Television

Not yet decided whether it'd be a content company or a channel: Rajdeep Sardesai

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MUMBAI: As Rajdeep Sardesai embarks upon a different role as an entrepreneur too, he insists that his forte is journalism and that it will remain so. Though through a PR agency, Sardesai and his NDTV colleague, Sameer Manchanda, today morning clarified that they are setting up a new company, a start-up, which was first reported by Indiantelevision.com, he’s still hesitant in talking about his new innings.

Even as he tries to play with a straight bat, like his illustrious father cricketer Dilip Sardesai, Rajdeep’s defence mechanisms are up. He ducks uncomfortable questions instead of trying to play them.

Ask him about the new company and he gives a seemingly evasive reply. “We haven’t decided whether we want to be only a content company, servicing different channels, or whether we want to start or set off a channel of our own. That’s a decision that we have still left for a later day,” In his first interview to the media after leaving NDTV and shaking hands with the Raghav Bahl-promoted Television Eighteen group, Indiantelevision.com tries to pin down Rajdeep on some issues relating to his work, his future and the industry in general.

Excerpts:

What is Broadcast News all about?

We intend to look at creating new news products, which we believe can succeed in the market place as well as provide Indian viewers with more choices than available today.

So, are you saying that you would be looking beyond servicing a particular news channel or channels from a group?

We haven’t decided whether we want to be only a content company servicing different channels or start a channel of our own. That’s a decision we have left for a later day. We haven’t taken a final decision on how we want to use the expertise that is available to us.

What are you looking at with the kind of expertise that you have -- a channel or a boutique, which would offer new programmes?

Frankly, whichever really works…wherever we get the people to watch us. If we get people to watch us as a content provider, we will do that. If we get more people to watch us as (managers of) a channel, we will do that.

How would you get to decide or know what will garner audiences for you?

It depends upon the platform than we are offered. So, we have taken no decision yet as all such decisions, like our first big move, would be taken somewhere in the middle of May or even later.

Why would it take this long? Haven’t you decided upon a date?

Well…because, we need to get it right that’s why!

How do you define your place and role in Broadcast News?

I will be editor-in-chief and so I will decide all content.

Does this signify that your role as a journalist will continue even as you acquire shades of an entrepreneur?

I’m determined to make my role purely journalistic. That is what I know (best) and that is what I'm going to do. In fact, the entrepreneurial role is something that we have chosen to take as it’s a sign of a new beginning. It gives us a sense of starting a new venture.

How would you go about getting the manpower that is in short supply? Would you resort to poaching from existing channels like TV Today and NDTV?

Everything that we do will be done professionally. We will try and have the best possible journalists and professionals in this field with us.

Now that you have parted with NDTV there may be people who would like to follow and join you?

Let me make it clear, NDTV is a great company. The last thing on my mind, at the moment, would be to try breaking NDTV. I'm very clear that I’ve left NDTV on the best possible terms, as far as I'm concerned.

It has been an emotional decision breaking away from NDTV. So, the last thing I want to do, at the moment, is to think about NDTV. I just want to create for myself, and for the people who join me, the best possible company -- editorially and professionally. It is only when we decide what sort of company we would like to become that we’d take decisions on manpower and the type of people that we’d like to have.

What is the shareholding pattern in the new company?

The shareholding pattern will be clearer next week. The full picture will become clear by the middle of May. But, in terms of TV 18, while the content will be generated by us all decisions on content will be taken by the new company.

What would be the quantum of TV 18’s holding?

That decision will be taken later.

Are you looking at a foreign strategic alliance?

Well, as a company we are 34 hours old. We will take each week and each day as it comes. It’s a simple goal. We haven’t even taken any manpower on board. The only person I have hired so far is my driver from NDTV.

Will MSNBC be brought into India by your company as TV-18 also has an association with the parent company?

We are not getting (on) with MSNBC, at the moment.

What would be Sameer Manchanda’s role in the new venture?

He is directly associated with the venture and is the joint managing director. He will certainly have a major role to play. He is someone with a proven track record in finance and raising fund. More importantly, he is the kind of quality professional that hopefully we are able to create more of in our company. He will have a leadership role in creating more quality professionals.

Reports have identified that you would kick off a channel by 15 August or by Diwali. What’s your take?

Well, as I said, some time middle of May we will take a decision what we want to do. And once we have taken that decision, we will look at dates and deadlines.

You have been quoted as saying that you’d like to launch a journalistic driven channel. What exactly do you mean?

I only said that we will try and give (to the audiences) as cutting edge journalism as possible. That’s the goal. Basically, we want to create a channel where journalists provide the cutting edge and where journalism is uncompromising.

So are you saying that the likes of Aaj Tak, Zee News, Star News or NDTV are not working on these lines?

That’s a unfair question. I never said that. That’s an unfair assumption too. What I'm saying is that I think Indian viewers need a basket of choices, whether it is through better content or whether through more channels. That decision is yet to be taken. But I think the Indian viewers want more choice and we will try and provide them with choices. Ultimately, the viewers should be respected. You don’t talk down to a viewer.

Are you looking at doing business of providing content in multiple languages?

That is something we will come to know once we have taken a decision on what we want to be exactly. In a country with 15 languages, you have a lot of options. There are many Indian languages that don’t even have news channels. That’s again a niche and a vacuum that we can always look towards.

If your new venture does not materialise or proves to be as successful as you had envisaged, would you route back to NDTV?

As I have always said, NDTV in the news space is a mother ship. Over the years, it has been India’s finest news channel and it has a proven track record that professionals never leave NDTV permanently. NDTV will always have a special place in my heart. But moving on does not mean that I have abandoned NDTV.

I will say with a sense of fulfilment that after 11 years, NDTV has become India’s leading news company. When I joined NDTV there were 13 employees. Today, it has grown and employs over 1,000. In my own small way, I have contributed to that growth and I would like to believe in that. It is emotional, but that is the limited satisfaction that I still have. I will never forget what the Roys (NDTV promoter Prannoy and wife) did for me and also for journalism over the years.

Before you embark on your new innings, what is it that you would most like to do?

Spend time with my family. I’m determined to do that. I do not have to think twice as to who are my guests tonight for the next few days or few weeks, at least. I’m thinking of a May holiday. I can’t handle the heat of Delhi.

Where are you off to?

Not yet decided, but somewhere...

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