Our biggest agenda for 2018 is to expand the digital platform: MK Anand
Times Network, the broadcast arm of Times Group, has been on a bullish mode throughout 2017. The channel recovered well after losing its most well-known face and weathered the demonetisation storm.
During the year, the network introduced Mirror Now which replaced MagicBricks Now. Business news channel ET Now underwent a brand revamp. While the launch of Republic TV caused a stir in the English news space, Times Now remained close on its heels (more or less) throughout the year, with the gap narrowing over succeeding weeks.
Times Network has also been strengthening its English entertainment offering, launching the newly rebranded channel MNX; its other offerings in this genre include Romedy Now, Movies Now, and MN+.
In conversation with Adgully, MK Anand, MD & CEO, Times Network, takes us through the key developments in the network during 2017, highlights the achievements, the challenges, expanding the regional footprint and much more. Anand also underlines the key expectation from 2018. Excerpts:
2017 – Shrugging off the losses
The year began with getting on board a New Editor – Rahul Shivshankar – for Times Now and getting the team back to its rhythm and stability after the loss of our Prime Time anchor and Editor Arnab Goswami. For me, the immediate priority at that time was to get the team charged up and fighting fit. I think we did a good job as we continued with our 40+ per cent viewership share all through.
At the business level, we were weathering the serious loss of revenue that we faced in the months of November and December 2016 due to demonetisation. But instead of being bogged down by demonetisation and coping like a tsunami hit village, we aimed at getting back on our feet and at the same time also try to help revive the entire economy. We believed that we could do something to at least stabilise the situation, if not improve it. We launched ‘Remonetise India’ in January 2017, which was a very important and positive step. With this initiative, the team gave itself and the market a message as to what we are capable of in this kind of a situation. Rather than just sitting and commenting on what had happened, we actively participated in an important event of national interest. So, that was one of the best experiences.
I did not expect such a big disturbance from GST as compared to demonetisation, which in my estimate has had a bigger impact on the year’s performance.
On the channel–prime anchor equation
Times Now has always been a brand with a distinct formatted personality. While we had a very popular face fronting us in Prime Time, our brand personality was not a byproduct of the anchor’s long tenure. I think some tenets of brand management have been put to test here. It’s our distinctive brand attributes that helped us stay focused and deliver our consumers an unwavering and seamless experience. Although, it was painful in terms of all the extra effort this year, but I’m very happy that it happened during my tenure.
On defining the channels imagery
I joined in 2014 and now we are sitting in 2017-end, I see no difference in the channel with reference to the brand and its essential components. But if you want to say that there was any sort of change that happened, then that was somewhere in the year 2014 when we went from ‘Times Now - Always With the News’ to ‘Times Now - Action Begins Here’. ‘Always with the news’ was a base line, but ‘Actions Begins Here’ is integral to the brand. That’s why it sits in an adjacent position to the logo. We did not want to rely on the anchor’s personality for the definition of the brand. We want it to be based on what the consumer does with the brand. I appreciate McCann and Prasoon Joshi’s team for the creatives. Unlike other channels, Times Now is not just the name of a platform, it is a brand first and the platform exists just to express the brand.
On the performance front
By March, we had been able to optimise our network costs a lot better. We were also able to build a robust digital team. We have done extremely well on digital this year and that we will talk about in January 2018. The News operations have been optimised in such a great manner that without taking anybody from outside, we were able to deliver a whole new channel – Mirror Now, which is now practically on par with the other top channels. In a difficult financial year from our topline point of view due to the impact of demonetisation and GST, we were effortlessly able to spin out Mirror Now and Times Now HD and also support our Digital initiative.
On the other side, our movie piece spun out four new channels. This year, we have seven channels in the English Entertainment bouquet, which practically place us at the top in that space. We hold some 30-32 per cent channel viewership shares in the entire English entertainment cluster. We probably are the biggest Hollywood content exhibitor in this country. If people are watching Hollywood content, a large part is coming from the Times Network. Deapite a bad year for ad sales, our English movies business revenues have been growing.
On expanding the regional footprint
We are consolidating our position in the English space now and as I said, there are a lot many things that we can do for our English entertainment channels. The four new channels that we launched in 2016, stabilised from a viewership standpoint in 2017 and thus the next task is to correct the revenue to get to the real shares. Also, there is huge growth that is happening silently on HD and we are a significant player in that because we have five HD channels.
On plans for Zoom
Zoom is an entertainment news channel in the youth entertainment space. There will be some big action happening on Zoom soon. We are looking at introducing newer content on the channel. For that we have already signed up with some partners and we are looking for a couple more.
On expectations from 2018
2017 has been a great year, because we have been able to deliver great products. The news cluster has become fuller now. From two channels, we now have four channels. All the news channels are now slowly getting the ‘Action Begins Here’ feel and we are focusing on specific areas that we believe in where we can contribute a lot. The biggest agenda for 2018 is how to expand our digital platform. Today, the digital avatar timesnownews.com is in the top 10. In 2018, my target is to break into the top 5. For us at the company level, digital expansion is very big. Our English movie channels are all rocking. We hope to monetise that cluster better with an improved market situation next year. Also, there are a couple of new channels that we are planning to launch in 2018, including our Vice JV channel.