'Our competitor is the number one player in the pink daily space' : B Sai Kumar - TV18 Media Network CEO

Television Eighteen has been on the acquisition mode for a while now to create more revenue opportunities for its shareholders. After creating a new division for marketing and ad sales TV18 Media Network, its CEO B Sai Kumar has chalked out a strategy, which is to emphasise on all the TV18 products in terms of delivering value to shareholders.

Sai Kumar is trying to position the TV18 brands in such a manner that they will continue to achieve consistent and profitable growth. TV18 Media Network has also conceptualized 'CNBC Universe' for such concerted activities for various products.

In a free wheeling conversation with's Manisha Bhattacharjee, Sai Kumar speaks of the TV18 brands, and how they will make a measurable contribution to earnings.


Why has TV18 created an umbrella brand called CNBC Universe?

It has been named so to denote all brands that the group controls. Through products and brands like, which is the second best portal globally,,, CNBCTV18, Awaaz and the mobile service of 2626, we are telling people that TV18 is an integrated business platform for advertisers and viewers.

It helps us demonstrate the power of the CNBC Universe platform and shows a tangible integration of different media offerings. It is also about reaching out to multiple communities --- from retail investors to foreign institutional investors and even company managements. CNBC Universe is about how much more you can dominate in the business space.

With the kind of growth our network has seen, the challenge is now to do justice to individual products, individual streams. If you look at the television part of the business, I am extremely kicked about the prospectus of CNBC Awaaz as we have touched operating break even. Of all the elements of CNBC Universe, CNBC Awaaz is the joker in the pack. On the revenue side I see at least 100 per cent growth for the quarter.

Why do you say the business space is all about influence and not as much as viewership delivery?

For me, if today CNBC Universe is a Rs 150-160 crore brand, you can only go out and make it Rs 250-300 crore brand. This despite the money that's getting into print medium. That increasingly is going to be very, very big. So, one of the big reasons for pushing CNBC Universe is to leverage a strong position across television and internet.

Are you indicating that despite being in the television space, your main competitor is the print medium, pink dailies to be precise?

Anybody could be your competitor. But if you were to prioritise our efforts at CNBC Universe, it has got to be seriously looking at the pink dailies and the number one player in that segment. Also, from where such dailies get revenues. Indeed, our biggest competitor is the leader in the pink space.

Has TV18 started working with TAM to address the out of home viewers?

We have to live by the rules of the game. It is not much of a concern as every advertiser knows that there is a premium to CNBC TV18 as there is some amount of factoring is happening in the minds of the buyers and the clients.

Have you identified the strong holds of the pink papers in order to wean away advertisers and clients?

We are going to advertisers and saying that CNBC Universe or CNBC TV18 is country's largest business medium and not just a business brand. So we are actually telling them that it is not about print vs television. It is about which is the largest medium today. Beyond a point we cannot change people. For instance, it is very tough for advertising relating to obituaries coming to CNBC TV18.

'CNBC Universe is the country's largest business medium and not just a business brand'

What's happening on the global front?

Of course we are addressing that also. Today we tell our clients that as part of CNBC Universe, we offer you CNBC global, which is present across 89 markets. If you are an advertisers and your TG is broadly people who spend money or are investors or CEOs, or analyst, then come to the CNBC Universe.

What's the reason behind TV18 initiating a restructuring in its marketing and ad sales set up?

The media market is a cowboy's game where structures didn't exist. We have put a structure of people clearly with a mind to consolidate television revenues business. We have grown almost perpendicular in terms of revenues and for now we need strong leaders to manage these revenues. So, on the television side of the business we have Raj Kamath to oversee inventory sales for the entire TV18 Network. Sanjay Dua will be responsible for advertising sales for the IBN Network - which includes CNN-IBN, IBN-7 and Anil Uniyal has been named as the sales head of the CNBC Universe.

I will continue to oversee CNBC Focus which is our non-inventory solution cell that reports into Anil, but he will still report into me as I am still involved in that part of the business. And I continue to be involved in the internet side of the business.

Web18, which comprises,,, and, will be handled by an independent team working on this. We already have a 12-member team in place with Raghavan Srinivasa handling internet sales.

What is the kind of growth the internet business has seen over the last quarter?

We have seen growth that is almost close to 120 per cent quarter on quarter. That's not saying much as it can grow further. The medium per se is growing. It does not mean that we are not doing a great job. For us now it is not only about joint sales with television but independently growing the Internet side of the business too.

How are you pushing your online properties --- content or packaging?

Just as we have done on television with a lot of tailor made solutions, we intend to proceed with the same on the net. We have opened up with live stream, canned stream, running television ads, (like MSN TV), but we do not give it free. It is an independent sales team handling it. As far as goes, we already have 65,000 subscribers, that's another line of revenue on internet paying us an average of Rs 150 per month.

