We have been responsible for democratising business news: Shereen Bhan, CNBC-TV18

It is clear that there is a degree of pain in the economy but the government is taking cognizance and trying to find ways to address this, says Shereen Bhan, Managing Editor, CNBC-TV18

e4m by exchange4media Staff
Updated: Dec 11, 2019 3:24 PM
Shereen Bhan

Business news in India has been synonymous with CNBC-TV18. As the channel gears up to celebrate 20 years in business, Shereen Bhan, Managing Editor, CNBC-TV18 who has been with the brand for 19 years talks to exchange4media about the recession, the evolution of business news and how CNBC-TV18 has remained the undisputed number one for the past two decades.        

You have been a part CNBC-TV18 for 19 years in their two-decade-old journey. Tell us about the evolution of business news over the years. 
CNBC-TV18 has been the first brand in the business news genre to attempt to create television space for business news in India.  We have been responsible for democratising business news in India in a lot of ways. We have also given the average person access to boardrooms. For instance, the way we cover quarterly results, the way we get companies to talk about their results quarter after quarter, getting them to give us a sense of what is actually going on within the company, what the strategy is, etc. So basically we have been giving access to the average consumer of news and the average investor a sense of what is going on within each individual company.

So, I think, I would say that democratising business news has been one of the biggest achievements of CNBC as a brand, and it has evolved with the Indian economy. So as the economy opened up and as we liberalized even further, we saw more first-generation entrepreneurs, we saw the rise of private enterprise and we have really been observing chronicling, documenting each of these.  So I think, we've really captured how the new economy has evolved and transformed over the last few decades. We have been the storyteller of the India story over the last two decades.

Business news has also gone way beyond reporting markets — tell us your views on it. Has CNBC-TV18 also been inclusive when it comes to widening the horizon of business news?
Yes, this has been a very conscious decision on our part, especially over the past decade or so. We've made it very clear that we are not just the stock market channel. While we do focus and emphasise on news related to market and what an investor needs to know when the markets are trading between seven to four, we are very clear about the fact that we are a news brand and we will give our viewers information that could help them make decisions in any aspect of their life.

So, we have been the first in the news space, not just the business news space, but in the overall news space to focus on things like education. We've got a show called Get Schooled, which focuses on the various trends in education, what the government is doing, what state governments are doing and what the private sector is doing. Similarly, we focused much before anybody else on the agriculture space in the rural economy and what is really happening there and what the pain points were. We launched a show called 'Whats Ailing Rural India' several years ago well before people were talking about farmer suicides and agrarian distress. So we've been ahead of the curve in terms of thought leadership.

We started a show about startups 18 years ago, well before anybody else was talking about startups. So as a brand, we've always been at the forefront of focusing on news that is relevant and provides help in decision making for an average Indian in any aspect of their life. We've been very clear, especially in the past decade, that this is not just the stock market, and in fact, we've had several initiatives over the years to maintain our focus on honesty and quality. So it's imperative for us to be able to give the audience everything that they need to know about the space that they operate in.

Languages and digital are two very important aspects of new India — What are you doing on that front?

CNBC Awaaz is the dominant leader in the Hindi news space, and that's almost a decade-plus old. Then a few years ago, we also started CNBC Bazaar which is our Gujrati offering. So English, Hindi and Gujrati are our three offerings and while there is no active plan at this point in time to foray into a different language on television, it is definitely something we would look at in the future. As for digital, we launched CNBCTV18.com about a year ago and we've had a great start. The content that we provide on TV is, of course, available by way of live TV on CNBC.com but we don't just want it to be an extension of TV.

We are trying to expand our offering and experiment with new kinds of content, which we are offering on digital. For instance, we have guests columnists write for us regularly on CNBCTV18.com. We have a weekend section where we feature stories, unlike moneycontrol.com. It is not very market heavy or not entirely focused on the market. Our digital offering is also very actively focused on policy, corporate news, politics, lifestyle, etc. It is certainly something that we want to continue to scale up and will be focusing a lot of our energy and our efforts on getting more active synergies between the channel and the dot com.

 CNBC-TV18 has never moved from number one when it comes to ratings. What do you credit this to?
I think the fact that we've maintained our leadership through the past two decades, and seen competitors come and go is because we were very clear about what our purpose is. And that has defined everything we've done. Our competitions have played the game of copy-paste. So they've pretty much taken our format and attempted to replicate that. I've always believed that unless there is a clear differentiation, why would people switch to something else?

Secondly, we have never taken our viewers' time for granted. I think we have constantly tried to innovate, improve and disrupt ourselves. So that has been an ongoing journey. Our journey every day when we come into work is to ensure that we programme a better product every single day. We're constantly learning, and we're constantly observing if there are any gaps in the market, that we should be looking at and how we can improve our current offering and relevance.

At the end of the day, you're as relevant as your audience thinks you are. So we've tried to keep our ears and eyes open, to ensure that we get the feedback from the audience and act on it. We are responsive to what the market wants, what the market needs, what our audience wants, and what our audience needs. I think that is what has kept the brand in good stead.

 Since you work with the markets and the corporates so closely, tell us your take on the slowdown we are in and what is the path to recovery that you see? 
It is clear that there is a degree of pain in the economy at this point in time. It's also clear now that the government is taking cognizance of it and is trying to find ways of addressing the pain. If you ask me how meaningful the action that has already been taken, then I’d say the jury's still out on that. I think there is a sense of lack of confidence in corporate India and there are many reasons for that. However, it must be said that all the problems don't lie at the government’s door and corporate India must also take some responsibility and must introspect for some of the actions that they have taken and some that they ought not to have taken.

So, I think there has to be some soul searching on part of corporate India as well. In the conversation that we're having with the industry, it looks like it will still take another year for a sustainable recovery or sustainable pickup. There are sectors which are seeing some signs of green shoots, but again, when you talk to CEOs, they say it's a bit premature to say and hopefully, we should be able to fix some of the problems that have crept up and address them in a meaningful, long-lasting way.

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