Akshit Pushkarna

Why Network18 is bullish on marrying its digital properties with its TV channels

Network18's Puneet Singhvi asserts the company's strategic shift towards digital integration seeks to transform the audience engagement dynamics in the Indian media industry.

Gaining a leadership position in the media landscape of India across mediums has been a tall order for media houses for a long time. Amidst this already cluttered landscape, only a handful of media conglomerates have succeeded in establishing a lasting connection with different cohorts of audiences.

Puneet Singhvi, CEO - digital and president - corporate strategy, Network18 Media & Investments, asserts that the company has been able to become and retain the position of the largest news network in India for some time now.

Network18's subsidiary, TV18 Broadcast Limited, operates national news channels CNBC-TV18, News18 India, and CNN News18. Singhvi attributes this achievement to the establishment of a robust nationwide as well as hyperlocal footprint across multiple news verticals. He emphasises that this equips the group with significant advantages in news gathering and audience engagement mechanisms.

In a conversation with afaqs!, Singhvi details the network’s plan to leverage this dominance in TV news to expand its digital operations. Network18 operates digital news publications like Moneycontrol, News18.com, CNBCTV18.com, and Firstpost. 

"We've been consciously pivoting Network18 to be a digital-first company. Our massive network of digital properties drives north of 300 million unique viewers on a monthly basis. This shift marks a significant step in our strategy,” he states.

Singhvi explains that all of Network 18’s national channels, including News18 India, CNN News18, and CNBC-TV18, lead their respective genres. “Whether it's at the national or regional level, we've established our leadership. Our focus is to invest in integrating our television channels with our digital properties." 

Network18's ad in The Indian Express on September 10
Network18's ad in The Indian Express on September 10

This integration has led to a recent consolidation of the network’s TV channels and digital properties in a single office in Noida. 

“This strategic move aims to leverage the strengths of television to power our digital growth, creating a seamless media supply chain that sets us apart. Television remains a massive and influential medium for us. We aim to harness the momentum and strength of our television brands like CNN News18 and CNBCTV18 to fuel our digital growth. It's a strategic direction we're fully committed to," he elaborates.

Moneycontrol and Firstpost are two of the group’s significant digital first news properties. The network plans to make Firstpost a video-first property.

"We have steered Firstpost to be a video first property. We were determined not to create another generic news site with Firstpost. Given India's growing importance globally, we pivoted Firstpost to provide India's perspective on world affairs and share India's viewpoint on various developments. This shift to a video-first approach has proven successful, offering enhanced distribution and engagement. We are the fastest channel to cross over 100 million monthly views on YouTube and over 2 million subscribers," he states.

Singhvi highlights that Network18's strategy for Firstpost was set into motion in late 2022, around the time when the network onboarded journalist Palki Sharma Upadhyay.

Sharma went on to host Vantage Firstpost’s daily news show that covers global news with an Indian perspective. The show’s coverage of the G20 summit exemplifies this. In the show on the day of the summit, Sharma details how India forged the New Delhi G20 declaration on Vantage. 

Singhvi adds that substantial investments are also being directed towards transforming Moneycontrol into a property that provides a comprehensive media and fintech outlet. The company has also introduced new offerings in the transactional verticals and plans to double down on these investments.

Network18’s media-tech play

Network18 is also actively working on building a robust tech infrastructure to seamlessly connect its TV news channels and digital properties. This concerted effort aims to not only streamline news gathering but also drive cost-efficiency and enhance the speed of news reporting.

On the audience front, they are working on technological and data science initiatives designed to track and analyse audience behavior.

"In terms of audience insights, we are actively working on tech and data science initiatives to understand how our audience engages across various platforms. This initiative isn't limited to our channels and websites; it spans off-platform distribution across YouTube, Facebook, Snapchat etc. and Connected TV. Our goal is to create a deep understanding of our audience for content and monetization opportunities. Our data is a goldmine of insights. It helps us internally with content personalization, optimised programming, and cross-platform audience strategies. Externally, we're exploring opportunities for monetisation, leveraging this rich dataset," he elaborates.

These technological initiatives have yielded valuable insights, enabling it to discern viewership patterns and gain an understanding of the video content that resonates with its audience.

With this, the group places a strategic emphasis on short-form content as a top priority, followed by lighter content options, and finally, video-on-demand (VOD) offerings. Leveraging its extensive television network, the company maximises the impact of these content formats.

Singhvi underscores the pivotal role of short videos in expanding the network's audience and subscriber base. These concise video clips effectively capture viewer interest, and hold the potential to go viral, subsequently driving faster subscriptions. 

Given the meteoric rise in popularity of podcasts, the company also started investing in the medium some time ago. Singhvi shares that podcasts have worked reasonably well for the brand, with podcasts hosted by Moneycontrol and Firstpost gaining significant traction. Additionally, specific niche podcasts from CNBC and News18 further augment the network's podcast offerings.

"Our podcasts have seen significant success. They resonate not only on our platform but also on others which aggregate platforms. The strength of our brands, such as MoneyControl, Firstpost, and CNBC, attracts listeners seeking specific content. This trend in podcast consumption has grown substantially over the past year," he elaborates.

Speaking of further plans, Singhvi says, "Looking ahead, we anticipate good traction for our overall business, both television and digital, with the upcoming festive season and state elections. These periods typically generate heavy news cycles, attracting substantial audiences to our networks and websites.”

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