CEO | 27 Nov 2009
I have this curse that I only see what we are doing wrong every time. I don’t see all the great things that we do. I am just the complaint department. I go to the problem; I am paid to deal for the things that don’t work, not for the good things. I don’t get to enjoy as much as I’d like to the pleasure of a relationship like the one with UTV. Instead I am always saying ‘How come Ronnie we aren’t doing this’, or ‘should we do that’. The pressure is to be excellent in all the various areas and to meet the deadlines that we journalists live with. It is not the nature of our work to relax – it is one deadline to another...
Andy Lack, CEO, Bloomberg Multimedia Group, is otherwise called a news legend for the kind of work that took place under his leadership at NBC and CBS before he joined Bloomberg. Another addition to Lack’s list of ‘done’ would be bringing Bloomberg to Indian news broadcasting, in partnership with UTV. exchange4media’s Noor Fathima Warsia caught up with Lack during his recent visit to India. In a freewheeling conversation, Lack speaks on what tilted the balance in UTV’s favour, what news is for him and Bloomberg’s roadmap in India is about.
Q. We have been hearing about Bloomberg’s plans for India for a long time now. Why was India such a problem market for making a foray in the television space?
It was a surprise for me that we didn’t have a presence in India when I joined Bloomberg. At the time, my colleagues in Asia and Europe said that the biggest issue is that we have to get into India since it’s an important and emerging market. I don’t know what the problems were but I know that the time for us was right, right now given the stage of the market and the kind of potential partners that the market had at the moment.
Q. You have been in conversation with various companies including leading news networks before you decided to partner with UTV. Why UTV?
A half an hour into the newsroom of UTV and I knew these are the people. I couldn’t have said it as directly then, as I can now. At heart, I am a just a television producer and a talent hunter. That’s what I do for a living; I got kicked upstairs into a corner desk but that still is really what I do. So I look for journalists. It is the programming that goes on the screen that matters, and not the chit-chats that goes around on how are we going to make this partnership happen, and let us show you our history what we do and so on. Show me what’s on the screen --- that’s what I need to know. And both Ronnie (Screwvala) and Govind (Ethiraj) had that. Govind has talent, he has story judgement and he knows story selection. Most importantly, he knows what goes in the choosing for the kind of reporters that you put on-air that then communicate and engage viewers in a way they is necessary if we have to have a channel that gets a following.
Q. So it was the editors that did it...
Yes, and that coupled with Ronnie’s success and his track record on the entertainment side. He struck me as the kind of fellow who would be very competitive in any space he enters. He is the kind of guy who as a producer is a producer; the chemistry was there. I saw the team he had chosen, and I would have thought it was pretty darn good job if I could have done that myself.
Q. UTV as a business has seen many international partners. There was Astro JV which broke off then came in the Disney. Did these international partnerships make any impression on your mind?
Disney is very fond of him, and as an American, I know the people at Disney well, and we spoke to them. We did some cross checking and we checked Ronnie’s records, as I am sure he checked Boomberg’s. The Disney people had tremendous regards for Ronnie and his company, and in all that was a very positive feedback.
It is a ground reality that as a English news channel, UTVi, as it was formerly known, has been amongst the lower ranked channel compared to the NDTV profits, CNBC and even the new entrant like ET Now. Did that have any role to play when you made this deal? Not at all.
Q. Why not?
Because it’s early days. These channels are immature. CNBC is the leading player in the market – they have been here for a decade. In fact I like the channel and know them well. I appreciate their success. But they have been alone in the field and I am afraid to say no one has made a dent. So the game has just begun and I am hope that we will be helpful to UTV. But when the ratings are that modest, they are insignificant, they didn’t mean anything to me. And this is a long game... you don’t decide on what your strategy for a market would be on a snapshot of what was happening in the last month – that was not significant in our deliberation.
Q. Speaking about partnerships in India, it has been a bit of a tough ride. The NBC NDTV partnership for example barely lasted over a year. Why should the UTV and Bloomberg partnership go on, and make a difference?
I believe that when you make the right product, we will prevail. If we didn’t, it would be challenging and there would be problems. If you produce the right programming, the audience will follow. It takes good promotion, determination and time. I don’t know the market place well enough for me to say how this deal will shape out. I’ve made a bet on UTV that is right for Bloomberg and for who we are. But at the end of the day, you follow your instinct.
Q. What are your expectations for Bloomberg as a brand and as a business in India following this partnership? What’s your target for October 2010?
