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We’ve redefined rules of Hindi journalism & people are loving it: Arnab Goswami

Republic Bharat has been putting up a strong show in the last few weeks. As per BARC data, the channel surged to the No. 2 slot in Week 31, and further consolidated its position in Week 32, narrowing its gap with Hindi News genre leader Aaj Tak. Republic Bharat’s gross impression stood at 197,780(000), a tag lower that of Aaj Tak, which garnered gross impression of 199,284(000) in Week 32.

In a freewheeling interaction, Adgully spoke to Arnab Goswami, Founder and Editor-in-Chief, Republic Media Network, speaks about the growth of Republic Bharat, that factors contributing to its growth, the state of the Hindi News genre, the strong digital push and much more. Edited excerpts:

On the performance

When asked about Republic Bharat’s performance in the recent times, Goswami said that the channel is currently at the No. 1 position in terms of market share, which stood at 14.4 per cent in Week 32 (NCCS ABC M 15+ | HSM), which is the core TG, whereas Aaj Tak’s market share stood at about 13.9 per cent.

“If you look at the prime time share, on my show ‘Puchta Hai Bharat Arnab Ke Saath’, it’s 22.86 per cent, whereas Aaj Tak is 11.42 per cent. In other prime time slots, which has ‘Mahabharat’ at 6 pm, we have about 16.5-17 per cent share, and Aaj Tak again is at the No. 2 slot.

Goswami went on to say that on all significant time slots and across time bands in the genre, Republic Bharat is significantly No. 1. He added that this has been a series of consistent growth for the channel. “When we started, we had a 5-6 per cent share. We have grown because of our focus on big stories. We have brought in citizen-based activist journalism into Hindi news for the first time. We have not diluted our focus on news by avoiding sub-genres like television serial based programming, ‘Sansani’ type programmes or viral videos or dance programmes, which, in my view, dilute the focus on news. So, what is most satisfying about becoming No. 1 is that we have done so without following the models that some news channels in Hindi have followed in the past, and by bringing in a stronger focus on investigative news and hard journalism which our viewers greatly appreciate.”

On activist journalism

A large part of Republic’s traction in the last few weeks has been due to its relentless coverage of the Sushant Singh Rajput death case. Republic had carried out a few sting operations, conducted prime time debates and made several revelations that kept the viewers glued to the channel. Goswami maintained that pursuing the Sushant Singh Rajput case was done without any focus on numbers or weightage. He added, “We did it because we believed that injustice had been done to Sushant. And it was very necessary to build the groundswell of support and the groundswell kept growing in the last five weeks. I think our viewers believed that through the multiple sting operations and investigations done, it was apparent to the people that great injustice had been done to Sushant and he was most probably murdered and he did not commit suicide.”

Goswami stressed, “I believe that eventually the central purpose of news and journalism is to fight for the right and fight against the wrong. The battle of #CBIForSSR, which culminated in the Supreme Court verdict yesterday (August 19, 2020) was only a step in that overall direction which we had followed from the start since we had launched.”

On the state of Hindi News

Republic Bharat has been in the market for over one and a half years now. When asked whether he had envisaged such a position for Republic Bharat at the time of its launch, Goswami replied in the affirmative. He further said, “We genuinely believed that. When we sat together before the launch of the channel, we asked what was the purpose of the launch, what is the need-gap that exists in the Hindi news genre and surprisingly, the simple answer was the need-gap was ‘News’! There wasn’t enough news in the Hindi genre. We broke it down and we realised that anywhere between 35-40 per cent of the programming was devoted entirely to non-hard news programmes.”

Continuing further, Goswami said, “I think in the Hindi news genre, the owners and editors and CEOs of the Hindi news channels had a broad-based definition that used to include things, which I don’t think, are news. I don’t think there is any journalism in picking up YouTube videos. I think the viewers have been taken for granted. They have abused their positions as news channel owners and editors and CEOs. They played around with the audience and then they went and told advertisers that this is what audiences wanted to see.”

Without mincing words, Goswami asserted that “The emergence of Republic Bharat is a slap in the face of all those people who felt that you can forsake journalism to claim to be leaders in Hindi News. They need to do some serious soul searching, including those who said that they were dominant for 18 years, that how is it that an entrant who does not do any of what you thought were the sacred rules of Hindi journalism, but instead focuses only on news, beats you in 18 months. They must do soul searching, there’s no need to be angry about the result. Unless they change their approach, they will continue to be where they are.”

“I’ve always believed that to get a big interview you cannot compromise your questions. I think we’ve redefined the rules of Hindi journalism and people are loving it. We hope to serve them more,” he said.

On the digital push

Goswami shared that he saw the network as a digital-led television news organisation. “We call ourselves Republic World Digital + TV – digital is first. In each of these campaigns digital has a major role. In terms of our growth, from some 3 million unique visitors, Republic World was hovering around 50 million unique visitors last month. The number of page views is also significantly higher. We are the only break-even digital organisation.”

Speaking about the digital push Goswami informed that Republic has a team that produces about a thousand stories and a hundred videos on a daily basis – providing both quantity and quality. “I think in the next 4 months we will be bigger than The Times of India as English news publishers. So, I think that is a significant achievement,” he claimed. 

Here Vikas Khanchandani, CEO, Republic Media Network, added that Republic TV is already in the leadership position, because most of the other networks really do not publish their English numbers alone – they publish all the languages. He informed, “In the next couple of months, we will be publishing our data on Comscore.”

Adding further he shed some light on Republic’s regional and digital plans and said, “The focus now is to get into Hindi and regional space, and that’s what the teams are working on. And I am very confident that the network will cross the 100 million unique visitors in the coming year itself. For digital, it is video-centered; we are focussing on building a very strong video consumption strategy and we will soon be announcing about what we are doing which will be absolutely disruptive in nature.”

Elaborating on the regional plans, Gowsami said, “I see Republic entering every major language market in India. It’s not a question of whether, but a question of when and how. We have been evaluating our options between broadcast and digital, and one thing is clear that in the next one year we will start publishing and doing news in at least 6-7 languages. It’s my commitment that by next year we’ll be operating in 6-7 languages.”

He further said, “I would love to operate in Assamese language as well, given that it is my mother tongue. Whatever we do, we are content people and we want it to be work of the highest quality and hence, we are not going to do it in a hurry. But if your question is whether Republic will get into regional languages? Yes, we will. Have we decided whether we want to launch TV channels or we want to operate large digital presence in each language? We are evaluating it. And soon you will see the results of this. Will we enter every language? Yes. Will we publish in Assamese? 100 per cent, as it is a major language! We’re just weighing our options at the moment.”  

On the growth of Hindi news genre

Speaking about the future of the news genre, Gowsami shared that he sees Hindi news genre overtaking the GECs for sure. “Already you can see that Hindi news is the highest in reach, bigger than the GECs, English News is growing, languages are growing as well. The period of COVID has increased the share of news per se. And if the traction on digital platforms and OTTs is any indication, it is quite widespread. So, I am excited about it.”

He is also convinced that eventually, Sports and News will be the two major gainers in the cable & satellite market and in the live television market. And as far as GECs and plug & play post live viewing is concerned, that will happen more on OTT mediums for urban audiences. “In the live television audiences across platforms – DTH, OTT, Cable – News is going to be a big player; it has already grown significantly and it is going to exceed entertainment channels in every significant market,” he signed off.

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