Anirban Roy Choudhury

We will not allow Arnab to run past us: MK Anand, Times Network

Times Network's news business faced a blow last November when its then editor-in-chief and news president of the network - Arnab Goswami, decided to move on to turn entrepreneur. For a decade, the network's flagship news channel - Times Now, was all about Arnab and his flamboyance, something the network won't repeat as MK Anand, managing director and chief executive officer, Times Network, promises.

While Anand managed to hold on to his overall viewership share, he concedes that in the prime time slot the channel took a marked beating. The share fell from 65 percent to 45 percent. It may decline more when Arnab's 'Republic' is launched, feels Anand.

Edited Excerpts

After Arnab left, you managed to retain your overall viewership share but suffered a blow in the prime time news slot...

Yes, while our overall viewership stayed same, it's right that we have taken a beating and dropped down from 65 percent to 45, in prime time, after Arnab's departure. 65 percent is unnatural and I am not eyeing that; you need a Michael Jackson kind of an entity, an Arnab, for that. There's no one of that stature in the Indian news space today.

But we have 45 percent share in prime time which means the other, non-Arnab stalwarts who have been there for long, put together have 55 percent. So, with 45 percent, we are in a very good position even without Arnab.

What was the biggest challenge when Arnab left?

The biggest challenge was to hold the team together. I firmly believe that it's the 320 employees that make Times Now the expression that it is. It was essential to make them believe the same and stay on. I must say I was successful in retaining them; I only lost 12 people. I was expecting the number to be 40-50.

The enthusiasm is the same, the excitement is the same and the processes are the same. It was these people who were running the channel, not Arnab alone.

Now that you've managed to retain most of the team, what's next?

It's been 13 weeks since he left and we're still No.1. We now have the confidence to go out and say, 'See, Arnab is not there and we're still out there as the No.1 English news channel.' We will gear up our marketing initiatives now.

How do you see things changing once Arnab launches his channel?

When Arnab launches, he will get good numbers in prime time. He will have a two-to-three-hour-long show and will get his viewers if the distribution and all are in place. I hope this happens... he is a great guy.

After he launches our numbers will go down. He will certainly be a 'top three' player in the news space. To be honest with you, his channel can be No.1, only when other players in the market are complacent.

Let's accept it - Arnab made Times Now what it is today. One Arnab and an hour of prime time made the channel No.1. But why did this happen? - It's because NDTV was all over the place at that time, caught up with GEC aspirations. CNN-IBN was caught up with expansion. So both these brilliant managers - Prannoy Roy and Raghav Bhal, got caught with other things and went cold. Arnab won the race while others wandered.

We have nothing else to do other than this, so we will not allow Arnab the free space to run past us.

To counter the ripple effect of demonetisation you have launched a CSR initiative 'remonetise India'. Tell us about how demonetisation affected your business...

Demonetisation has come in as a speed breaker for our growth rate. In the last quarter, we would have done far better if not for demonetisation.

We are not cutting costs, particularly because of the demonetisation blow. We're being cautious because of the overall economic condition. The exuberance will be less. We are a cost efficient company. In the last three years, our revenue grew by 65 percent but our cost remained the same.

The news space is growing in terms of viewership. But is the growth in ad sales increasing proportionately?

News channel viewership has been growing since the surgical strike, but that is not a very good sign, either for the news business or for the country. High GRP time for news does not mean high revenue time for news. News gets high viewership when news is bad. When news is good, nobody watches.

Recently, CNBC - TV 18 launched a campaign claiming 86 percent viewership share on budget day. The ad said ET Now had 5 percent viewership share. You called this "unethical". What next?

They used additional LCNs to spike up their viewership. Doing so on a big event day is unfair.

I have sent letters to TRAI, BARC, ASCI and IBF and am going to force TRAI to seek an explanation from the broadcaster. If I don't get an explanation, I will go to court.

BARC replied saying, 'We are only a measurement body. When there is viewership, we will have to measure...'

Let's see what TRAI has to say.

There's no immediate damage to ET Now. But from a long-term point of view, continuous advertising of this kind will impact us.

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