He is still the Non-Executive Director on the TV 18 Board, and attends one board meeting every quarter. He still watches CNBC TV18 every morning. In his own words, nothing would give Raghav Bahl greater pleasure than to see Network 18 flourish and grow but at present he has another job on his hands. He, along with wife Ritu Kapur are about to launch their next venture, a mobile-first digital platform called Quintillion, which will be driven by aggregation and intelligent curation of content. They think competition like Huffington Post is welcome and would keep them on their toes. As a platform, Quintillion will be equally dependent on content and technology. With its technology being developed in San Francisco and the core editorial team in place, the digital venture is raring to go. Raghav Bahl, the founder of Quintillion Media and his wife and Media Director Ritu Kapur talk about the changing face of the media industry, the changing nature of content and why they have chosen to launch a mobile first platform. Edited Excerpts:
Your recent visit to New York helped you understand the changing nature of consumable content. Tell us what you learnt.
Kapur: New York is the hub of content creators and publishers where content innovation is happening at a rapid pace. Silicon Valley is where the technology innovation is taking place. The consumer today is young and content is being created for the young by the young. The legacy networks are also feeling the need to keep up with the start ups. Our hunch about content being driven by aggregation and curation turned out to be correct. The talent today lies in how you are using and curating existing content. Content that was all about how one created value and surround-sound, making it much easier to consume on a smart phone through visuals, info graphics, and multimedia. They have come up with ways to make content more relevant and consumable by keeping the vocabulary accessible. Content is relevant today only if it can connect with the consumers.
Have you adopted the same concept for Quintillion?
Bahl: The over-riding principle is to be mobile-first. Legacy networks are also realising that the cues are coming from mobile. They know that the consumer is first consuming the content on mobile. So the length of content, idiom, shareability, is all being dictated by a mobile first experience.
How much progress have you made and when are you launching the news site?
Bahl: The team is still coming together. We have just shifted ten days back into this office. The core team is in place. The editorial team will consist of 15 people by December end.
Kapur: We know that technology is critical for this mobile first environment. Our technology is being developed by a company in San Francisco. We have spent the last 2 months understanding our product and positioning. Our technology and content teams completely flow into one another. We are getting a very young and talented set of people in. We should be up and running in another 3-4 months.
How much of Quintillion will be content and how much technology?
Bahl: Digital technology is coming in and changing the way work gets done in industry after industry. Media has reached a stage where it has got completely disrupted by digital technology. Technology and content will be equal contributors. Technology will be important in analytics, distribution, content forms, personalising, speed. So it will easily be a 50 per cent contributor.
Kapur: Video is critical for digital but you need technology for people to download, watch, stream, so technology cannot be overlooked.
Don’t you think the space of digital content is getting cluttered? How will you be different from competition?
Bahl: The kind of content structures that will exist in a mobile-led digital world will be largely similar. The differentiation will come in content on a given day. All of us will reach out to the consumer with our offerings. No consumer will consume only one media product. Consumers like choice and they will gravitate to a product that is satisfying them a bit more. They will have a primary source and then a secondary and tertiary source as well. How you distribute, how much you personalise, how much you curate are going to be differentiating factors. The differentiators will be technology and content on a given day. Huffington Post is a generic media product and so are we. Competition is welcome and has to be there. Social sharing is emerging as the most powerful means of sharing digital content and social media is a very democratic world. If your content is being liked and shared by more people, you’ll get more consumers. Digital has a great multiplier effect.
Kapur: On a given day, for the user it’s going to be about what’s driving conversation, what’s being shared. Competition will push us to think harder and innovate so that our content gets shared.
How are you going to monetise the site?
Bahl: Global models have emerged about how mobile first digital platforms are monetising. They may not be very stable as the industry is very young. There is some amount of display and search advertising and then the form where content and advertising are mixed. The cost of distribution has dropped to zero, having plummeted by 80-90 per cent. Not just the revenue model but the cost model has also changed. My sense is that equilibrium is round the corner. We are seeing the curve turning. We are seeing massive improvements on the cost side. The revenue/cost model is now emerging and within revenue, display and native are now emerging as options. Subscription is still a distance away. More than 50 per cent of digital content is being consumed through social sharing, and hence it does not make sense to wall off your content. I don’t think we are ready for a payment gateway.
I believe linear TV could be extinct by 2022 and it will all get consumed on digital platforms. TV, in itself, is a powerful video product but it will get consumed on digital platforms.
What kind of talent are you looking for and are you getting it for your new venture?
Kapur: We are as much about News plus as we are about news. We are targeting the smart phone user and it’s important to have young audiences. We want to have a newsroom full of commandos, who can extract content from wires and value add to that, who can go out and shoot videos, who can do their post production themselves. The younger you are the more adaptable you are. We are looking for bright minds who are open to innovation.
What skills do journalists need to survive in this market?
Bahl: Multimedia skills and a greater understanding of new technology tools are a must. If you don’t have those then you will limit yourself to being an expert commentator and contributor. If you want to be a participant in this digital, mobile led content consumption then you have to pick up these skills. You should know how to get your content viral on social media, have an understanding of technology, of writing formats for different devices .
How relevant will TV news be with so many news websites coming in?
Bahl: My sense is that TV news in the next half decade, will be consumed on non-linear digital devices. One will go to linear TV when some big event takes place, for ease of consumption. News on a regular basis, will be consumed where you are , on handheld devices, especially as screen sizes go up.
Kapur: The advantage that TV has over digital is that they have people on the ground who can get much faster updates. TV has deeper reach in terms of mobilising resources to get breaking news . Having said that, some fatigue that has set in for TV due to its long format discussions that are sometimes unnecessary.
What does QUINTILLION mean?
Bahl: We stumbled on the word together while on a flight. It means 10 to the power of 18, and it seemed like more power to us. The digital space is about sounds and play with words. It stuck because of its sound and everyone found it sticky. It has an internet feel to it.