Aiming for 50% growth in digital over next two years: Avinash Pandey

In an interaction with exchange4media, Avinash Pandey, CEO, ABP News Network, says in 2020 digital and regional offerings will be the key growth drivers

e4m by Tasmayee Laha Roy
Updated: Jan 10, 2020 6:44 AM

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Avinash Pandey

With a steady growth in viewership numbers and a solid roadmap to begin the new year with, ABP News Network is looking forward to an action packed 2020. According to Avinash Pandey, CEO, ABP News Network, in 2020 digital and regional offerings will be the key growth drivers and that is exactly where the group’s focus is.

In a conversation with exchange4media, Pandey talks about the key developments in the broadcasting sector in the year gone by - be it NTO or the new leadership at BARC.  

Upbeat about their growth in digital, Pandey elaborates on the reach of the medium and gives a sneak peek into what could probably be the biggest trendsetters of 2020.

Excerpts:

2019 has been an eventful year for broadcasters - from NTO to debates over TRAI regulations on landing page to a new BARC leadership. What according to you are the most important changes the industry has been through in the year gone by?

New Tariff Order (NTO) has been one of the biggest changes for the linear television in India last year. TRAI and its regulations completely transformed the broadcast landscape in 2019 by defining the way of working between the DPOs and Broadcasters, and by defining what they call network capacity fee, fees for multi-TV homes, number of FTA channels and pay channel bouquet formation. While initially it caused discomfort to some consumers, it has also seen all parties getting benefitted. TRAI’s capping on the carriage fee and definition of territory have created a level playing field and transparency between broadcasters and DPOs. Landing Page was a concern which BARC and the industry body have resolved through the consultation process.

A number of broadcasters have said news channels should not go Free-To-Air. What is your take on that?

Personally, I am not in favour of any FTA channel from the broadcasting end because consumer is anyway paying Rs 130 plus taxes for subscribing to cable channels. Hence, for consumer per se, nothing is free. It is for the DPO that the channel becomes free, which is also substantiated by Free-To-Air channel through carriage fee. This makes the whole system one sided in favour of DPOs. Therefore, it is in the interest of the news industry to go pay. However, the current accepted way of working in the industry makes it almost difficult or impossible for a single channel or a small network to go pay. Therefore, the news industry should come together to find out how they will work together to charge an appropriate fee from consumer for the content that we deliver it to them.

We have seen a positive uptick in ratings for ABP in the past few months. What do you credit this growth in viewership to? Was the change in BARC leadership sought by broadcasters? How did it help?

At ABP News Network, we believe in “Dramatized Rationality” which means that we will tell you the facts, in an interesting way. We will never take sides on any view, no matter what it is and we will be on the side of facts alone in case of any event. This year particularly has been extremely newsy, starting with Lok Sabha elections. Our network has got its share because of its positioning, unbiased coverage and award winning reporters. Our digital team has been now completely integrated with news gathering and this has resulted in immense gain of viewership for the entire network.

We have nothing to do with the BARC leadership change.

Viewership thrives on exclusive content. Foresight and proactivity are equally important in deducing changing trends and preferences of viewers and customising the channel offerings accordingly. Adhering to these principles, we kept our ear to the ground.

Every broadcaster is betting their money on languages. Since regional news is the group’s forte what has been planned for the segment in the new year? How do you plan to monetise this growth? Do you see ad bills from regional exceeding that of Hindi or English?

I cannot speak about other broadcasters, but at ABP News Network we always saw the model of regional language channel with regional autonomy as the way of business model. While we do have a corporate office, all regional channels are independent in all aspects while adhering to our core philosophy of delivering news in “dramatized rationality” and being true to the soil. Hence, our regional news channels - ABP Ananda, ABP Majha, ABP Asmita and ABP Ganga have done extremely well. In fact, ABP Sanjha is doing extremely well for the Canadian Punjabi audience. Currently, our regional language channels contribute to over 40 per cent of our revenue and very soon it will exceed 50 per cent. Regionals will definitely do well across all platforms and better than any Hindi or English news channel.

Tell us a little about growth in digital. Is advertising revenue from digital still at a nascent stage? How do you see it growing at ABP?

Our digital is doing extremely well. We have over 58 million users with 250+ million page views. In video, we rank number 3 with over 60 million unique visitors. On digital, we are growing at the rate of 50% in revenue. We are working at the video-first format and very soon you will find ABP Live in a new avatar where you can consume any news in any language of your choice. We have invested heavily and we are looking to grow at the rate of 50 per cent over the next 2 years.

2019 has been a news heavy year, starting with Lok Sabha elections to the cricket World Cup. Advertisers have loosened their purse strings generously but on the other hand the calendar year also closed on a gloomy note with the economic slowdown. Did the first 2 quarters make up for the lull in the second half? What is your view on the same?

Typically, back-to-back elections attract more viewership and, in turn, a higher percentage of advertising revenue during the election period. 2019 was no different except for one caveat – some advertisers could prune their budgets, given the tight monetary situation. This meant more judicious spending, impacting all segments, including advertising. But due to economic headwinds and uncertainty in the market, we expect these spends may be somewhat muted now compared to the previous years.

The year has started with NTO 2.0. What according to you could be the implications of the amendment for broadcasters?

We are a Free-To-Air broadcaster in the news genre and NTO 2.0 has given lot of clarity in our business dealing with DPOs. For us, it’s a good step in the positive direction.

Give us an understanding of the 3 major forecasts you have for the broadcasting industry in 2020.

In 2020, digital and regional offerings will be the key growth drivers. Therefore, channels having the wherewithal and a pan-India footprint stand to gain the most. Though digital will pose a challenge, broadcast will maintain its growth momentum in urban and rural pockets, thanks to varied offerings, including news and entertainment. Overall, regional news and Hindi news will gain tremendous growth. 2020 will further strengthen the growth of interactive videos whether live or VOD. I can clearly see that both Linear TV and Digital TV (App, Site, and YouTube) will gain a double digit growth towards the second half of 2020. The first half will still see the impact of the economic slowdown, stabilising of GST and other industry issues.

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