MAN­ISH MA­HESH­WARI, CEO, NET­WORK18 DIG­I­TAL

Keep­ing ed­i­to­rial in­no­va­tion and busi­ness am­bi­tion at its core, Net­work18 Dig­i­tal has set out to dis­rupt the on­line news me­dia space with its flag­ship prod­ucts, News18.com, First­post and Mon­ey­con­trol. Man­ish Ma­hesh­wari, CEO, Net­work18 Dig­i­tal and San­tosh

Impact - - CONTENTS -

BUILD­ING NET­WORK18 DIG­I­TAL IN 18 MONTHS

Though Net­work18 Dig­i­tal (for­merly called Web18) had its dig­i­tal prop­er­ties up and run­ning for a very long time, it is the last 18 months that have been the most cru­cial in terms of key man­age­ment changes, con­sol­i­da­tion of prop­er­ties and re­gional ex­pan­sion of Net­work18Dig­i­tal, the on­line hub of Net­work18.

Ac­cord­ing to the most re­cent

ComS­core data, Net­work18 Dig­i­tal is the third most vis­ited dig­i­tal me­dia net­work in In­dia af­ter Times In­ter­net and NDTV, with over 50 mil­lion unique vis­i­tors across brands. The growth story of the com­pany has been two-fold, says Man­ish Ma­hesh­wari, CEO, Net­work18 Dig­i­tal. “We have an ed­i­to­rial am­bi­tion and a busi­ness am­bi­tion that com­ple­ment each other. Our big­gest pri­or­ity was work­ing to­wards es­tab­lish­ing a fu­ture-ori­ented com­pany and there­fore we re­branded our­selves from Web18 to Net­work18 Dig­i­tal. To­day, Dig­i­tal is not just about web alone, as it en­com­passes a gamut of dig­i­tal ser­vices. Mo­bile, ma­chine learn­ing, pro­gram­matic ad buy­ing, AR, VR, etc., are dig­i­tal re­al­i­ties that are at the heart of our busi­ness and our name had to sum it all up,” he ex­plains.

THE BIG ED­I­TO­RIAL AM­BI­TION

When San­tosh Menon took over as Chief Con­tent Of­fi­cer, Net­work18 Dig­i­tal, dig­i­tal was only a mere on­line des­ti­na­tion of the Net­work’s TV chan­nels and the most im­por­tant task was to script a dig­i­tal-first iden­tity for the com­pany. “Mon­ey­con­trol was ear­lier just a land­ing site for CNBC. Sim­i­larly, IBN Live and News18 were also not more than land­ing sites for CNN-IBN and later CNN-News18. To­day, things are vastly dif­fer­ent. We are us­ing dig­i­tal to trans­form the TV news­room as well,” says Menon. In its am­bi­tion to en­hance con­tent, the com­pany has roped in ed­i­to­rial ex­perts and writ­ers across beats such as San­tosh Nair, Ed­i­tor, Mon­ey­con­trol, BV Rao, Ed­i­tor, First­post and Praveen Thampi, Ed­i­tor, News18. com. The string of es­teemed writ­ers also in­cludes po­lit­i­cal an­a­lyst and au­thor San­jaya Baru, cricket jour­nal­ist Prem Pan­icker and film critic Anna Vet­ti­cad who con­trib­ute reg­u­larly. “Es­tab­lish­ing a strong ed­i­to­rial camp was part of the plan, the other was to make dig­i­tal the plat­form for break­ing sto­ries. To­day, we break sto­ries first and TV picks it up. We did the same with the Assem­bly elec­tions last year. Face­book had just about launched its ‘Live Video’ and we lever­aged it with a five-hour dig­i­cast called ‘De­code 2016’ which was an in­dus­try first then,” Menon adds.