So are you indicating that it is content that drives ad sales and marketing activities?

If you look at TV18, our biggest asset has been content. It is content lead. Ad sales are all about how you leverage content and not influence your content. For example, if I have a CEO interview, I just don't put a banner. If you brand that CEO interview and go to a B2B player, like a Sun Microsystems, and get it to host an online interview with other CEOs, then that's adding value and going beyond banner sales. The new mantra in the group is to add value for customers.

Our biggest challenge is to do justice to individual brands in the TV18 stable. We had to work out a structure by which these brands get adequate attention and well lead by clearly thought-out strategies. So, each of these professionals have the mandate to take business decisions independently.

What kind of network solutions are you providing for your clients?

Everybody wants network solutions, the moment you manage more than one channel everybody wants discounts. We have individual teams who go and talk to the clients about the attributes of the brands. We ensure that the channel for example; IBN 7 is taken on its own merit and independently on its plan. Not because he is getting five per cent discount on CNN-IBN. We don't go and say that CNN-IBN is established, which cost you Rs 100, but you will get it for Rs 90 if you take IBN7 also. That does not happen with us.

Are you saying that the network does not indulge in combo deal?

We do any kind of sweetening of the deal if we have a giant share of the news pie. For example: if the client has Rs 100 to spend on the news genre and if I am getting Rs 75, we are ready to sweeten it, otherwise not. We do not sweeten the deal because the client has taken all the four channels. There are some grids in place where, if you take all four channels, you may get some per cent off, but that's like any rate card. But anything over and above depends upon how much you are dominating the plan, vis-?-vis other news networks.

Which product in the CNBC Universe needs pushing?

The best thing about TV18 is that it is not even close to peaking. The biggest fear any person would have who is responsible for revenues is to think of the way forward. But at TV18, almost all our products are on the growth curve. For example, IB7 can only go up from where it is. It is a new product and it can only go up from where it is and I can see growth in revenues. and the ones we have acquired or are just getting acquired are attracting traction in the market place.

The market place has started embracing the internet only recently, so it can only grow. CNN-IBN had an excellent launch, but no way close to the peak. That's why my question is: what is NDTV going to do next as they have already touched between Rs 90 crores to Rs 105 crores with NDTV 24x7. For CNN-IBN, it is only going to be 100 per cent growth over the next one year.

Well, that's because CNN-IBN's base is small?

No. The base isn't that small. We have already achieved operating break even with CNN-IBN business. At any point in time, while we are creating new strategies, they push down our products leaving room enough for growth. TV18 is creating potential for generating more revenues streams.

For example, I would be extremely concerned if I was running Star Plus. What do you do next when you have already achieved Rs 1,500 crores. Last year, I did Rs 150 crores and there are expectations the entire network may touch Rs 250-Rs 260 crores.

TV18 has been very aggressive on the acquisition front, especially in the online space? Are you looking at converting any of your online properties that will be largely leady by subscription?

At this stage it is too early to speak much about it. But we are contemplating creating a portion of for subscription opportunities, but it is too early to speak about the plans. may look at starting advertising sales once it gets established and the placement revenues kick in. But, subscription for the rest of the online properties, it is too early to say anything.

You are now the TV18 Media Network CEO, besides overseeing the sales aspects of TV18 properties, are you looking at venturing into commission business?

TV18's philosophy is to own IPRs. We will sell what we will own, unlike our competitors who get into the ad sales model. For example: If we make Moneycontrol a 20 crore or 40 crore story, we need to own it. There's no point in making it a 20 crore (story) for somebody else to own. We are into building long term brands, which add value to the shareholders. If I do sales for 'A' product, the brand is built and the shareholder of that product gets to reap the benefits.

TV18 has moved from a production house to a broadcast house, why? Because we wanted to own our content. In the production space you are selling your content and getting dwindling margins. But in the broadcast space, you own every piece of news that's going up and this is monetizable and encashable in various forms.

We are into brand building, product building and business building. We are not into selling. TV18 is an integrated company.

What does CNBC Universe mean to the advertisers?

Purely from the editorial side, it is leveraging through the multiple media platforms. From clients' point of view, he is exposed to non-inventory solutions to our events division; we do around 140 to 150 events a year. We can get the elusive and the affluent audiences on to CNBC TV18, tell my editors, 'Dominate the minds of the viewers'. The same thing I tell my advertisers, 'Come here. It is one stop shop where you can catch every investor, business user, decision maker in the country'.

Whether they are sitting in the car, or they are money controlling in their office, or they are at home watching CNBC. That is what an advertiser wants to do, he wants to catch the same guy in multiple locations and enter their mind space. If you can't catch him anywhere, you can catch him at the CEO cocktails at The Oberoi through CNBC events.

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