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2014: The year of big movements in the news channel space

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MUMBAI: The year 2014 was an important year for the news channel industry, monetarily and otherwise. The bonus for the industry was the national election which not only kept them busy for the first half of the year, but also sent all the networks into profits for the first financial quarter. However, several changes took place on the people front with numerous big names moving out from their associated companies.

The biggest shocker that hit the industry was the acquisition of Network18 by Reliance Industries’ subsidiary Independent Media Trust, putting the entire TV18 (news channels) section under the Mukesh Ambani conglomerate. Network18 founder and chairman Raghav Bahl, this year sold his baby to Ambani for a whopping Rs 4000 crore. Bahl has now set up his own new venture in the mobile space called Quintillion Media.

What followed this was an upheaval of sorts, as one by one, the main pillars of the company began to fall. As soon as the meeting concluded between Bahl and the management of Network18, departures began which included group CEO B Sai Kumar, COO Ajay Chacko, CNN-IBN deputy editor Sagarika Ghose, IBN Network editor in chief Rajdeep Sardesai, Network18 Media CEO Sanjay Dua, Network18 digital CEO Durga Raghunath, Network 18 CFO RDS Binni Bawa and deputy foreign affairs editor Suhasini Haidar.

Soon after, the discussion circled the possibilities of news manipulation by the conglomerate as well as editorial interference started cropping up. In order to assuage the racing thoughts of the employees, the newly formed management took a town hall meeting. A new set of executives joined the company including former Zee Media CEO Alok Agrawal who took charge as Network18 group COO, Umesh Upadhyay as news director, Rohit Bansal as non executive director, Hariharan Mahadevan as CFO and Deepak Parekh and Adil Zainulbhai as independent directors.

The year also saw several people shifting loyalties due to various reasons. The biggest of them were Rajdeep Sardesai joining India Today as consulting editor and primetime anchor, Dilip Venkatraman and Savvy Venkatraman joining ITV Network as group COO of strategy and business development and group chief marketing officer respectively, former Indian Express editor in chief Shekhar Gupta moving to India Today as the vice chairman and editor in chief of news properties but within two months relinquishing his positions and becoming editorial advisor to the group and Sanjay Dua joining ITV Network as NewsX CEO and ITV network chief revenue officer.

Months after Times Television Network MD and CEO Sunil Lulla was elevated to BCCL Group president of corporate development, he quit the company to join Grey group India as chairman and managing director.  Meanwhile, Times Now, ET Now and Zoom CEO Avinash Kaul went to IBN18 Network as CEO. ITV Network elevated CEO RK Arora to group CEO and soon after Arora quit to join News Nation as its CEO, which had been vacated by Shailesh Kumar, the former CEO and editor in chief of the channel. Kumar recently joined Focus Group as the managing editor for regional channels. Neeraj Sanan who headed distribution and marketing for MCCS that operates ABP news channels, quit and went to Focus Group as group CEO.

News Xpress CEO and editor in chief Vinod Kapri decided to step down as well and was replaced by Prasoon Shukla. Early in the year, CNN-IBN managing editor Ashutosh quit to join the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and was replaced by Vinay Tewari who after several months shifted to Headlines Today as managing editor, a place left vacant by Nalin Mehta. Radhakrishnan Nair was appointed in place of Tewari.

On the business side, Bloomberg TV India editor in chief Vivek Law quit to pursue entrepreneurial activities and the position was filled by Siddharth Zarabi. Zee News resident editor Sumit Awasthi joined IBN7 as deputy managing editor. News24 managing editor Ajit Anjum joined India TV in the same capacity. QW Naqvi who joined India TV as editorial director, left after a few months’ stint.

On the international channels side, Naveen Jhunjhunwala replaced Preet Dhupar as BBC Global India COO while Ravi Agrawal was appointed as CNN International bureau chief for India. Bhupendra Chaubey who became executive editor of CNN-IBN, post takeover by Reliance, decided to shift his role to consulting editor. The year also saw the demise of veteran journalist Jehangir Pocha.

The News Broadcasters Association (NBA) has been fighting tooth and nail for keeping news broadcasters out of the 12 minute ad cap. The case is still being heard in the High Court for more than a year. NDTV executive vice chairperson KVL Narayan Rao, after four years of heading the NBA as president was succeeded by India TV chairman and editor in chief Rajat Sharma. A new entity called the All India News Broadcasters Association (AINBA) was formed for the regional news channels with Azad News chairman MS Walia as its chairman.

The other big takeover rumour that was making rounds was about the Adani group trying to stake claim in NDTV (which completed 25 years) which the company vehemently stated as a false one.

The year also saw a few channel launches such as CNBC Bajar, News Nation UP/Uttarakhand, several regional news channels under the ETV group (now under Network18), Zee Purvaiya and Zee Kalinga which have now been converted into fully entertainment as against the earlier format of 50 per cent news and 50 per cent entertainment.

2014 was also the year of revamps, with India TV, IBN7, NewsX, News Xpress and Zee News changing the look and feel of the channel. NDTV Profit converted into a dual channel NDTV Profit/Prime, with Prime operating as a fully sponsored channel, aimed at easing out the losses being made by Profit over the years.

The 16th Lok Sabha general election added the much needed boost to the balance sheets of news channels that have been cribbing about high carriage fees, low subscription fees and advertising rates. CNN-IBN and Times Now came up with their election apps. The latter also tied up with north east channel News Live for poll coverage. Network18 tied up with Microsoft to set up an analytics centre for the elections while BBC used WhatsApp and WeChat for getting more traction from Indian audiences. This election season saw a new trend: that of editors moving out of the comfort zone of their studio and reporting from ground zero.

As we approach the new year, burning issues are yet to be resolved such as the ad cap, carriage fees, paid news as well as foreign direct investment in news channels which is still stuck at 26 per cent and does not seem to have a better future any time soon.

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