‘In 2 years, I see Times Now and Movies Now contributing to 30% of our revenues’
A sense of urgency is in the air at the new corporate offices of Times Network at Equinox Business Park near Bandra Kurla Complex, perhaps to catch up on lost time since they vacated their over decade-old office at Kamala Mills after a devastating fire. MK Anand, CEO and MD, Times Network is proud that when it came to managing that crisis, every employee put up his/her hand, because of which the network’s work did not suffer at all. In a candid chat, Anand talks of upping the growth rate after a rather flat year, the launch of Republic TV, the recent TRAI tariff order and more… Q] What were the positive take-aways from last year?
On the News side, we started last year in a state of preparedness as we were looking at competition for the first time in the genre. The way Times Now has been able to keep its Number 1 position is a testimony to all that preparation and the strength of the brand, not to forget the effort Rahul (Shivshankar) and team put in. Then, there is the launch of Mirror Now and fantastic success. It’s a product that is showing the way forward to the genre in more ways than one - Content, Purpose, Infrastructure, Cost, all areas. ETNow’s new purpose ‘Rise with India’ resonated very strongly with our constituents, both on air and on ground. Our Digital platform took off spectacularly. In just one year, we have now become one of the top 5 news platforms. We have also come out of FY18, with a lot of positive vibes, a new office, consolidated News ops, optimized costs. All in all, I think FY18 was our best year till date.
Q] What has been the impact of Republic TV on Times Now?
The overall reach of English News has substantially increased due to the vigorous competition. Besides that, there has been no other significant impact to the genre. We didn’t find any content innovation. It was total duplication of existing format. I had expected more. In fact, English News content has been impacted by Mirror Now and not the other new channel. From the business point of view, overall the industry has dipped due to the general drop in TV adex in the last 18 months post demonetization. The new entrant was quite active from a revenue stand-point, there were more people drinking from the same pond, so the monies for other players has come down. Times Now, however, did not suffer. Prime-time sponsorships are annual deals and we have not lost a single sponsor, nor did we drop our ad rates. Currently, we are at our pre-demonetization run rate.
Q] How did Times Network’s growth pan out in the year gone by? What are the targets you are looking to achieve for the year ahead?
Last year, revenue was flat and in low single-digits. Our five-year plan since FY15, was to grow at an average CAGR of 20%. In the first 2 years we grew at an average of 20%-22%. In the last 2 years, due to macro-economic reasons, Adex has been sluggish. We were able to grow because we continued to launch channels – MNX+, Mirror Now, Times Now HD - . On the distribution side we grew at our usual 15%-16%. This year we are setting a 20% + growth rate target again.
Q] You have been very vocal about other news channels adopting dual and multiple frequency feeds...
Dual and multiple frequency are illegal. We don’t subscribe to that. We have actively campaigned against it; whenever we have found evidence of it, we have reported it. In fact, if you remember the original reason that we decided to keep out of the BARC measurement of Times Now - in the initial week of Republic’s launch - was because of multiple frequency. Multiple frequency is still there. There are two networks who continue to do it. Meanwhile, we are optimizing and spending a lot on EPG (Electronic Programming Guide) marketing. I expect this to continue. I believe that true business can be built only when you have the real consumer fully with you, and that is why in the last four years we have upped our distribution game.
Q] What is your take on the recent Madras High Court judgment on TRAI tariff order?
Personally, I am against any price regulation. Why should someone tell at what price should we be pricing a channel? The tariff order by nature is a price control, and price control is anti- business. However, with reference to this particular order, I don’t think it’s going to make such a big difference. I think in any case our tariff structure requires a change as we are stuck at the same price-point for over 15 years.
Q] What do you see to be the future growth areas for Times Network?
Digital is extremely important. In addition, News and the revamped Zoom styled by Myntra will be an important piece. This year we would be looking at the consolidation of revenue positions of MNX and Mirror Now. Currently Times Now and Movies Now are our lead horses; looking ahead we see both of these channels contributing about 30% of the revenue in about two years. Then, our network will have double engines with these four channels leading the revenue share and the rest of the channels pitching in.