Ashwini Gangal

“Retrofitting TV news on mobile is like oxen pulling a Ferrari”: Vikram Chandra

Launched by veteran journalist Vikram Chandra, with the intent to right the wrongs in the video news space in India, Editorji is a platform for personalised video news. Chandra, former CEO and executive director of NDTV, quit the TV news channel in 2016 to set up Editorji, described, on Twitter, as 'a new way to experience video news'.

His summary of the problems with TV news as it stands today goes something like: TV news is broken, TV channels are entirely dependent on ad revenues which in turn come from TRPs – a reality that has led to sensationalism. Digital video news is barely the antidote to this because it is inconvenient to tap on individual stories each time; also, digital video news presupposes that the consumer already knows what the news is. People are simply “stumbling upon pieces of information” online and “think they're getting informed,” but social media is an ideological echo chamber, replete with fake news. Quality content creators struggle to find distributors. The TV news environment is not 'brand safe' for advertisers.

At the recently concluded Digipub World, Chandra chatted with Vanita Kohli-Khandekar, contributing editor, Business Standard, about why Editorji, an AI driven platform, one he likens to Spotify, given the 'playlist' way it operates in, is the solution.

Editorji has crossed a million 'installs'. The team, comprising about 70 'content people', puts up 200 videos a day. The platform is built on the premise that short form video is the format of the future; stories play for 20 seconds.

Strategic partners include names like Hindustan Times, Twitter, Alexa and Airtel, among others.

Edited excerpts.

Q. About your partners – are they investors?

Chandra: Most of the companies/people we're partnering with are not investors. Airtel is, Hindustan Times is, the others aren't.

Q. And what about the monetisation part?

Chandra: Our monetisation module is very simple... we can use AI to figure out which content we should show people...

... on a mobile phone, when you try to get the news, you go to a live news channel; but that's like taking television and retro-fitting it to a mobile device. It's like getting oxen to pull a Ferrari. But we're creating a customised news channel for you on the fly. Now consider the opportunities from an advertising or brand building point of view. The minute my algorithm creates a newscast for you, it also knows what else you're interested in, what branded content to show you...

Q. ... so ad revenues on the mobile screen, in-between your news feed...

Chandra: Absolutely. When the playlists are coming, you can put pieces of content, branded content, ads into that... and use a lot AI to figure that out. We're launching modules, about two months from now, which will deliver a certain format of ad tech... that will potentially do to ad tech what we've just done to video content – and that's where the money will come from.

Vikram Chandra with Vanita Kohli-Khandekar at Digipub World 2019

Q. If you're a tech company are we looking at more apps besides Editorji, from you?

Chandra: We're a technology, a product... designed for integration – be it with telecom companies, publishers, devices. So I don't have to build products. We're designed to work with partners.

Q. It's a broader, philosophical question, but, the moment you customise using AI, you create an echo chamber...

Chandra: The way many algorithmic, AI driven companies operate is, they show you stuff that you like. That's good for the short term. But we're in it for the long term.

If we keep giving you what you want, you're back in the echo chamber, the bubble... but we want to give you the basic facts. We're giving you a diverse range of 30 stories (in video format, which can be converted into audio/text in low bandwidth areas), somewhat tailored to you. If you don't like, say, tech or showbiz or lifestyle, we won't show you those stories, but we will still show you the top headlines. Even if you say you don't want to see, say, politics, if it's a big headline, we'll still show it to you.

Vikram Chandra and Vanita Kohli-Khandekar
Vikram Chandra and Vanita Kohli-Khandekar
Digipub World 2019

Q. But how then do you build serendipity into a news feed?

Chandra: Just try it. When people press the play button, they see 30 stories in around six minutes; of these, there are eight to 10 stories which we may have found, but 20 which we would have never found... that's the serendipity.

Q. (laughs) Is it fair to call you the inshorts of video news?

Chandra: No, what we're trying to do is slightly different. We don't want to be a destination. I want us to, collectively, as an industry, look at the problem of video news, and fix it.

(Digipub World is an annual conference for and about the web publishing industry. Three editions have been held so far. It is organised by afaqs!)

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