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'The advertising pie is large enough to be shared and sustain everbody' : Rajdeep Sardesai - CNN-IBN's editor-in-chief

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In a competitive market, CNN-IBN's editor-in-chief Rajdeep Sardesai believes that journalism has to be a collective enterprise. He also strongly feels that stories that are in the public interest are overlooked by and large by the media because of stiff competition, which is also reflective of lack of good editorial judgment.

May be he has an agenda. But he feels strongly about such things. Especially when he points out that TV news channels cannot be "so competitive with each other" that they overlook stories, broken by rivals, of national importance.

At CNN-IBN, a service of Time Warner and Television Eighteen, Sardesai leads a team that is a mixture of young and new faces and old guards; symbolising energy and experience. “We are trying to bring in a certain passion and joy to news and news gathering. Please come and share this experience with us. This is a journey.We are not claiming to have arrived at our final destination. We are only claiming to be a channel that is committed to news,” the print journalist-turned- a poster boy of TV news says.

In tete-?-tate with Indiantelevision.com at the sprawling and swanky office of CNN-IBN in Film City at Noida on the outskirts of Delhi, Sardesai dwells on his little-over-a-month-old baby CNN-IBN .

Excerpts:

How does it feel, if I might use a TV news euphemism, to have completed a month in the English news space?

It has gone well. But I guess you can’t judge everything now. It is a work in progress as far as we are concerned. So, everyday is a new day and a new challenge. Ultimately it is for the viewers who has to judge. From our point of view, we see this as a work in progress, which is a journey and not a final product.

As it is still in the process of evolution, where are the scopes for improvement?

I think there is a scope of improvement everywhere. Any channel wants to constantly improve. The worst thing you can do in a (news) channel is be smug or complacent. It has been a great month just in terms of big stories. But a lot still needs to be done. It is not just about breaking stories, it is also about the entire package.

I must admit that packaging is important, but ultimately it’s all about editorial content. For us, that is critical. Everything else flows from making the content as good as it can be. Still, we have to constantly improve. I won’t go into specifics, but I think the entire package has a long way to go.

What, according to you,can be improved content-wise?

I don’t think we can say that this is what we need to do or that’s what we need to do. As I said, unless you realise that there is a large scope of improvement, you will never improve. The easy and soft option for me is to say the product has been relatively well received and people more or less have come up with great positive responses. But there are lot of little things we need to keep enhancing and keep innovating. The good thing is that we are a young product.

Do you really believe in the criticism that CNN-IBN carries some baggage from NDTV, which has been your previous organization?

To answer that realistically, I think there is a format to 24 hour news channel that no one can really breakout of beyond a point. To that extent, there will always be similarities. And NDTV has been here for 10 years. I was in NDTV for 10 years. You will always look at NDTV as a benchmark for excellence.

But, at the same time, those who see us, sees us as a different product. Certain things will be similar because of the 24 hour format of news television, but there will be many things that will be different. NDTV may do a good story one day and we may put together another good story the next day. It is a constant process of evolution. I think with every passing day people are noticing the differences between us and other news channels. And, now with Times NOW coming up, I’m sure it will also have some great differentiators. The only beneficiaries out of all this will be the viewers.

What is the USP of CNN-IBN?

I think it is the four letter word called NEWS. It is simple as that.

Since other news channels also claim the same USP, what’s so unique?

It depends on how one treats the news ultimately. Our USP, or for that matter any news channel’s, can be news aired on the channel. It is a question of how you treat the news and what impact the news has and this may vary (from channel to channel). Every news channel is going to say that news is its core value. It is our core value too.

News channels will ultimately be judged on news. At times we forgot our basic purpose. We get so carried way by the new celebrity cult or gimmicks that we forget that what people actually want is news.

People turn to news channels ultimately for news. It is nice to have news-plus programmes as they give you profile. We did one with Kapil Dev and Imran khan on Loc) and got a huge response. Two former cricket World Cup captains for the first time together… all that is great for profile. But on a day-to-day basis, those are cherry on the top. But the cake has to be built by news and by journalists. We can only claim that we are a group of journalists at CNN-IBN giving you news. Rest is for the viewers to decide.

'I think, the time has come to blend the strengths of Hindi and English language journalism'

What is CNN-IBN’s target audience?

Anyone who speaks English language in this country is an audience for us. In fact, the best compliment I received recently is that we are Aaj Tak in English. What we have managed to do is achieved a certain pace and energy. Earlier you had asked for our USP, which is a certain pace that we have. One of the goals for the channel is to combine the aggression of Hindi journalism with the solidity of English. It’s like combining the aggression of a Virender Sehwag with the solidity of Rahul Dravid to produce a Sachin Tendulkar. It is important that journalists have aggression.

We receive responses from viewers on stories that traditionally would have been covered by Hindi news channels. I never understood the barriers between Hindi and English. One of my goals is to break these barriers between Hindi and English (journalism). We believe that for much too long English language journalism has been imprisoned within an elitist cage and it is time to break free. We cannot talk down to viewers anymore.

When did you realise there’s a need to break the barriers between Hindi and English language journalism?

I always believed that this has to be done. I’ve been critisised at times for that, but I believed there’s a need for robustness and passion for news, which is reflected by Hindi journalism. I have never found such passion in English language journalism by and large.

I think, the time has come to blend the strengths of Hindi and English language journalism. I m not saying that English language journalism has no strengths. What we at CNN-IBN want is to combine the advantages of Hindi and English language journalism.

I will certainly like IBN to move into the Hindi news space. No doubt about that. It is the only way forward. Though the Hindi market is an extremely competitive one, it is a way forward.

What key benefits did IBN derive from the co-branding deal with CNN?

What we get from the deal is instant credibility. That the worlds’ largest news network decides to tie-up with a fresh channel only goes to enhance our credibility. But ultimately you will be judged on your day-to-day performance.

Are the ratings for the first month good enough for you?

What more can you ask? We have the Tam ratings that states NDTV has 10 per cent (market share)and we have 8 per cent. For me, ratings will come if your product is good. We are a four-week old product. I think the first battle that has to be won is that people have to see your product as a serious news channel. I think, I would like to believe that we have gone a long way in achieving that during the first month. Still, there’s still a long way to go.

What has been the response from advertisers so far?

We do not want too many ads at the moment. We want to provide our viewers with lots of news. Eventually, we will have ads as we want to generate revenues too. A journalist-driven channel is here to make revenues and we are confident of that.

After CNN-IBN what?

Obviously one would like to grow. At the moment, we want our small space under the sun. If you have a good product, there is space. The advertising pie is large enough to be shared amongst existing players and sustain everybody.

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