Firstly we have to say, we are patient, and we are in for the long haul. For Bloomberg, immediate financial returns are insignificant. There will come a time when Ronnie and I will look at each other and say ‘How are we doing?’ and the performance will be known in a year or two. So we want to firstly work with each other. I want to understand the market because I don’t really know how the market is behaving. I have done a quick study and I learned, and the ratings you were just talking about, is the report card. But I don’t think you can have expectations that are unrealistic. Yes, at a certain point one can say it is working or not but when that point is, I really don’t know. A year from now, I would have a better fix on that...
Q. In the multimedia part of the business for Bloomberg there is Television, Interactive and Radio, what are the other things that we can expect from Bloomberg from India?
When we look at the market place, there are three screens which include TV screen, Laptop/PC screen and mobile screen -- they have the same audience for all three screens. But the behaviour of when you use the different screens is different for each consumer, user or viewer. We don’t know much about the mobile screens or even the PC screens and particularly in India, I don’t know what the behaviour is. I do know the penetration level for cell phone is exploding but they are not all smart-phones and so there would be a while before that has some importance. As the year goes, I am focussed on the TV screens. We are seeing whether our video can find its way in the business but then those are business models that are still unformed even in the US. No one has a good business model for either of those two screens.
Q. Digital pennies for analogue dollars, as they say...
Yes, my friend Jeff Zucker had put it like that once, but those pennies would add up and become nickels and quarters. That said, no one can say with certainty today precisely how that would work – would people pay for it or would it still be about audience aggregation.
Q. For you, India is an investment market right now. By when do you see it being a growth market?
Well, it’s hard to look at the scale of audience in India and not assume that in a few years’ time, it would become a strong market. The law of big numbers eventually is going to kick in. The global advertisers want to be in India already. I was reading about the Indian Prime Minister, where because of the emerging wealth in India, he is properly and carefully having a new dialogue, with capital markets including the United States, in ways that acknowledge this burgeoning new economy in India. Our advertisers in the US, who are global advertisers, want that exposure here in India, in China and Brazil and all of the emerging markets. I believe strongly that half of our revenues in five years from now are likely to come from outside of the United States, and it is hard for me to think that India would not be an important part of that.
Q. Apart from India what are the other investments markets for Bloomberg?
One other example that I am very excited in the way that I am about India, is Turkey. We have done similar arrangement with someone who actually reminds me of Ronnie -- they both are entrepreneurs, very strong track record in the entertainment area and new to the business news space. CNBC has a well established channel in Turkey as well. So now Bloomberg is joining forces with a strong media player who is looking for an opportunity to enter into the business space. Turkey like India has a tremendous growth potential and an emerging economy filled with young people who want to reinvent the way consumer is approaching the market.
Q. How do you ensure that brand Bloomberg is alive in all these partnerships?
It’s a part of my arrangement with UTV and my new partners in Turkey that we will have a Bloomberg colleague in the newsroom, who is an employee of Bloomberg. In this case, I am sending someone who is an Indian. In all of our partnership, we will have a Bloomberg colleague who will work side by side in the newsroom, with our partners making sure that they get everything out of Bloomberg and that we are a part of the operations, as it develops.
Q. Between NBC and CBS, and the consequent tag of being a ‘news legend’, what is the kind of pressure that is there on you right now?
I have this curse that I only see what we are doing wrong every time. I don’t see all the great things that we are doing. I am just the complaint department. I go to the problem, so I feel that pressure every hour and every day because I am paid to deal for the things that don’t work; I’m not paid to deal for the good things. So that’s the curse. I don’t get to enjoy as much as I’d like to the pleasure of relationship like the one with UTV. Instead I am always saying ‘How come Ronnie we aren’t doing this’, or ‘should we do that’ or ‘is that the right person’ or ‘is that the right story?’ That’s the pressure, to be excellent in all the various areas and to meet the deadlines that we journalists live with, because we want to look good everyday in that report card we were just speaking about. So I am always trying to improve our team and it’s never over. It is not the nature of our work to relax – it is one deadline to another...
Q. You have a passion for storytelling. Are the lines connected between the two though it may not be fair for me to call news story telling...
No, it is fair. I completely and devoutly believe that you can be a story teller in fiction as well as non-fiction. As a reporter, you choose the conversation and how you want to begin the story. This interview for instance, you will choose what was interesting from all the answers I gave, and what was not. You will edit this conversation, and that is story telling. So you have this give and take in the work you do, and so story telling is important to the news business as it is to the entertainment business. That is what makes one story better than the other -- we are reinventing the wheel every day, and that is the power of storytelling.