Raghav Bahl on exiting Network18 and setting up Quint…

04 Sep,2017

 

Beyond jugaad, that great Indian tradition of short-term fixes, what does innovation mean in Indian business? That is the question ‘Innovation Stories from India Inc: Their Story in Their Words’ by Vijay Menon addresses through a collection of standalone stories that describe sustained innovation at a cross-section of companies that include conglomerates, MNCs, large and midsized companies, and start-ups.

The book has first-person accounts by some of India’s leading business leaders on the innovation journey in their companies. Filled with anecdotes and real-life examples, the book would be of interest to anyone interested in Indian business. It would also be an ideal gift to showcase India to customers, trade delegations, investors, and other stakeholders.

The organisations and stalwarts featured are:

Ratan Tata, Adi Godrej, Suresh Krishna (TVS), Munesh Makhija (GE India Technology Center), Suresh Narayanan (Nestle India), Dilip Khandelwal (SAP Labs India), A M Naik (L&T), Aditya Puri (HDFC Bank), N R Narayanamurthy (Infosys), K B S Anand (Asian Paints), G V Prasad (Dr Reddy’s Laboratories), Bhaskar Bhat (Titan), Harsh Mariwala (Marico), Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw (Biocon), P R S ‘Biki’ Oberoi (Oberoi Hotels), Meraj Manal (Himalaya), Dr Devi Shetty (Narayana Health), William Bissell (Fabindia), Kiran Khalap (Chlorophyll), Vijay Shekhar Sharma (Paytm), Raghav Bahl (Quintillion Media), Team Indus

Vijay Menon author of ‘Innovation Stories from India Inc: Their Story in Their Words’ is a Bengaluru-based marketing and communication consultant. Menon has previously worked as a marketing leader in the IT industry, as a journalist with India Today, and as a nuclear engineer. He holds an MTech from the Indian Institute of Technology Kanpur, and has attended the Duke-Infosys executive programme

 

By Vijay Menon

 

After I exited Network18, I could have turned angel investor andplayed golf. But that is not me. I also had this strong feeling that Ihad sold myself short the first time around and wanted to do it all

over again, this time without committing the mistakes I made then.

When you are a first generation entrepreneur you don’t reallyunderstand the full implications of what you do. It’s easy to getcarried away by the excitement of building the business. We ended

up not having the balance sheet strength to support our ambitions.That would not have been disastrous in many other industries.

What did me in was a draconian government rule that made itcompulsory for the promoter in a TV news broadcast company inIndia to maintain 51 per cent ownership at all times. In hindsight,that was the bullet that killed us.

We went from 100 crore rupees revenue in 2005 to about6,000 crore rupees in 2014. We grew so much so fast that westarted challenging industry leaders like Zee that had grown overtwenty-five years. But the 51 per cent ownership clause meant thatfor every rupee someone else put in the company, I had to matchit with a rupee of my own. So I was always in debt and that turnedout to be debilitating. You can’t manage a weak balance sheet. Theonly way to come out of it is to either dilute aggressively or sell.

Since we couldn’t dilute, I sold.

So I exited and emerged with a much better capitalised personalbalance sheet—something I never had previously. I was now betterprepared to start all over again. The balance sheet constraint wasn’tthere, the learnings were.

 

The Quint

So that’s why we started The Quint. Print, of course, is dying. Televisionrequires scale, and in any case, the business has consolidated. Wehad built thirty-five TV channels from scratch atNetwork18 andthey continue.Zee has forty TV channels, Star has forty TV channels.

The top four or five networks control 80 per cent of the market.But digital was exciting because it was disruptive. Digital alsoexcited me personally because it was a chance to learn somethingnew. At Network18 we had built a good digital business, but I wasn’thands-on then, I was more a strategy person there. So The Quint wasan opportunity to build something from the scratch.

The Quint that you see today isonly ten per cent of what it can be. There is so much more potential.

The other big insight we’ve had over recent months is that thefuture of content is a mix of digital and television. But—and this isimportant—the challenge is to repurpose television content, which

is a linear and sequential medium, to the non-linear, time-shiftedway that content is consumed on the web.

Let me explain. When the news breaks, the first port of callis television. Television will do a complete 360-degree coverage ofwhat’s happening: reportage, analysis, live video, drone cameras,talking heads, all of it. It can also incorporate social media contentthat people start putting up on the net immediately after an event.

So if digital is just going to be a dump of what’s happeningon TV, it’s going to lose the plot. Instead, digital must differentiatethrough instant crowd sourcing for text and video content, provide

immediate analyses and perspectives, dig into history, and providethat instant last mile connectivity that TV cannot match. TV requirestime to generate and disseminate content and it can only show onething at a time. On the internet, you can open multiple windowssimultaneously, hyperlink extensively, and provide each viewer withperspectives relevant to him or her.

Some of this is happening already. A good international examplewould be cnn.com and an Indian example would be ndtv.com.

Our joint venture Bloomberg Quint combines both our beliefs—that media companies would need to go deep vertically, and wouldneed to integrate TV and digital. Bloomberg Quint is a digital mediaproperty that that has a vertical focus (business), combines text andvideo content, and is a possible template for our future. One of mystrengths was in forging partnerships and I see no reason why weshould not develop many more partnerships as we explore otherverticals.

 

Quintype

Creating a compelling TV plus digital news medium requires astrong technology platform. And that is where Quintype, ourtechnology startup comes in.

Television technology is fairly simple. You produce something,you uplink it, it gets bounced off a satellite, you downlink througha box, send it into households, and that’s it.

But digital is not just content; it’s also a lot of technology. Indigital, you are in a one to one conversation with the consumer.The consumer can write back to you, can talk to you. And this

means that you can map the consumers’ habits and predilections.

The platform has algorithms to monitor audience behaviour andtastes, and to serve personalised content depending on their habitsand predilections.

But—and this is where you need to make a judgment call—youneed to be careful not to go overboard on technology. For example,based on a reader’s stated preferences and reading habits, thealgorithm can determine that you like cricket and Bollywood. Butwe would be very stupid if we then offered the reader a newsfeedbased on that cohort or even its complementary cohorts such asother sports or entertainment and some political and business news.

Because that’s not how people consume news. Sure, people havelikes and preferences but as a reader, you also depend on serendipityto read news that you stumble upon at random. You enjoy thediscovery.

That’s the eternal challenge in any media organisation and digital doesn’t change that. You cannot be hidebound. There willalways be a need for an editor to make judgment calls and curate a

newsfeed.

What digital does is to enable a level of personalisation thatwas not possible in conventional print or television media. It boilsdown to this.

Technology is changing the way people consume media and asinternet connectivity andsmartphone penetration improves, moreand more people will get comfortable with, and demand, highquality, non-linear, personalized newsfeeds.

But the need for high quality editorial judgment will never goaway. In an era where we arebombarded with unfiltered informationthrough social media and slanted news, people still crave for theauthority of a New York Times or a BBC for authenticity.

The challenge for any media organisation is to understand anduse digital technology intelligently. We need to balance the siren callof big data and analytics driven algorithmic programming with itspromise of delivering personalised content with the old fashionedjudgment calls that editors need to make day in and day out.

The Quint is an experiment towards that goal.

 

Republished with permission from Bloomsbury Publishing India, the publisher of

Innovation Stories from India Inc: Their Story in Their Words

By Vijay Menon

Paper, 154 pages

Price: Rs 399

Published by Bloomsbury Publishing India

 

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