Republic@1: I have fulfilled Phase One of my dream, says Arnab Goswami

For Republic, the focus now is on disrupting the digital news space and leveraging the potential of Digital +TV to maintain the growth momentum of Year 1

e4m by Simran Sabherwal
Updated: May 7, 2018 8:59 AM

After an impressive run of leading the ratings chart in the English news genre since Week 1 of launch, Arnab Goswami’s Republic TV turned one on May 6, 2018. According to Goswami, Managing Director, Editor-in-Chief and Co-founder of Republic, the focus now is on disrupting the digital news space and leveraging the potential of Digital +TV to maintain the growth momentum in Year 2.

Republic launched its mobile-firsdigital destination in July last year, banking on innovations such as vertical videos, VR videos and personalization. In November, the Republic World app was launched. For Goswami, the future play is digital as the company looks to unleash a new digital first strategy this summer and rolls out new products to once again challenge legacy players in the space. 
Here are edited excerpts from a conversation with Goswami:

If you were to give yourself a progress report on the completion of one year of Republic and, how would you rate yourself?

I would give ourselves 9 on 10. There is always the 1 for what you could have done better. But, there hasn’t been a launch like this, and it’s also proof that good content works. We have had many more exclusives and put out an exclusive news report every 24 hours. We were Number 1 in election coverage, for example, during the Gujarat elections, and highly watched during the Budget. We are very solid, both during prime time and non-prime time. There is a lot of excitement about where we are going to go in Year 2 and the new things we are going to do.

Republic TV and you have been in the news right since you revealed the channel’s name; then came the news about the investors and conflict of interest; criticism from other journalists; people resigning from Republic on supposedly ‘ethical grounds’ and even people refusing to come on panels...You are the newsmaker. Your comment?

All of this was a function of people trying to feed off our name. Unknown websites and entities would do stories on Republic or on me and hope that they get some hits, but beyond that it really doesn’t bother us because we have been too busy working. Our focus is on our business, our product, our channel and what we will do digitally.

As for our shareholders and investors, we are the only channel whose shareholding is in the public domain. Asianet has a share-holding of about 15.5% and my holding company (ARG Outlier Media Private Limited) controls the rest. That’s as independent a news organization as there can be. It actually clearly proves that we not only editorially but also financially control the organization.

There is a perception that Republic TV is pro-establishment... how would you respond to that?

That’s complete rubbish because nobody has been more critical of the government than us. In fact, Kathua and Unnao (rape cases) would not have been national issues had it not been for the manner in which Republic went after the ruling dispensations hammer and tongs, both in Jammu & Kashmir as well as in Uttar Pradesh, both areas where the BJP is in power. We have had the most independent coverage on all these issues. That perception has no basis.

What is your take on the I&B Ministry’s recent circular on fake news and then its withdrawal at the PMO’s behest?

Fake news is a problem area and if anybody says that fake news is not a problem, it will be wrong. Also, what’s happening is that there are certain digital news organizations, with clear political funding, who call themselves fake news busters; but that’s not right. If there is direct and indirect support from a politician or a political lobby, you can’t be independent and call yourself fake news busters. However, the way the I&B Ministry was looking at it, it wasn’t the right way. I have not seen the note in detail, I am no fan of that note, but it was one page out of some recommendations. I haven’t read the whole set of recommendations in detail.

What are your focus areas going ahead?

We have very innovative video and distribution strategies for digital. That is going to be the next game. By August/September, we would have a very integrated approach on both television and digital. The legacy players in digital should get the same kind of competition that we gave to the legacy players in TV. They are sitting on a first-mover advantage but I don’t see any innovation there; that’s where we will move in smartly.

Are you looking at expanding and launching new channels? If yes, in what genre?

We are going to grow into a big network. The question is how and when and in which markets, which languages, and on which mediums. I am very excited about digital, and I am certainly moving there. On broadcast, we are firming up our plans. And when we do it, we will do it fast. However, I will never go outside news. I won’t make the mistake that NDTV made. We will grow where the market is and where we feel we are aligned editorially and in terms of business. Eventually, I want to launch a player at the global level, and the question is when I do it. I see all of this as a stepping stone towards one day serving global news to the world.

How do you maintain a work-life balance?

There is no balance! However, I am taking Sundays off now, which I didn’t take during the first six months. But I really enjoy what I am doing and I am really immersed into it. I have become more a student here at Republic. I have understood that there is so much more to understand about people’s responses to news, what works and what doesn’t. In the last few months, we have just been assessing what to do next. I usually need two new things to do every year. In the last 12 months, I have done only one. So, I am getting fairly restless. In the next six months, I will do a few new things and create new brands and products.

What is different about the Arnab of today compared to Arnab a couple of years ago?

I have fulfilled phase one of my dream, that’s the difference. I feel very responsible as an entrepreneur. I think I delegate better now and have realized that my organization’s growth will be dependent on mine and the team’s ability to think strategically. I am very grateful today for what we have achieved. The best thing is that we have proven that we are not a flash in the pan and are a steady, growing player.

We also spoke to the top management team of Republic. Here is what they have to say:

Vikas Khanchandani, CEO, Republic
Operationally we have arrested cash burn, i.e. from the first month of launch, we don’t need any investor money to fund the operations. We expect a healthy three-year period for cash surplus from operations to satisfy the investors’ expectations on long term capital growth. Our focus is on cost as much as on revenues. So we are targeting a healthy doubling of free cash generation and a 15% YoY growth from Year 3 onwards. This will naturally mean we grow our topline at over 20% in the next year and thereafter grow revenues at a higher rate than the segment while retaining our cost efficiencies. Also, 2018 is critical for us with regard to digital reach and revenue growth.

S Sundaram, Group CFO, Republic
Financially, we ended our first fiscal on March 31, 2018, which was a 10.5 month period of operation for the channel, delivering healthy revenue despite fears of looming economic uncertainty around the time of our launch attributed to the remnant impact of demonetization and the introduction of GST thereafter. Our revenues over the 10.5 month period surpassed our internal projections and in terms of QoQ growth, we had an average 20% growth in the first two quarters (over the relevant previous quarter) and remained relatively flat in the last quarter (vs the immediate preceding quarter) in sync with the normal seasonal slack.

Priya Mukherjee, President - Distribution and International Revenues, Republic
We reach over 130 mn households pan India. We have made a conscious effort to be available across rural markets along with 1mn+ and metros. Our strategy going forward is to strive to be available in every home that has a television. We have successfully launched in the MENA region, and are available across linear and non-linear platforms. We would launch within this calendar year in the US and Canada, APAC and Europe - both on television and digital platforms.

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