"We believe there is a market for a business channel programmed in the Hindi language" : Haresh Chawla CNBC-TV18 CEO

“I think it is an understanding of the space we have gained,” CNBC-TV18 CEO Haresh Chawla reflects on the current scenario with the authority of someone who has turned the channel’s teething troubles on their heads and spearheaded it for the last four years to establish the business channel as a habit for its niche but loyal and well-defined audience.

An IIT Mumbai and IIM Calcutta alumnus, Chawla joined CNBC India in December 1999 as CEO after a successful stint with the Times of India group where he headed its music division - Times Music. Four years down the line, he is reaping the rewards he has earned.

While last month the channel he heads walked away with the Best Business Programme of the year award for Storyboard at The Indian Telly Awards 2003, this month it is celebrating its birthday. The business channel turned four on Monday, 8 December 2003.

Under his leadership, CNBC-TV18 has come a long way in a relatively short time. In these four years, the channel managed to overcome teething troubles of distribution and marketing, achieved break-even last year and is now on a roll.

The no pretentions guy, Haresh Chawla speaks to's Richa Singh about the channel's journey so far and where it's headed.

CNBC-TV18 turns four on Monday, 8 December 2003. What has the journey been like so far and looking forward what do you see?

It has been an exhilarating journey for all of us. We are now about 350 people working on the channel and it is a very young and energetic team and I guess we've had several challenges and options along the way.

As to where we have reached today, the channel is influential, popular and it is making a difference to our viewers. Finally, the way CNBC is positioned, it is a purposive channel - people come to it for purposeful information and we are meeting our viewers' needs.

You started on rough ground and you have come so far. What changes have come in the last two years?

Over a period of time, we have been listening to our viewers. We have a very loyal base of viewers who interact with us not as viewers but as users of our service. So, listening to our users, we made changes on the channel.

The channel has become much more broad based, covers many more things apart from just the markets so that it is not just the face of the markets, it has become the face of what's happening in the world of business. So, it's not a business channel, it's a channel for the business people. It talks about not just how to earn money but also how to spend money, what are the latest trends in the market place, what the competition is doing, what are the latest trends across business whether its in advertising & marketing, in entertainment, in fashion - whether it's covering Cannes or AdAsia. We are essentially replicating the entire business environment in the country today.

You've had a lot of event driven programming. Do you think this is a sustainable trend that will be a key viewership driver?

All our events are directly connected to our programming. There's a CNBC-Autocar Awards, which is integral to our entire auto strategy. The Mutual Fund Awards are again closely linked to our coverage of the equity and debt industry and investments. These events are deeply rooted in our editorial focus and they provide an excellent platform for exchange of views and for television. So there is no conflict in the way we approach these things.


"Event driven programmes are deeply rooted in our editorial focus and they provide an excellent platform for exchange of views"

In the last few months, a number of new feature shows have been added to the CNBC-TV18 kitty, for instance, The Auto Show in June. Then a few shows have been revamped. Are there any new programming initiatives that you are looking at?

We continue to increase the width of our programming. Programmes like The Auto Show or Lessons in Excellence or The Good Health Show are not strictly business shows. They do cover what is happening in business but are essentially based on audience needs. Our audience is fairly intellectual and they have the need to know what's happening around the world. A CNBC viewer has a certain minimum level of income before he comes to watch our channel. He is in the market to probably buy a vehicle and therefore there's an auto show. A person who has very strong career aspirations and therefore ther's a Lesson in Excellence for him. If we believe there's a need for people to know about what is happening in the career landscape, we will launch it tomorrow. So that's how we do our programming.

We have launched two new initiatives this year. One is the second season of Lessons in Excellencewhich features Dr Jagdish Seth and is based on his book Rule of Three, which is about how markets evolve. The other is a B-school challenge called Trial By Fire, which tries to find out which B-school student is best prepared to become a leader or manager tomorrow. The next round of fresh programming will come in March. So, we will be speaking to you again about them.

So, you are giving a platform to business students?

Yes, this was one part of the community we had not addressed in the last two years. So we will look at it very deeply in the coming days.

"Business is not niche. It's the business coverage that has been niche and that is what we are about to change"

You have a niche and relatively well defined audience. How do you expand your base?

Niche channel would be a misnomer so to speak. If you look at our numbers, our TV viewing is not strictly captured for two reasons - one is that a large part of it is out of home viewing (OOH). Secondly and more importantly, everywhere in the world we face the same problem. That the CNBC viewer is likely to be elusive to the people-meter - not likely to be captured. Even then, you can see that our channel share and our viewership profiles are fairly large - people from all walks of life come in.

Business is not niche. Everybody is engaged in building careers, in managing money - in making it or saving it or spending it. So, the challenge for us is to expand our coverage to meet their needs.

It's the business coverage that has been niche and that is what we are about to change, which is why you see us adding Hindi programming or airing Classroom. We are trying to engage a larger set of people.

Also, the fundamental difference between us and any other channel is that for the advertiser what is important is not the size of our audience but the relationship we have with our audience. The advertiser is slowly appreciating that relationship. Our audience comes to us because they have a need which we are fulfilling. So, interaction with our channel is not casual - it is serious and it's with a purpose. You can snack in and snack out of other channels but you watch CNBC for a purpose.

" We tend to become a habit"

Zee has been planning a business channel for the past six months and in the future, you wouldn't be the sole business channel.

I'm not saying we wouldn't see competition but we have a certain USP that will hold us in good stead as competition comes in. One is that CNBC is the global leader with over 90 per cent market share in business television. Then, we have been around for four years. We tend to become a habit. Our own research indicates that once a viewer comes on to CNBC, the time he spends with the channel increases dramatically as the relationship develops. So clearly, there is something right we are doing on the programming front.

