Republic’s strategy is speed at scale and to look beyond any boundaries: Hersh Bhandari

Republic Media Network underwent a major rejig earlier this month and announced some key changes in its top leadership. Among the major changes, Hersh Bhandari was elevated to Group COO – Broadcasting Division at Republic Media Network. In his new role, Bhandari will be in charge of the entire broadcasting businesses of the Network.

With 24 years of experience, Bhandari is a well-established industry veteran with hefty achievements. With his impeccable record, Bhandari will also lead and strategise all future growth of the Network’s broadcasting business into languages and regions. He will manage the entire broadcast business operations from the Network’s offices in Noida and Mumbai.

In conversation with Adgully, Hersh Bhandari, Group COO – Broadcasting Division, Republic Media Network, speaks at length about his new role and responsibilities, how he plans to revamp the network’s business strategies, Republic’s commitment to 100% news, winning the trust of the audience, journalism in the digital era and much more.

Congratulations on being appointed as the Group COO at Republic. What is your immediate task? What are your plans to revamp your business strategies and campaigns for advertiser onboarding and audience outreach?

Thanks a lot for your best wishes.

For any leader, a balance needs to be maintained between the urgent and the emergent. While the urgent concerns maintenance and development of current business priorities, the emergent concerns developing next practices for business process continuity in the future.

For a leading news organisation like Republic Media Network, we are already a process driven organisation. My key task would be not only to maintain the current momentum, but also to accelerate the same through team effort to maintain a leadership position. I will ensure that the passion gets stronger in the coming days.

Our strategy is speed at scale and to look beyond any boundaries. As leaders in the news genre, our process has been of adopting the leadership approach always. Republic is a free-to-air channel and our approach is to expand the market for English, which in reality we did. English language is aspirational and a decision support system for our discerning viewers.

We will continue at the same pace and speed. We constantly want to grow news as a genre and make it an important mix for advertisers as part of their Media Mix. But our hunger to growth is not yet satiated. Our aspiration is to be known as a global channel and explore meaningful opportunities in selective regional markets.

It has been a tough period, especially with the TV news genre out of BARC ratings for nearly one and a half years. Despite this, news channels continued to witness a surge in viewership. Do you think the same trend will continue? 

Yes, it has been an unprecedented year with the pandemic.

We were in the No. 1 position when the ratings stopped. Considering the channel’s performance, and the confidence of our stakeholders, we are already on course. And we are receiving positive response from the market. This evinces our superior brand strength.

You would be able to appreciate that for a 24x7 news channel, it had been a superhuman effort to be real time in news breaking when the pandemic was creating a havoc in both life and livelihood, but the commitment of our editors and journalists have kept our viewers constantly updated and upgraded on what was happening around our viewers so that they could feel informed and secure. It is this utility that put the news channels in a different league altogether. The recency and live upgradation make Republic contextually relevant for our business associates to invest and support our commitment to serve the viewers.

News cannot lose relevance unless live coverage of what is happening around us is no longer important to the viewers. Any brand that wishes to be at the top of minds of its consumers has to take advantage of this immediacy. Hence, news is not just about the reach, it is also about the richness of content.

How are R.Bharat and Republic faring among the diaspora? What are your plans for the international market this year? Do you have plans to adopt more new-age distribution models such as connected TV and OTT platforms to expand the presence? 

There are three parts in your question, which I shall answer seriatim.

Republic Media Network, which includes Hindi, English and Bengali, has started carving a niche amongst the Indian diaspora globally at a steady pace, but we have a long way to go as there are operating challenges while expanding distribution in global markets.

Every strategy has to follow prioritisation, keeping in mind internal requirements and external demand situation. Hence, the going global has been in our bucket list from the launch of the network. We have to follow some sequentiality in execution as resources have finiteness in terms of management bandwidth. However, as growth and aspiration are inescapable realities of life, we shall achieve what you’ve asked for at an appropriate time.

We have been in this game already. In fact, our OTT platform is inexorably moving upwards through a combination of viewer centered content and its availability on multiple platforms through collaboration with many partners. You can find Republic TV streaming on more than 18 platforms and we’re confident that we shall receive more and more acceptance from our present and potential viewers and other distribution partners.

With BARC ratings for news channels resuming in March 2022, do you expect advertising spendings to improve this year? Will there be shifts in brands’ behaviour, especially with the effects of the pandemic ebbing? 

We have started witnessing economic revival post the pandemic. As a consequence, business sentiments have improved and brand count in all the channels, including digital, have started growing up. This shows that there is pent-up demand amongst consumers and companies have started catering to that. Unless the economy experiences any other headwind, we feel that this upward trend in the recovery process will continue across sectors, albeit at a different pace.

What are your outlook and growth projections for this year? What are the innovative strategies and campaigns for advertising onboarding?

I am an optimist and I believe that India’s story and its journey towards a 5 trillion economy is not just a dream. In view of this, I think the economy will grow and the ripple effect will be felt in the media and entertainment sector, too, including news. Consequently, growth trend will be a reality in 2022.

In an over-communicated society, innovation is an imperative for all media formats of delivery. At Republic Media Network, innovation is part of our DNA as we constantly calibrate to ensure that our business partners’ investments meet the matrices of return on investment and return on involvement of the viewers. While share of voice has been in lexicon of all marketing textbooks, we try to complement it with share of validation from our viewers and hence, there is that much more importance on innovating in context for our partners.

How will the news broadcasting ecosystem evolve in 2022? What will be the trends in the broadcasting sector in general and the news genre in particular in the year ahead?

It is a deterministic reality that content will be consumed across formats of delivery, dominantly in a streaming format. The industry’s progression curve and consumption culture of viewers would continuously evolve with accelerated pace of technological development and its consequent impact on consumption behavior. With changes in viewing patterns in news after the pandemic, over-the-top (OTT) platforms have started complementing news consumption. Broadcast players have started taking initiatives to realign their strategies to adjust to these changing consumption patterns and adopting agile approaches for content development and reconfiguration. As a consequence, broadcasters have been working towards tailor-making their content that is malleable to multiple platforms’ front-end user interfaces. This approach accelerated digital transformation in the broadcast industry by a few years. I believe that television and digital are indeed capable of growing hand-in-hand in India. This trend will continue further in 2022 as well, to my mind.

What will be the future of TV news? Will we see news shifting to the digital side with video-on-demand formats gaining prominence?

I do not see the criticality of news going out of fashion in the near future. The key reason for the same is due to human quest to remain updated and make meaning out of rapid changes in the context of respective countries and their constantly changing geopolitical implications.

News is not about just breaking stories. It is also about breaking into stories that help the audience to make meaning of what is happening and form their opinion. It is in this area that legacy broadcasters have an advantage as investment goes into journalism and content discovery at the ground level. This effort is sub-optimal, as of now, for obvious reasons as consumers substitution in Indian context has not gained significant ground and the business model for digital news sources are yet to evolve at the robust level to justify investment in in-depth journalism. While technology giants have the resources, their current operating style is predicated on publisher generated content and not on original content which has been the forte of legacy broadcasters.

We feel that there will be some complementarity between linear news TV and various digital avatars while ‘real-timeness’ would be the hallmark of both formats of delivery. Legacy broadcasters would score higher on credibility and depth of coverage. Since social media dominates the digital generation of news content, the possibility of verification of news would always remain suspect. In a world dominated by surfeit of content and poverty of attention, it is critical to win the trust of the audience on a sustained basis through quality and trustworthy journalism. They would be the litmus test for the success of any news organisation. Republic Media Network’s commitment to 100% news and its emergence as a dominion force bears testimony to this empirical reality.


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