STRENGTH­EN­ING THE BRANDS

The big­gest task at hand for Ma­hesh­wari and the new team was to pool in their in­di­vid­ual ex­per­tise and the re­sources at their dis­posal to rein­vent the brand and take the com­pe­ti­tion head-on. Mon­ey­con­trol.com was re­vamped and launched with a new logo, while First­post was launched in Hindi and got a new in-house stu­dio. The bold­est de­ci­sion, how­ever, was club­bing all the news web­sites un­der the ban­ner of News18. com. “To strengthen our brands, we had to make some bold changes and one of them was con­sol­i­dat­ing all our dig­i­tal news prop­er­ties un­der one ban­ner. This wasn’t easy be­cause when a com­pany makes such a gutsy move, it can be per­ceived as an in­ter­nal down­fall. For us, that was not the case. Af­ter a tough quar­ter, we man­aged to sur­pass our pre­vi­ous best and take News18 to No.2 po­si­tion. We also launched First­post in Hindi with a firstof-its kind in-house dig­i­tal news­room, First­post Stu­dio. Mon­ey­con­trol was given a new logo and con­tent was given a 360-de­gree boost,” says Ma­hesh­wari. To bol­ster busi­ness value, the com­pany also ap­pointed sea­soned busi­ness heads for all three brands within a year. While Ra­jiv Singh, Busi­ness Head, News18.com joined from Flip­kart, like Ma­hesh­wari, Azim Lalani was el­e­vated as Busi­ness Head of First­post and Gau­tam She­lar was handed over the busi­ness man­date of Mon­ey­con­trol.

KEEP­ING MONETIZATION IN MIND

When the new man­age­ment took over, monetization was the big­gest chal­lenge as the prop­er­ties weren’t per­form­ing well. To get the at­ten­tion of ad­ver­tis­ers, an en­tire new plan was put in place that cre­ated newer monetization av­enues than be­fore. “We re­al­ized that plain dis­play ads weren’t go­ing to work any longer as our clients wanted much more than just me­dia reach. We had to craft and cre­ate a new model that in­cor­po­rated in­ven­tory buy­ing through pro­gram­matic plat­forms and also of­fer branded con­tent so­lu­tions. So there was a union of tech and con­tent that worked in tan­dem to get the ad­ver­tiser at­ten­tion we wanted,” says Ma­hesh­wari. A land­mark tran­si­tion in the busi­ness was the in­clu­sion of a sub­scrip­tion model for Mon­ey­con­trol that pro­duces busi­ness re­search and

stock re­ports for a small pre­mium. Mon­ey­con­trol is also placed ahead of Eco­nomic Times and Ya­hoo Fi­nance in read­er­ship and down­loads for its mar­ket news (ComS­core Data). Talk­ing about the fu­ture vi­sion for Mon­ey­con­trol, Gau­tam She­lar, Busi­ness Head, Mon­ey­con­trol says, “Our port­fo­lio and data bind mil­lions to the plat­form. In June, we crossed record usage, beat­ing well es­tab­lished com­peti­tors. In the com­ing months, we are launch­ing an ad­vanced ver­sion of our port­fo­lio and in­tro­duc­ing a Mu­tual Funds trans­ac­tion plat­form. The aim is to con­sol­i­date our lead­er­ship po­si­tion in the busi­ness and in­vest­ing com­mu­nity.”

The story for News18 and First­post has been pos­i­tive too. While there has been no men­tion of sub­scrip­tion for ei­ther, the re­gional ex­pan­sion into lan­guages and ad­di­tion of sub-brands have added to the monetization arse­nal. “From the sin­gle web in­ven­tory, we have moved on to mon­e­tize our mo­bile pres­ence and apart from the three mother brands, we are lever­ag­ing our sub-brands like Crick­etNext that gen­er­ates its own spon­sor­ship and fur­ther adds to the ad rev­enue that comes with the News18 app. We also have Com­pare In­dia where we do com­par­a­tive anal­y­sis of con­sumer elec­tron­ics and for­ward the leads to sev­eral e-com­merce sites. Fak­ing News and Tech2 have their own set of ad­ver­tis­ers that gives us mul­ti­ple op­por­tu­ni­ties to add rev­enue,” claims Ma­hesh­wari. RE­GIONAL EX­PAN­SION & VIDEO CON­TENT

Apart from English and Hindi, News18.com serves con­tent in three re­gional lan­guages - Gu­jarati, Urdu and Ben­gali. The plan is to fur­ther ex­pand the prop­erty in 13 lan­guages that will give its grow­ing re­gional ad­ver­tiser base a shot in the arm. Speak­ing on the re­gional ex­pan­sion plan, Ra­jiv Singh, Busi­ness Head, News18.com says, “For the News18 brand that com­menced only a lit­tle over a year ago, we have been steady in hold­ing our No.3 rank in terms of unique vis­i­tors as well as time spent on the plat­form across the five lan­guages. Very soon, we aim to bring en­gag­ing news, in­for­ma­tion and con­tent in 13 lan­guages, thereby mak­ing News18 the sin­gle multi-lan­guage hub.”

