Cross-media content tie-ups becoming a must for media owners

By Sumantha Rathore , afaqs!, New Delhi | In Media Publishing | July 30, 2009
The reasons could be many, including fragmentation in media, rising content cost, or the need to increase visibility

We have all seen Shekhar Gupta, editor-in-chief, The Indian Express interviewing different personalities on NDTV 24X7.

This was one of the first instances of cross-media content tie-ups in the country. However, of late, this concept is becoming increasingly popular amongst media companies, be it a large daily, a magazine or a TV news channel.

For instance, Bennett Coleman & Company Limited (BCCL) properties across media share content -- from radio to print, or print to television or the Web. The launch of ET Now, a business news channel, has opened new streams for content tie-ups. The business channel and its print equivalent, The Economic Times, a financial daily, share a common pool of content.

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A senior editor with BCCL says, "We have a big integrated team that works for both ET and ET Now. Though there are no fixed parameters of selecting news and deciding the number of news stories that can be picked from ET for ET Now or vice versa, a team of senior editors is in place to decide that."

However, in the last one year or so, many media companies have entered into content sharing tie-ups across media platforms. IBN7 (Hindi news channel) and Hindustan (Hindi newspaper) came together for special properties; UTVi (English business channel) and Business Standard (English business daily) signed a content sharing deal; CNBC TV18 (English business channel) and Mint (English business newspaper) share content; and NDTV Profit (English business channel) and Outlook magazine, have also signed content sharing deals.

Media observers are of the opinion that both the reasons behind and the benefits of such tie-ups are numerous.

Anand Shah, media analyst, Angel Trade says, "For a media conglomerate such as the Times Group, internal tie-ups suffice; but for companies which do not have a cross-media presence, these tie-ups become very crucial to fill the gaps."

Amit Chopra, head, Hindi business, HT Media, explains, "IBN7, being a visual medium, has certain strengths such as interactivity; and we being a print medium, can provide in-depth analysis. The tie-up is to gain from each other's strengths."

Often, the two partners of a content tie-up also work towards a common goal. IBN7 and Hindustan newspaper follow a property specific tie-up model. Recently, they tied up for three properties -- criminalisation of politics (Jaagte Raho, Hoshiyaar), the Budget and the T20 World Cup.

As a part of the month-long Jaagte Raho campaign, Hindustan published the profiles of the candidates with criminal backgrounds on the same day as they were broadcast on IBN7.

Elaborating on how the reportage happens as per the tie-up, Ashutosh, managing editor, IBN7 says, "The subject of the story remains the same -- only the treatment might differ, depending on the audience and the medium in which it is being replicated."

Some of these tie-ups are more strategic, where both partners could have different objectives or expectations from the deal. An instance of this is the Mint-CNBC tie-up. "Since the profiles of our audiences (CNBC and Mint) are different, this arrangement might help in generating curiosity in the mind of the viewers of CNBC about our brand and give us new readers. This deal can introduce our content to an unknown set audience and thus broaden our user base," says R Sukumar, managing editor, Mint.

Similarly, Neel Chowdhury, vice-president, marketing, CNBC TV-18 and CNBC Awaaz says, "Such content tie-ups can create a media multiplier effect by increasing the touch points for engagement."

Some media observers agree that cross-media content tie-ups have become a compulsion, rather than a choice. Amit Ray, president, Lintas Media Group, says, "In the last few years, there has been a fragmentation of audience across platforms. Moreover, creating content has become more expensive."

For instance, covering important international events is always an expensive affair. We know of a large Hindi daily which did not send its reporting team for a major cricketing event, but relied on its tie-up partner for the reportage. This way, it could save on costs, without depriving its readers of the content.

However, the media companies maintain that tie-ups are not a cost saving mechanism; rather, it is about expanding the visibility and pooling the strengths of the two mediums. The content synergy assures prospective audience.

At times, both the partners send their respective journalists to cover a major event. A senior editor says, "When two partners belong to two different forms of media, it's most likely both will have a different view on the same story. This widens as well as deepens the coverage."

If content is platform or medium-neutral, it makes sense to reuse it in other media, give it a fresh life and also monetise it. As a senior media observer comments, "Once it is broadcast on a medium, the story has no value for that particular organisation. Therefore, it makes sense to sell it -- give it to someone else and get something else in return, either in the form of money or a barter deal."

Besides, there has also been a change in mindset of publications, be it in print or TV. They have realised the importance of providing news and information to the audience, without worrying about the source. "Earlier, media houses would stress exclusive reportage. But now, they are willing to give due credit to the source publication as well as the journalist," says Shah of Angel Trade.

For instance, the content tie-up between CNBC and Mint works on a daily basis, where Mint features the top stories, analyses and interactions from CNBC-TV18 on a page called 'Exclusive from CNBC-TV18', and important stories and reports from Mint are featured on CNBC-TV18 during the primetime news bulletins. While Mint gives a byline to the CNBC journalist; the CNBC anchor mentions the name of the journalist and carries the Mint logo in the news bulletins.

However, most media observers are unanimous in the view that the brand values of two partners in a content tie-up should be in-sync and they have to be like-minded. Otherwise, the tie-up could turn out to be a disaster and could hurt the brands.