The founder-editor of Network18 shared the story of how his group ventured into digital storytelling.
"Media opportunities suddenly exploded in India during the '90s and we saw a whole lot of entrepreneurs jumping on to the media bandwagon either through TV or internet. Besides, textual word found a second life in internet" opined Raghav Bahl, founder and editor, Network18 Group. Bahl was speaking about his entrepreneurial journey at the keynote session at ad:tech New Delhi 2014.
Comparing the Indian scenario with that of Europe, Bahl said that the media industry there had gone through a systematic evolution, unlike India. "First there were print media companies, then came radio, followed by TV and digital, and now it has evolved to mobile. But in India, all these exploded together. Within 10 years, media owners had to deal with the matter of having presence on TV, internet and now on mobile," he observed.
Network18 started as a small production house designing content for Doordarshan in the '80s. It was in 1998-99 that the company decided to grow itself as a major player and thus entered the broadcasting business in partnership with CNBC, and floated CNBC-TV18 channel.
Bahl revealed that Netwrok18 also wanted to partner CNBC for the digital rights to have an internet version of CNBC-TV18, but the rights were already with Microsoft. "So we decided to acquire Moneycontrol.com and make it the internet face of the channel. And it paid for us as Moneycontrol today has become the leading business and financial information property in India. We had the vision in hindsight that a strong internet play is absolutely necessary to become a major media player in India," he revealed.
Bahl was also quick to admit that the valuation of Moneycontrol at that time was much more than the valuation of CNBC-TV18, and this, he reasons, was due to the high valuations that were being put on the internet properties during the late '90s.
Since its entry into the digital domain, Bahl said, the company gradually realised that internet wouldn't work as a linear medium. There had to be a two-way dialogue as consumers wanted to do a lot of things on the internet.
"Hence we developed a robust eco system on our sites where consumers could participate. Besides we also opened a whole lot of other opportunities like shopping, music and cricket on the internet. Not many people know that we have quite a large portfolio of digital brands that are among the leaders in their categories," he stated, backing his argument with examples of HomeShop18, CricketNext, IBNLive and others.
Moving on to the group's next big success in the digital world, Bahl mentioned the creation of Firstpost.com.
"By 2005, we realised that mobile was taking off. Platforms like Twitter had already established themselves as strong personal media vehicles. Hence we devised Firstpost which plays as a cross section platform between personal and public media, where people could gather information and also voice their opinions," he added.
Bahl said that Firstpost was also a result of the company's thoughts of owning an independent media brand online which was not a face of any TV channel. Besides, as per Bahl, by 2009, it was clear that the textual word was dead and newspapers had demised. The textual word got a huge second life in the form of internet. "All these helped us in establishing Firstpost as a leading online media property till date," he averred.
Speaking about the group's next big internet venture, Bahl mentioned News18.com, which was the company's move to enter local news genre on digital.
"When I run into the chief minister of Bihar, he is not really concerned about what the national media is speaking. Rather he wants to know more about the regional media houses. This made us think that since we already have a strong regional presence through ETV network channels in the regional genre, why not also make the content available online. News18 tends to serve that purpose and the group is bullish on the opportunity provided by News18," he added.
News18 currently has region-specific content for five districts and is a mobile-driven property serving region-specific, customised needs of Indian consumers. "We foresee it becoming a Firstpost+IBNLive kind of platform and we are also entering the vernacular domain through News18," Bahl informed.