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Times Network’s MK Anand sees opportunity in regional news channels

MUMBAI: With the English entertainment genre largely covered, Times Network MD and CEO MK Anand sees opportunity for launching more channels in the news genre including regional language.

Anand feels there is no space in the English movie and entertainment genre for more channels. News is one genre where the company sees a gap.

Incidentally, Bennett Coleman & Company Ltd (BCCL) has applied for six channel licences with the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting (MIB).

Anand clarified that the network does not have any concrete plan on additional channel launches besides Viceland. Times Network has launched two channels, Mirror Now, after shutting down MagicBricks Now, and Times Now HD, which will have distinct and differentiated content than its SD sibling.

He also added that the network right now has its hands full. It has to establish its English news channel Mirror Now and English movie channel Movies Now 2. Then it will launch Viceland in India in partnership with Vice Media.

It also has to set its ad sales in order and move up the ad revenue, which has been under stress since the government’s demonetisation move in November last year.

MK-Anand-Inside2“We have always kept licences ready. As soon as the concept is ready, we start off. It’s not that we have any idea right now. Vice is one channel that we will launch. In the English entertainment space, I don’t think there is much now. But I don’t see any reason why we shouldn’t venture into another differentiated product or languages in news,” Anand told TelevisionPost.com.

When queried whether the network would also look at regional-language channels in news, Anand said: “We could also look at regional languages.”

According to Anand, the current news infrastructure of Times Now and ET Now is capable of producing more channels. He pointed out that Mirror Now is a classic case of resource sharing among the network channels.

“I believe that the current infrastructure is capable of producing at least two or three more channels,” he noted.

Anand further added that the intention to launch more channels is always there, but there are various pressing issues at hand which need to be sorted.

“Right now, our hands are full because we have to make Mirror Now successful. We have to make Movies Now 2 successful. We have to come out of demonetisation. We have to establish the new sales team and the new structure. We have set up the Times Convergence piece. On top of that, we are going to launch Vice,” Anand explained.

Viceland launch

Anand also revealed that the launch of Viceland will not happen in June as envisaged. It will be launched before October, he added.

Times Group and Vice Media have formed a joint venture (JV) Springtide Infotainment Media for launching Viceland in India. Springtide has applied for two licences with the MIB.

Anand said that the tentative name of Viceland in India will either be Viceland Now or Vice Now.

Overhaul of ad sales team

Times Network’s ad sales team has also seen a major overhaul after the entry of Nikhil Gandhi as president of ad sales.

Under the new structure, the ad sales team has been broken into three clusters—news, movies and HD with one SVP and two VPs. Gaurav Dhawan, who is SVP ad sales, is managing news cluster while Siddharth Chopra and Rolly Kapoor are managing Movies Now/Romedy Now and MN+/Movies Now 2 respectively.

Of the three, Rolly Kapoor is the only one to sit out of Delhi. This is the first time a senior ad sales person is operating out of Delhi.

The new structure has been built after dismantling the older one, under which there were many VPs below the ad sales head. The company has removed five to six people at the VP level.

“We have reduced our second layer of management substantially with the reorganisation of our teams. We have had more vertical teams and therefore there were more people at the VP level, which we have completely done away with. We are operating an English news cluster, an HD cluster and a movies cluster. All this has led us to being able to shed people at the VP level,” Anand said.

Retrenchment and reorganisation

Amid buzz in the industry that there is a retrenchment going on at Times Network, Anand clarified that while the total headcount is less than the previous year there has been no retrenchment in the editorial team.

He also said that the company has an attrition rate of 22% compared to the industry average of 19%. He opined that Times Network’s attrition rate is high a lot of people switch to digital.

“Overall, from our headcount point of view, we are sharply down compared to last year. Resource sharing is happening. There has not been a single person in the editorial who has been asked to go, but people who have gone out have not been replaced,” he said.

The company has also put bottom performers on notice to shape up or ship out.

“We have been strict on our bottom performers this year because demonetisation has had an impact on our business. We have a 25% bottom performers who have been put into performance improvement programme. If they don’t shape up, they have to move out. That has been strictly enforced this time,” Anand noted.

He also attributed the drop in headcount to resource sharing between Times Now and ET Now, which made many non-editorial jobs redundant. It has not filled positions left vacant after exits.

“There is a lot more integration in the backend unlike in earlier times. There is a lot more co-operation between Times Now, ET Now and Mirror Now. We have not retrenched people; the only place we have done retrenchment is tech where we had to let go of people due to certain process obsolescence-led situation, but that is very limited,” he added further.

Excess people in news have been funnelled to Mirror Now. “We have increased the work force of Mirror Now from 20 to 65. Those 45 people have come from inside. It is not retrenchment; it is reallocation,” he said.

TRAI tariff order good for subscription revenue

According to Anand, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India’s (TRAI) tariff order prescribing maximum retail price (MRP) model is good for subscription revenue in the long term; however, it will cause short-term pains.

“It is good from a subscription point of view. It may not be very good from reach and ad sales point of view. We are an ad-led company, but that doesn’t mean that we cannot become a subscription-led company. It may have short-term pains. But we are ready for both the tracks,” Anand said.

“But if there is a mischief played in packaging like base pack or FTA pack, then the game will change substantially because then to stay relevant in ad sales, all the English entertainment players will have to be in high premium English pack. It’s a risky proposition for the industry,” he stated.