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N Dilip Venkatraman

Director-Marketing & Online Projects | 16 Aug 2007

I do not think we have competition. We are not competition driven, we are journalistically driven while being viewer-centric. We live and operate in a highly competitive environment, we keep cognizance of what is happening around us and we continue to do what we are supposed to do. We continue to develop content that is close to our viewers. Our mantra is creating engaging interactive content that is of relevance to the viewers.

N Dilip Venkatraman, Director-Marketing and Online Projects, CNN-IBN and IBN 7, has over 17 years’ corporate experience, of which three years were spent in the US. Prior to joining GBN, he had held key positions at India Today and the Zee Network, where he was Head of Brand Management at Zee News and President of Marketing for DishTV. Venkatraman also spent over a year as CEO of Pugmarks, an Internet company. In the last six years, he has spearheaded some of the leading initiatives in the media industry.

Venkatraman has to his credit introduction of the first SMS short code in Indian television on a nationwide basis. He was the man behind the Zee News LED news tickers that won the coveted Indian Marketing Award. He is credited with being the brain behind the successful launch and creation of Brand CNN-IBN and the repositioning of IBN7 (formerly Channel7). He is a graduate in Public Administration and has completed a management programme from IIM Bangalore.

In conversation with exchange4media’s Abhijeet Mukherjee, Venkatraman talks about the growth of CNN-IBN over the last one and half years. Excerpts:

Q. What advantage/leverage does IBN enjoy after collaborating with CNN?

The moment you see the CNN logo it is given that there is credibility, scale and accuracy in news, it helps immensely. Especially in the early days following CNN-IBN’s launch it was really important, it was the entry point for the channel. You don’t have to say much after you see the CNN logo. But now we have developed our own character. Similarly, IBN now stands for something, which has been experienced by everyone. Automatically there is a brand personality created. Now CNN-IBN is not spoken as CNN and IBN separately, they are spoken as one word. People have got used to it and they have accepted it. All the content is generated locally except in case of international breaking news. I would say that CNN-IBN is the world’s window to India and India’s window to the world.

Q. ‘Whatever it takes’, how has the Indian media/audience perceived it? How has it helped in establishing CNN as a trustworthy channel?

‘Whatever it takes’ has clearly helped us differentiate from the rest because it shows our passion for news and stands for two things – first, it means we have whatever it takes, and second, we will do whatever it takes. We have the processes, the people, the infrastructure, the offices, the bureaux, the equipment, and the technology, and we will do whatever it takes, though within ethical parameters. We would continue to ask questions and we would be relentless in our search for the truth. It also reflects the passion for news. We have done a lot of ‘Whatever it takes’ stories and we have been able to substantiate those. Our audience has liked it and the results are out, people have liked it and so have the investors.

Q. Rajdeep Sardesai has been the face of the channel. How do you think it is to bank on just one person since the launch of the channel?

We have not banked on any one person. We have eminent faces right from Vidyashankar Aiyer, who has worked extensively aboard, Suhashini Haider, who has also worked with CNN earlier, a well-known journalist like Sagarika Ghosh, the experienced Anubha Bhonsle, Rajiv Masand, a film critic who dares to criticise, and Bhupen Choubey, the quintessential ground zero reporter. We had used Rajdeep’s face in the campaign when we launched the channel and that was because it was easy to communicate to the masses because he is a known face. But, the success of CNN-IBN comes from the grass roots, from its bureaux, journalists, reporters, the infrastructure, the producers, our technical department, our logistics team, and all those involved in the dissemination of news behind the scenes.

Q. How has the channel been able to challenge the monopoly of Aaj Tak in the Hindi news segment?

I do not think there is any monopoly status any more, it is a wide open race and we are on the right trajectory and growing consistently. We are quite right when we say that our success is based on hard-nosed journalistic stories and that has really helped us. We have gone and asked those extra questions, and whenever we do such stories we give all parties a chance to speak out.

Q. How does your website IBNlive.com manage to leverage the news channel? How have each gained from each other? How does it help in the branding?

IBNlive has been one of the main weapons in our success because we had a full-fledged website right from the day we launched our channel, which had a lot of interactivity happening like IBN blogs, Citizen Jounalist, chats, etc. It is a middle layer of communication where interactivity can happen and leads to inclusive journalism. Rajdeep Sardesai, Sagarika Ghosh, Anuradha Sengupta, and K Srikkanth write blogs. It is a site where people can agree and disagree. This interactivity helped in building a brand utility and brand sales. Citizen Journalist again is a great interactive property. Our free live streaming is extremely popular. More than 50,000 people from over 60 countries watch CNN-IBN on IBNlive.

We have recently totally revamped our site. This was important as you have to keep re-inventing yourself with constructive feedback from users. Recently IBNlive was awarded the Best News Channel Website at the NT Awards. We are consistently ahead of the competition in all parameters.

Q. What has the viewship for CNN-IBN/IBN7 been like in the last 2-3 months?

We have received good response and we are consistently doing well despite the implementation of the Conditional Access System (CAS). We have consistently been the leader. Also, we were awarded the Best English News Channel award at the recently held Indiantelevision.com’s NT Awards. This is quite gratifying as this was the first awards held exclusively for news television.

Q. Who are your main competitors?

I do not think we have competition. We are not competition driven, we are journalistically driven while being viewer-centric. We live and operate in a highly competitive environment, we keep cognizance of what is happening around us and we continue to do what we are supposed to do. We continue to develop content that is close to our viewers. Our mantra is creating engaging interactive content that is of relevance to the viewers.

Q. What is the USP of CNN-IBN/IBN7? What is the strong point of the company?

The USP of CNN-IBN is that we do journalistically driven stories and believe in relentless journalism, energy and in inclusive journalism. That means we respect other’s point of view as well. Here I would like to quote Rajdeep Sardesai, who ad said, ‘we never talk down, we talk to our viewers’.

Q. Who is you target audience?

SEC/AB, 15 +

Q. Television is shrinking now with programmes available on mobile handsets. What is the future of conventional TV viewing in such a scenario?

Conventional TV viewing would change radically now. TV is a device for content delivery, which is changing and is getting more mobile. Content on demand when on the move is going to change the paradigm of broadcast news.

Q. What would you say is your contribution to CNN-IBN?

My contribution has been to synergise marketing with the editorial, and accentuate the editorial richness of our product, whether it is CNN-IBN or IBN7. We came up with a marketing story that we were able to substantiate, and more importantly, a story that was accepted and embraced wholeheartedly by the viewers. Needless to say, this wouldn’t have been possible without the contribution of the entire CNN-IBN team.

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