My prejudice is for the nation, not for an individual; not for any party: Arnab Goswami
In an exclusive interview, Goswami speaks about the rise of brand Republic, his plan to foray into the Hindi news space and his vision for an India based global news venture
As Republic TV gears up to its next expansion phase—the launch of its first Hindi News Channel ‘R. Bharat’, there are questions being asked about the launch of yet another channel in an already cluttered marketplace.
For Arnab Goswami, MD, Co-Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Republic TV, the move to launch his new venture is to disrupt the Hindi news space, which according to him has forgotten to report news.
In an exclusive interview, Goswami speaks about the rise of brand Republic, his plan to foray into the Hindi news space and his vision for an India based global news venture.
It has been around 20 months since you launched Republic TV, we have seen the tremendous response that it has received. How would you define this success Republic TV has received and the journey so far?
I think it is unparalleled success. We are now closing on 100 weeks of being number one, and I think that makes us among one of the most successful brands in the media right now and certainly in television.
The big issue has always been not just about performance, but consistent performance. I think what Republic has proven is that we can deliver very strong and consistent performance. There is one more metric that I want to share with you; when you look at the genre, one of the greatest contributions of Republic TV is that it has expanded the genre.
So what Republic has done is that it has increased the size and reach of the English genre by about 73 per cent. So compared to before launch and now, if you were to take May 1, 2017 and January 3, 2019, there is 70 per cent plus expansion of the genre. I think that is the greatest contribution of any new entrant, so it has been a very successful journey and very positive response from everyone.
In one of your earlier interviews you said that anybody in our industry who does things based on political highs and lows is playing a very short-term game. Now you are launching Republic Bharat just before general elections. So what is the rationale behind launching the channel at this time?
I completely stand by what I said earlier. The launch of Republic Bharat is following what we are closing in on the 18 or 20 months of leadership of Republic TV. Any team that launches a new channel needs time to re-galvanize itself before launching a big product.
Hindi is not a small market, it is a very large market and hence I need at this time to get my focus back on building a new product. Republic Bharat is not launched with an eye on the elections, elections happened to be happening at this point of time. The level of investments that we have made in technology, in people, in processes, and in the state of our operations, ensures that it is not election specific channel.
I don't do these fly-by-night operator things that you launch a channel before the elections and you close it down after the elections. Other people do that. I launch brands because I build legacy, and we are building a legacy of Republic TV. And hence it is great that the elections are happening, but would we not launch the channel if there was no election? Absolutely not! We would still go ahead and launch the channel.
Hindi news space is already cluttered, how would R. Bharat be different from what we already see in the Hind news genre space?
I think the biggest factor in the launch of Republic Bharat is the fact that we are going to do news. Now, ask anybody what they think of Hindi news channels today, they will say that they don't think they are giving them the news. None of the Hindi news channels today have broken a single big story in over ten years.
I can ask any of the readers or viewers of this particular interview, what was the last big exclusive story being broken up and followed up by any Hindi news channels? None of the people can answer because Hindi news channels forgot to give news to the Hindi audience. Hence all the big stories were broken by my team and by few other teams, but certainly not by any Hindi news channel.
They must also consider why Republic Bharat is launching. Republic Bharat is launching to disrupt the space, which is supposed to be a news genre but has not been loyal to news for over 10 years. We are bringing news back in the Hindi news genre, that is our sustained effort and that is also the core of this entire effort of launching Republic Bharat.
Whenever you start a new venture, people have huge expectations, for example the expectation to be No. 1 again and again? Is that adding to the stress that news as a genre already has, I mean how do you come to terms with it? Is that expectation from R. Bharat giving you sleepless nights?
I am very excited about every launch and my clock moves from launch to launch. It is the process of re-invention, it is a process of re-creation, but most importantly I enter every genre not with a predisposed mind. I never assume when I launch a product that I know it all, I don't know it all, but I'm a quick learner. And most importantly, I am gifted and blessed to have an excellent team.
The team of Republic TV today, both on the technology and production side, and of course on the editorial side, are the finest in the business. We are without a doubt home to the best content creation capability that any network has in India today.
Does that make the job of launching a channel easier? It doesn't. But does it make it more exciting, yes it does. So when you have a great team which enters into a launch and saying-- let us open up with a blank page and try and understand what we can do there, then you end up painting a more beautiful picture.
So I have not entered the Hindi news genre by assuming that I know everything, but I am a quick learner, my team members are quick learners, and I am hundred per cent sure that we will change and disrupt the Hindi news channel business in a way that has not been done before.
Your critics say that you have polarised news genre, your comment?
So what you are basically telling me is that people have opinions about what you do, some people like it, some dislike it, some people criticise it but from your own expression of this question, you will admit that people are questioning the form and not the content.
So they are saying, it's too loud, it does not work for me, fine! But, are they saying it is dishonest, it is mala fide, they won’t say so. So, there is no question on the integrity of our journalism.
Some people like to have a Mexican dish, some people like to have an Indian dish, some people like spicier Indian dish and some like it a little bland, all that is a matter of an individual’s taste, but there is no poison in the dish. Whatever we serve has news and is completely pure in terms of the integrity of news.
