because I build legacy, and we are building a legacy of Republic TV. Hence, it is great that the elections are happening, but would we not launch the channel if there was no election? Absolutely not! We would still go ahead and launch the channel.

Q] The Hindi news TV space is already cluttered; so how would Republic Bharat be different from channels that already exist in the genre?
The biggest factor in the launch of Republic Bharat is that we are going to do news. Now, ask anybody what they think of Hindi news channels today, they will say that they don’t think they are giving them the news. None of the Hindi news channels today have broken a single big story in over 10 years.

I can ask any of the readers or viewers of this particular interview, what was the last big exclusive story broken and followed up by any Hindi news channels? None of the people can answer because Hindi news channels forgot to give news to the Hindi audience. Hence all the big stories were broken by my team and by a few other teams, but certainly not by any Hindi news channel.

They must also consider why Republic Bharat is launching. Republic Bharat is launching to disrupt the space, which is supposed to be a news genre but has not been loyal to news for over 10 years. We are bringing news back in the Hindi news genre - that is our sustained effort and that is also at the core of this entire exercise of launching Republic Bharat.

Q] Whenever you start a new venture, people have huge expectations. Is that adding to the stress that news as a genre already has? How do you come to terms with it?
I am very excited about every launch and my clock moves from launch to launch. It is the process of re-invention, it is the process of re-creation, but most importantly I enter every genre not with a predisposed mind. I never assume when I launch a product that I know it all, I don’t know it all, but I’m a quick learner. And most importantly, I am gifted and blessed to have an excellent team.

The team of Republic TV today, both on the technology and production side, and of course on the editorial side, are the finest in the business. We are without doubt home to the best content creation capability that any network has in India today.

Does that make the job of launching a channel easier? It doesn’t. But does it make it more exciting, yes it does. So when you have a great team which enters into a launch and says ‘Let us open up with a blank page and try and understand what we can do there’, then you end up painting a more beautiful picture.

I am 100% sure that we will change and disrupt the Hindi news channel business in a way that has not been done before.

Q] Your critics say that you have polarized the news genre. Your comment?
So what you are basically telling me is that people have opinions about what you do, some people like it, some dislike it, some people criticize it, but from your own expression of this question, you will admit that people are questioning the form and not the content.

So they are saying, it’s too loud, it does not work for me, fine! But, are they saying it is dishonest, it is mala fide, they won’t say so. So, there is no question on the integrity of our journalism.

Some people like to have a Mexican dish, some people like to have an Indian dish, some people like spicier Indian dishes and some like it a little bland - all that is a matter of an individual’s taste, but there is no poison in the dish. Whatever we serve has news and is completely pure in terms of the integrity of news.

Changes will come, and in 2029, news will not be done the way it is done in 2019, and that is the whole process of evolution.

Q] Some people have also said that Republic shows a certain political bias - how would you like to respond to it?
If people would not watch me, they would not say anything. I think it is a reflection of our growing audiences. If people were to ask me what is the greatest contribution of Republic TV, I will say that we are now reaching approximately 150 to 200 million Television homes in the country after the launch of Bharat, that for me is the most satisfying part of the journey.

Our ideology is that of nationalism. We believe that patriotism, nationalism, symbols of national honour and the concept of pride in the nation should be the guiding principles for the entire country. I believe you cannot have enough of nationalism. So when people talk about too much nationalism, I would take them on and question them day in and day out. I feel that we need to be unapologetic about being Indian. We are the most vibrant democracy, the most vibrant society, and with a great future ahead. Why should we not instill a sense of great pride in our younger generation, and what is media if it is not prejudiced for the nation? My prejudice is for the nation, not for an individual and certainty not for any party.

Sometimes, some people might think that nationalism is associated with the party, but they are wrong. Nationalism is in the soul of every Indian, and that is the audience that essentially I hope to reach out to.

Q] You have also said that ‘To be heard sometimes you need to shout’, but if the nature of the news business changes from advertising to subscription revenue, will your approach also change?
With changes in technology, dissemination systems and measurement, we might move towards a subscriptionbased model at some point of time. It would be welcome if the subscription revenue increases because the cost is only rising, and sometimes our cost of carriage is greater than the cost of creation of content. If people like what we do, they will support us. You can’t say that people will start supporting you if they start paying for you. That is a limited way of looking at it. If people like you, they will watch you whether you are free to air or paid. They will connect with you, and they will find you. Both channel discovery and content discovery, and content creation need to essentially have a very close organic link with the audience. The moment you connect with the audience, everything becomes easier. If you don’t connect with the audience, then you blame the current trends in the industry.

Some people say that the problem is that it is an advertising-based world; I don’t understand that. If you do well and people like you, they are going to watch you and you will have good viewership, if you have good viewership you will get advertising. So instead of blaming the advertisingbased model, those people should ask themselves why don’t they have the viewership.

Q] So what next after Republic Bharat?
I have not done what I would enjoy the most and that would be the launch of our global media product. I believe that we cannot live in our self-contained chambers of success. Once we launch Bharat, I will start building in two areas - the entire span of digital media technology businesses and global operations.

I believe we can create and curate content, and I know that the global market also knows that people like us entering the global market will sort of open it up. I have observed the global players from a distance; I hope to watch them more closely and disrupt that space within the next year or two. How will we do that… I do not know. But my vision is firmly set on that, I hope to get more time to be able to focus on that.

Eventually in the next four to five years, I will be setting pace to a number of new things that I am going to do, which eventually someone in the next generation will take to a higher level. We are only agents of making that change happen in the course of our careers.

I also want to thank all the people who have helped me build Republic Bharat and Republic TV and the network. We have about 750 people working with us now and every one of them has contributed a great deal to this, and to the media industry. For a person like me to come out and do this would not be possible without the genuine support of the industry.

Feedback: ruhail.amin@exchange4media.com Category: Interview Volume No: 15 Issue No: 34

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