Fol­low­ing the same tra­jec­tory, First­post was launched in Hindi last year and fur­ther re­gional ex­pan­sion is on the cards. Video con­tent has also been a prime fo­cus con­sid­er­ing the av­enues it opens for brand in­te­gra­tion. Talk­ing about the im­por­tance of video, Azim Lalani, Busi­ness Head, First­post says, “Emerg­ing as one of the top 10 dig­i­tal news pub­lish­ers in the coun­try, it is sig­nif­i­cant that we are strik­ing the right chord with our au­di­ence. Tak­ing our ex­pan­sive con­tent port­fo­lio a step fur­ther, we launched ‘Caroake’, the Bol­ly­wood car­pool this year, which in­volves Bol­ly­wood stars get­ting into a can­did con­ver­sa­tion with our jour­nal­ist, leav­ing our view­ers thor­oughly en­ter­tained.”

THE CHINA WALL WITH RE­LIANCE IN­DUS­TRIES

Assert­ing zero in­ter­fer­ence from the par­ent com­pany, Re­liance In­dus­tries, Menon does ac­knowl­edge the pres­ence of a strong China-wall that sep­a­rates jour­nal­is­tic dili­gence from the larger busi­ness in­ter­ests of Re­liance. “There are sev­eral checks and bal­ances at a pol­icy level that give us the free­dom to op­er­ate with­out any in­hi­bi­tions or re­stric­tions. There is a China wall be­tween Re­liance In­dus­tries and Net­work18, which means they will treat us as any other me­dia com­pany and we will treat them like any other cor­po­rate, it is as sim­ple as that. Cor­po­rate in­vest­ment in me­dia is a global phe­nom­e­non, which has made it a level play­ing field and we are no dif­fer­ent. What we as­pire to em­u­late is the same ‘Western class’ that keeps other busi­ness in­ter­ests com­pletely out of the me­dia ven­ture and to en­sure that we have some im­mensely ex­pe­ri­enced peo­ple in our se­nior lead­er­ship that have worked across the world and are fa­mil­iar with the com­plex­i­ties that come with the busi­ness,” says Menon.

There is a China wall be­tween Re­liance In­dus­tries and Net­work18, which means they will treat us as any other me­dia com­pany and we will treat them like any other cor­po­rate, it is as sim­ple as that SAN­TOSH MENON Chief Con­tent Of­fi­cer, Net­work18 Dig­i­tal

THE WAY AHEAD...

Ma­hesh­wari claims that Net­work18 Dig­i­tal has wit­nessed a three digit in­crease in traf­fic across plat­forms with cor­re­spond­ing growth in rev­enues, mak­ing it an ideal time to scale op­er­a­tions and in­crease brand value which cur­rently stands at 8% of Net­work18’s to­tal value. Ce­ment­ing its as­so­ci­a­tions with top me­dia agen­cies is an­other key fo­cus area for the com­pany. “As men­tioned ear­lier, we are a fu­ture-ori­ented or­ga­ni­za­tion and to live up to our vi­sion, we have cre­ated many rev­enue lines. We have cre­ated a cen­tral agency team within the or­ga­ni­za­tion that reaches out to the top 10 me­dia agen­cies in the coun­try to en­sure we have a pref­er­en­tial ar­range­ment wherein we pro­vide them ac­cess to all our dig­i­tal prop­er­ties at one stop in­stead of strik­ing in­di­vid­ual deals with dif­fer­ent prop­er­ties. To sum it up, this year has been great for us and our rev­enues have been grow­ing de­spite de­mon­e­ti­za­tion and GST, which is a tes­ta­ment to our ag­gres­sive plans,” con­cludes Ma­hesh­wari.

Ra­jiv Singh, Busi­ness Head, News18.com

Azim Lalani, Busi­ness Head, First­post

Gau­tam She­lar, Busi­ness Head, Mon­ey­con­trol

San­tosh Menon Chief Con­tent Of­fi­cer, Net­work18 Dig­i­tal

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