Editor ji not a competitor to traditional media, it’s a force multiplier: Vikram Chandra

Vikram Chandra, former CEO of NDTV Group, on the inspiration behind launching the video news app and how it is attempting to bring back credibility in news.

e4m by Ruhail Amin
Updated: Sep 28, 2018 8:59 AM

In the wake of the rise of social media platforms, traditional forms of news consumption are undergoing a certain kind of metamorphosis to stay relevant. In this game of survival, some new ventures have come up to match the shifting taste of today’s consumer, and one among them is the recently launched news app Editor ji. The app is the brain child of country’s well-known journalist Vikram Chandra who stepped down as the CEO of NDTV Group in 2016.
The veteran journalist spoke to exchange4media about the inspiration behind his new venture and how it is attempting to bring back credibility in news.

Excerpts:

Tell us about your new venture Editor ji? What is it all about, what was the inspiration behind launching it?

I feel a paradigm shift is required in the whole system and the ecosystem and there are five big reasons for it. Reason number one: if we look at TV News, subscription revenues are insignificant and there is carriage fee, so you are dependent on advertising in a big way. To depend on advertising, you are dependent on TRPs and to get TRPs you have to scream, you got to yell and you got to shout. Some people will say, okay, we don't want TRPs, and they have revenue problems. So that's the business model issue around television news.

Second is a technological issue. You cannot control the content on TV news and you have to watch whatever the people are watching. And if people are increasingly watching debates, opinions and views, how do you get the news?

Now, let's come to digital video news. If you watch live news channel on an online platform or a video platform, it's the same as watching TV news. It is just that you're watching it on your mobile. You will still find people yelling and screaming and it is largely tabloid. So that doesn't help you very much. And when this digital format is not working, what's actually happening is that people are getting their video news from Facebook, Twitter and Whatsapp. But there are two major problems with that. The first problem is that a lot of it could be fake. You can't say that my Whatsapp feed is my source of news. How can Whatsapp feed or Facebook news be your credible news for the day? Another problem is that there are some good sources of content, but the issue is: how do they get the distribution? So if you've got a really good news story, how do you get it delivered to the right person?

The final problem is the form factor. Now, the form factors have to be designed around the India of today. Today 250 million Indians are consuming video online and by 2020 the numbers will grow to 500 million. This means 250 million fresh people are going to start accessing video on their mobile phones. How are they going to do it? What is the form factor for them? So that form factor doesn't exist right now and that is where Editor Ji comes in. It addresses all of these issues in a reasonably comprehensive way.

From a mainstream media platform to this tech enabled start-up, how would you sum up this shift?

To be honest, what I have done at a personal level all my life since I got into a career was to say: let's look for the next inflection point and let's try and build for that inflection point. In 1991, I left Oxford and decided to come back to India and work in broadcast journalism, which did not even exist in India then. There was no broadcast journalism, but I said we should try it and it will be the next wave and let's build for it. In 2000, I went to Prannoy (Roy) and said that the next wave is going to be the internet and I want to build a website. So I took over as the CEO of NDTV.com and we built it and we scaled it up right from 2000 onwards.

In 2008-09, I was convinced that we have to find the next form factors which are mobile friendly. That's when we build the NDTV app. And that was the next wave. So if you think, there are waves happening right there. You have to find the next inflection point and get on to the next wave. Two years ago, when I was interviewing Sundar Pichai (CEO, Google), he said the next wave is coming and it is the AI (Artificial Intelligence) wave and it is going to systematically disrupt every business. And anybody who's not thinking of how AI is going to disrupt businesses, is going to be in a lot of trouble. So I put the two things together, TV and digital. I have run a digital business for 17 years and I've been in TV for 25 years. I thought let me teach myself enough about AI to figure out how do you combine AI theory, platform theory and TV news together with digital. How do you combine all four and create something that will solve the problems that the business is facing right now.

I’m extremely proud of what we have built and I am proud to put my name to it. I will debate and argue with anybody that this is as good as any newscast that you will see. The story rundown is being built by a combination of machine and human interference.

Are you saying that traditional news mediums are becoming irrelevant?

I genuinely believe that this is a supplementing factor. When TV came, everyone said that print will die. And when digital came, everyone said TV will die. And when mobile came, everyone said print and TV will die. So in the new generation of new form factors and AI-driven platforms, this will supplement what people are doing. This is a force multiplier and I would actually urge all traditional media players to view us as a force multiplier because that's what we are. Not only TV, for print publications, we are even more relevant because when they want to get into video, they don't have a television news channel of their own. With us, they can create a TV news channel in just 30 seconds.

Tell us about your revenue model, is it a paid app?

It is absolutely free, for the simple reason that what we want to do is also solve a certain problem-- getting credible reliable information into the hands of 1.3 billion Indians. As 250 million Indians are going to come online to watch video, the question is: how are they going to watch it? How are they going to get the news? We want to give them that ability to do it. You just come, you press a button and you are getting news. As of now, we have the funding till we break even. So we may not need more funding. We are looking at two years or so to break even.

So when AI sits on the edit table, does it allow traffic to influence journalism?
Traffic does impact journalism but there are ways to get around it. We've figured out ways of how to do it right. There are certain things, especially top stories, where the human influence is very high. We are clear that at least in the initial stages, the newscast gets only assisted by AI and we have not given the keys to AI.

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