I think changes will come, and in 2029 you will see news not being done in the way it is done in 2019, and that is about the whole process of evolution.
Some people have also said that Republic showcases a certain political bias, how would you like to respond to it?
Look if people would not watch me they would not say anything. I think it is the reflection of our growing audiences. And let me also add, if people were to ask me what is the greatest contribution of Republic TV, I will say that we are now reaching approximately 150 to 200 million television homes in the country after the launch of Bharat, that for me is the most satisfying part of the journey.
Our ideology is that of nationalism. We believe that patriotism, nationalism, symbols of national honour and the concept of pride in the nation should be the guiding principles for the entire country. I believe you cannot have enough of nationalism.
So when people talk about too much nationalism, I would take them on and question them day in and day out. I feel that we need to be unapologetic about being Indian. We are the most vibrant democracy, the most vibrant society, and with a great future ahead. Why should we not instil a sense of great pride in our younger generation, and what is media if it is not prejudiced for the nation? My prejudice is for the nation, not for an individual and certainty not for any party.
Sometimes some people might think that nationalism is associated with the party, but they are wrong. Nationalism is in the soul of every Indian, and that is the audience that essentially I hope to reach to.
You have also said that “To be heard sometimes you need to shout”, but if the nature of news business changes from advertising to subscription revenue, will your approach also change?
I think that with the changes in technology, dissemination systems and measurement, you might move towards a subscription based model at some point of time.
It would be welcome if the subscription revenue increases because you know the cost is only rising, and sometimes our cost of carriage is greater than the cost of creation of the content. Having said that, I am a content creator, a journalist and I am simple in my approach to things.
If people like what we do, they will support us. You can't say that people will start supporting you if they start paying for you. That is a limited way of looking at it. I feel that if people like you, they will watch you whether you are free to air or paid. And if people like you and believe in you and connect with you, most important is the connect, then they will find you, so that also means the discovery of content actually comes on its own.
So I think both channel discovery and content discovery and content creation need to essentially have a very close organic link with the audience. The moment you connect with the audience, everything becomes easier. If you don't connect with the audience then you blame the current trends in the industry.
I find some people sometimes say that the problem is not with us; the problem is that now it is an advertising based world, I don't understand that. If you do well and people like you, they are going to watch you and you will have good viewership, if you have good viewership you will get advertising. So instead of blaming the advertising based model, they should ask themselves why don't they have the viewership.
First get the viewership, if you have the viewership then if it is a pay model people will pay for the content, if it is the advertising based model, it will drive advertisement. What are we cribbing about? I am blessed that we have such wonderful support from the people in the industry; we get the support because people like what we do. So the core is again the content.
In your view what ails the electronic news media today? Is there a need for a course correction and what is that correction?
I don't want to be a critic of the genre that I belong to. I would say that the one course correction that we can do is that we can stop obsessing about ourselves.
I have lost a lot of journalists, who have gone and left the profession, and now when I ask them what they do, they say we write about the media. The sum and substance is that those who are not in the trade space should focus on stories about the people.
I am a little worried and disturbed sometimes when journalists spend too much time commenting on other journalists and taking positions vis-a-vis journalists - who is pro Congress, who is pro BJP, who is pro AAP; why don't you do your job?
The only course connection that I would suggest is that good people in journalism should start reporting about people and not about fellow journalists.
Should news channel depend on one name? What happens when the person become bigger than the brand?
If you go among people today, and I am confident that if you ask people about the symbols of various big brands, more people will recognize R Dot (R. -Republic TV Logo) today than they would recognize Arnab Goswami. With the launch of Bharat, as we penetrate a deeper market, R Dot (R.) becomes the biggest news brand in India, with the stronghold over the English and Hindi audiences.
So the challenge for me as an entrepreneur, which I began with my journey when I started in early 2017, I think I give myself 3 years to make our brand bigger than any brand association with me. I think in 2 years, I have been able to make Republic and R Dot (R.) and now the Republic Media Network brands bigger than Arnab and that is something we will be working on more and more.
So what next after R. Bharat?
I think I have not done what I would enjoy the most and that would be the launch of the global media product. And I am a firm believer that we cannot live in our self-contained chambers of success. Once we launch Bharat, then I will start building in two areas which is - digital, technology businesses, the entire span of media technology businesses and global operations.
I believe we can create and curate content, and I know that the global market also knows that people like us entering the global market will sort of open it up. I have observed the global players from a distance, I hope to watch them more closely and disrupt that space within the next year or two. How will we do that, I do not know. But my eyes are firmly set on that, I hope to get more time to be able to focus on that.
Eventually in the next four to five years I will be setting pace to a new number of things which I am going to do, which eventually someone in the next generation will take it to a higher level. So we are only agents of making that change happen in the course of our careers.
I also want to thank all the people who have helped me build Republic Bharat and Republic TV and the network. We have about 750 people working with us now and every one of them has contributed a great deal to this, but particularly to the media industry. For a person like me to come out and do this will not be possible without the genuine support of the industry.
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