Finally, I think it is an understanding of the space we have gained. I wouldn't say that we will not have challenges but we are fairly prepared and you will not find us complacent at all. In fact, we have already increased our Hindi programming coverage. Our channel share and time spent are higher than the monopoly English channels in India. The audience that is intellectual, influential and has spending power is watching CNBC today much more than they watch general news. Their viewership of general news is fragmented not purposeful. During elections, it may be but for the rest of the year, it is not.

"Our channel share and time spent are higher than the monopoly English channels in India. The audience that is intellectual, influential and has spending power is watching CNBC today much more than they watch general news."

A new Hindi business channel and an infotainment channel targeted at NRIs, we have heard, are on the anvil.

We have contemplated both of these at one point or another in the past couple of years. We have been evaluating our position on this service but we cannot make any formal announcement at this point of time as no concrete plans have been frozen in this regard and we have no specifics to announce.

In an earlier interview to, you had said "English is integral to communication throughout corporate India." So what's the raison-d-etre for the new Hindi business channel? How are you planning to position the channel?

We cannot discuss any details of the plan as of now but we believe there is a market for a business channel programmed in the Hindi language. We have started considerable work in Hindi on our own service. Whether to start a separate Hindi service or to increase Hindi programming on our channel is a decision we are considering. Even then, we had Hindi or bilingual programmes. Now, all we have done is increase it.

Whatever we are doing is a reflection of what is happening in the economy. As any FMCG or advertiser will tell you, a large part of the market focus has shifted to the second rung of towns and semi-urban locations. People there are progressing economically. Their means of information and awareness are increasing. So, it is not a question of when we will do it. It is not so much a question of when does it become viable as in when does that need arise.

CNBC is a channel driven by the needs of its users. A large part of the country is now entering mainstream. The consumer has choices today. They are buying equity and mutual funds. They have gone away from their usual modes of savings. Look at the fundamentals - yesterday they were getting 12-13 per cent interest which is now 5-6 per cent. These are people who have to make investment decisions now - they are buying cars, refrigerators, several things. And since their means of information and awareness are building up, now is the time to move in and do something on that front.

What is the time-wise break-up between English and Hindi as of now? Will that time distribution hold after the Hindi channel debuts?

It is close to 4-5 hours a day. But it is not strictly Hindi - a large part of our programming is bilingual.

At this point, it is very difficult to say whether the time distribution will hold later because it will be determined by the needs of our audience with whom we have a relationship. Our job becomes easy in a way as we get direct feedback from our audience. So, our programming really depends on what our audience wants.

"We are very lucky that we have a thousand reporters between Dow Jones and the CNBC network at our command"

With quite a few existing networks planning business channels, do you think the market can support so many?

We believe that the viewer will be able to have more than one view. Beyond that, all depends on the credibility and focus of the players. Finally it is a decision that the consumer will take. It's not the same as a news service, which the consumer is watching for keeping himself aware. On the other hand, he is watching a business channel to help him make decisions. So if you are looking for information that can be put to use, it makes a lot of difference as to what effort that player has made in getting that information. We cannot afford to make errors after gaining an understanding of the space that we have.

And you have been enjoying that space unchallenged for quite some time.

Yes, we have enjoyed that space unchallenged globally. One thing that is unique about a business service is that it requires global expertise for global coverage. Events that happen elsewhere affect business and investment decisions taken here. To have a purely domestic business service would be a challenge because you need global inputs. We are very lucky that we have a thousand reporters between Dow Jones and the CNBC network at our command.

"We grossed ad revenues of over Rs 290 million last year. We expect ad revenues to be upwards of Rs 360 million this year "

How are you positioned today as far as inventory usage is concerned?

The inventory utilization in the day belt, which is focused on the stock markets, has gone up 300 per cent in the last three months and the traditionally strong evening and weekend belts have shown significant increase as well. The 'day time markets belt', is today the second prime time belt on the channel and this 'additional prime inventory' has given us a unique leverage to accommodate many more brands in prime time.

In the last four months, the channel has managed to attract about 120 brands, which translates into a 25 per cent increase from the average number of advertisers over the last four quarters. Also, we are increasing our rates in the market.

Further, the channel now has a ticker playing through the advertising breaks during the live market hours between 9 am and 3 pm so that viewers have access to live information even during ad breaks. This spells good news for the advertiser as well as the viewership is retained even during ad breaks.

"We are increasing our rates in the market"

How has 2003 been so far as far as ad revenues are concerned? Rs 230 million is what we understand are your ad revenues for 2003? Is that correct?

We grossed ad revenues of over Rs 290 million last year and have shown a very healthy growth rate this year. We expect ad revenues to be upwards of Rs 360 million this year.

What's the equation between TV 18 and CNBC - in terms of involvement in content, management - now that TV18 owns almost 90 per cent stake in CNBC-TV18 since August?

There are two relationships in place - one is the brand and license relationship, which is continuing, and the other is our equity relationship. We source global content from CNBC, we do take learnings from there and we have their experience and expertise. In management, there is no involvement and never was.

And how is your equation with the Turner group?

We are quite happy with the present arrangement. They are excellent distributors of our product.

Now that CAS has suddenly been brought back as a factor in the distribution game, where does CNBC stand on the subject? The experience thus far in Chennai cannot have been very encouraging for any of the pay broadcasters?

The experience in Chennai is not necessarily reflective of what would happen nationally as there are a number of uncertainties and competing agendas in that market. We are currently in a wait and watch mode vis-a-vis CAS.

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