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The flip-flop and re-union of TV18 and CNN

MUMBAI: TV18 Broadcast and CNN have just saved a marriage after revealing five months back that in January 2016 they would end their 10-year association that established CNN-IBN as a popular English news channel brand in India.

In the interim after their public revelation of the divorce in late June, CNN did try to find a new partner. Talks were initiated with other Indian news broadcasters and CNN, according to some industry sources, wanted an annual fee of $3 million for lending its brand and having an exclusive news service agreement.

In an earlier interaction with TelevisionPost.com, Essel Group chairman Subhash Chandra confirmed that Zee was in talks with CNN to launch an English-language global news channel with an Indian point of view. Discussions were on for having an all-encompassing partnership going beyond just using the CNN brand for the Indian market.

CNN, however, could not conclude its exploratory talks with Zee. This meant that CNN would have to restrict its presence in the Indian market with its global news channel while exiting a brand licensing and news service agreement with a local partner for a local channel.

Adil ZainulbhaiMeanwhile, on the other side of the fence, TV18 Broadcast changed the top leadership team of its news organisation. Economic Times editorial director Rahul Joshi joined Network18, the parent of TV18 Broadcast, in a newly created position of CEO of news and group editor-in-chief. Network18 editor-in-chief of business newsroom Senthil Chengalvarayan, who had been with the group since its formative years, quit the organisation, while Network18 group CEO AP Parigi shifted to a new role as advisor to Network18 chairman Adil Zainulbhai.

With Joshi at the helm, a new line of thinking emerged. It was felt that a weighty news brand like CNN would help TV18’s general English news channel. It would be a better option than axing the CNN name and rebranding the channel.

So, barely a month before they were to split, TV18 and CNN announced their re-union. They stated that they would embark on this new chapter with a determination to “refresh CNN-IBN and provide a credible, non-partisan service that will deliver the latest news about local affairs and an Indian perspective on international developments”.

But what really changed for TV18 and CNN to reverse their earlier decision? After all, in late June, both of them had said that the conclusion of their brand licensing and news service arrangement “would enable each company to chart its own growth trajectory independently in one of the most dynamic, complex and fast growing markets in the world”.

TV18 thought that it had grown from a two-channel news network in 2005 to a wide spectrum of 17 news channels. It was in a position to grow the English general news channel independently, if need be.

Parigi, who was then group CEO of Network18, expressed this confidence in an official statement at that time. “At the launch of the channel (CNN-IBN was launched on 16 Dec 2005), TV18 was a relatively small organisation; that has changed now. Network18 has grown from two news channels in 2005 to 17 news channels in 2015. Today, we have the largest footprint in the current affairs, regional and business news space in India. The TV18 line-up of channels today are well established and highly regarded in this dynamic, complex and challenging environment.”

Rani RaadWithout going into specific reasons for the change in stance, Network18 chairman Adil Zainulbhai and CNN International chief commercial officer Rani Raad told TelevisionPost.com that “CNN and the new management at TV18 have renewed interest and a new found commitment to invest together and further in the brand we jointly built. We firmly believe that CNN-IBN’s position is strength to build upon, and are planning new initiatives to ensure the channel’s continued success across platforms.”

So, how does TV18 Broadcast benefit from its association with CNN in the second term of the relationship?

There is a perception gain. When a news network is controlled by India’s richest man Mukesh Ambani who has business interests in refining, oil & gas, petrochemicals, telecom, retail and media, some critics tend to raise questions about the purity of news coverage relating to certain issues. But according to an insider, common viewers may not notice any difference and the issue of a corporate giant owning the news business may not be as big as the sky. Still, an association with the CNN brand adds a certain layer of credibility.

By locking a deal, TV18 Broadcast has also ensured that Chandra’s upcoming English news channel, slated for launch next year, does not get into a special arrangement with CNN.

On CNN’s part, aligning its brand with any other Indian news broadcaster of good repute was proving to be almost impossible. NDTV, TV Today Network and Times Network have long cultivated and grown their own TV news brands.

“It is a good deal and fits well for both TV18 and CNN,” a media analyst said.

Network18 chairman Adil Zainulbhai and CNN International chief commercial officer Rani Raad reply to TelevisionPost.com’s queries.
Q. Is the new deal a continuation of the old brand licensing and news service agreement or there are some new areas? Will CNN play a larger role than before?
The agreement remains the same two-fold, brand licensing and content sharing partnership.In this second term, CNN and TV18 will forge a much closer working relationship to enable CNN-IBN’s globally savvy viewers to stay ahead. There is renewed interest and commitment from both sides. We firmly believe in CNN-IBN’s strength and are planning new initiatives to ensure its continued success across platforms.Q. Will there be CNN shows? Will CNN content increase?

While CNN’s shows will generally not air on CNN-IBN, they may do so occasionally and CNN-IBN will also be able to access live coverage from CNN International during breaking news.

CNN is committed to providing all and every resource and knowledge support to CNN-IBN including, but not limited to, full content access, multiplatform editorial expertise, technology and engineering to ensure the continued success of the brand in India.

Q. How is the CNN participation going to be in the digital field?

There will be greater synergy between TV and digital. However, it is too early to comment on the exact nature of the same. We will integrate cutting-edge standards and procedures. Our technology platforms will talk to each other a lot more. So will our studios, our anchors, producers and editors.

Q. Earlier in June, both CNN and TV18 had announced that they would go independent from January 2016. Why was the decision reversed?

CNN and the new management at TV18 have renewed interest and a newfound commitment to investing together and further in the brand we jointly built. We firmly believe that CNN-IBN’s position is strength to build upon, and are planning new initiatives to ensure the channel’s continued success across platforms.

The new agreement marries that quest for continuity, as well as pressing the refresh button in a significant way.

Q. Is there any increase in payout to CNN? Some people say CNN was asking for an annual fee of $3 million.

We do not disclose our financial details.

Will CNN have an expanded role to play now? “We aim to present a brand-new CNN-IBN that will bring news with even greater speed, accuracy, clarity and credibility,” Zainulbhai said.

The two companies will also work towards greater synergy between TV and digital. “Our technology platforms will talk to each other a lot more, and so will our studios, our anchor-persons, producers and editors,” explained Zainulbhai.

Will the renewal of the brand licensing and news service agreement between CNN and TV18 Broadcast change the market dynamics of CNN-IBN?

English general news channels in India are largely driven by local anchors like Arnab Goswami, Rajdeep Sardesai, Barkha Dutt and Dr Prannoy Roy. In this genre, the most-watched channel is Times Now.

While securing the relationship with CNN, TV18 Broadcast will probably work on other areas even as it aims to grow bigger. It already is the largest news network in the country with a turnover of Rs 605.6 crore (Rs 6.06 billion) in FY15. Besides, the regional-language news channels under the ETV brand reported a turnover of Rs 187.41 crore (Rs 1.87 billion) in FY15.

Adopting a strategy of its own, TV18 Broadcast’s English general news and business news channels have brand licensing deals with two global brands. In all probability, the company will seek to renew its programme and trademark licence agreement with CNBC after it expires on 31 March 2018. The CNBC brand is very popular in India and adds tremendous value to the flagship CNBC-TV18 business news channel.

Even as he settles down in his new environment, Joshi will want to play some other cards.

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