Times Now will be globally 'regional', non-mirror HD by next quarter

MUMBAI: Success does not end at leadership, it begins!

With an aim to create value and make a difference, he is a man on a mission. He quit News X in November 2016 to fill the the big shoes of Arnab Goswami. Known to be an insightful, incisive journalist, Rahul Shivshankar joined Times Now on 15 December as the chief editor, coming back after six years. In his second stint, Shivshankar has a clear strategy in place for growth and expansion of the undisputed leader in the English News space, Times Now.

Leading a channel that has already set a high benchmark is not an easy task. And, he seems to be doing a fairly decent role as Goswami's replacement.

Right after rebranding its real estate channel Magicbricks Now to Mirror Now, Times Network is all geared up to launch the HD feed of Times Now by the next quarter (Q2). In an exclusive interview with after his appointment, Shivshankar shares his experience after joining the network, his game plan with Times Now, its programming, morning time slot, anchors, Mirror Now, the network's digital properties, launch of Republic TV, etc.

Edited excerpts:

It’s been four months since your appointment in Times Now. Was it difficult to fill Goswami’s shoes? How has been the response both, editorially, and from the industry?

I have done this for two other channels. I think, for me, it was, in one sense, working with a lot of familiar faces. I have worked in two other newsrooms also in a very senior position and ran them. So, I have great experience in carrying things around. I am a team player by nature. This new role was not discomforting.

What initiatives have you worked on with MK Anand? Remonetise India being one of them.

At a strategy level we have been discussing a lot of things. Some of them are already on air now -- Mirror Now, for instance. Times Now is going HD very soon. It will not be a mirror of the SD version. Times Now HD will have diffferent programming. All the backend is ready. It is all a matter of plugging in and playing. 

There is going to be a much differentiated Times Now. The channel is going to evolve into a hydra-headed entity. This will not just redefine the way you are looking, it is about redefining content. Times Now is spread across 100 countries. We are going to use our HD technology to variegate content. So, for different markets you will have different content. Times Now will become a multiple platform.

When I joined, I saw that we were interested in only one Times Now which we have been pushing and defending for 12 years. All these years, we had not done anything different. Success does not end at leadership, it begins. The journey to innovation comes after you become a leader. The previous dispensation was in some ways complacent.

Here is an opportunity for a brand that you can differentiate in so many ways. You can make so much value. So much capital and content is locked up.

We want to go globally regional with the channel. We will have different types of Times Now. Maybe we will do an Asia feed which will have content about Asia or an America or Europe feed. We will become a truly global news entity. We will curate content for different markets. Even with Times Now regionally, we might have a regional feed competing in Karnataka with the local channels. There are a lot of things that we have planned.

Who is the channel competing with?

We are competing with ourselves, to better ourselves. The platform that I want to create out of the start that I have inherited is one that put facts right in the center. A lot of people say that facts are for Wikipedia, its plain vanilla. When people say this, they are doing a disservice to journalism. They are doing disservice to the viewers. Are people trying to say facts are incidental of people’s rights? Do they not need to be informed about facts? After that, you can take informed decisions. But, fact is the soul of journalism.

If you see the show I present, I try at nightly basis to put facts out there because I do not want to take my viewers for granted. I don’t believe that the viewer should be treated with contempt. What is this -- if you want facts, then look at Wikipedia? It’s contemptuous, professional hubris.

There are entertainment channels out there that have no regard for facts. There are the Kapil Sharmas of the world, they are also very successful. But, if your business model is based on a psyche of infotainment quotient, that is also there. It has viewers.

We are very clear. Times Now will put the facts first.

How has been the recovery of your revenues post demonetisation in the last three months?

It’s looking very good. GEC has started to recover a lot of money from the market. The market is coming back. I think we have to focus on remonetising India. That is what we did. We were quick to understand that this was a short-term pain, and a long-term gain.

We realised that whether you like it or not, this is a move people will have to stick to for a while because we have created this problem ourselves. Corruption is not created by vacuum. It’s created by stakeholders. We had to pay the price, and we did.

What about ‘The Newshour’? Is it doing well? Do you plan to change the format? I believe the viewership has declined after Goswami’s exit.

A certain number of viewers who wanted a particular type of narrative have left. But, the channel’s leadership is there. We are getting 40 per cent share every day on The Newshour. How much more can we aspire for?

I think it is important to give value. And I think when there is a change in the way you are presenting things, when you are moving from one paradigm to another, this will happen. We are adding viewers also. I don’t think 229 per cent higher from any other channel was our leadership on the counting day. Never in the history of Times Now have we had this viewership. I think people re incidental to news.

So, there was a period of change when people were expecting certain things from a particular slot. Obviously that has changed but, the aggression has not. The advocacy has not. We continue to strongly advocate people’s issues.

Times Now also plans to start a morning band. What is the programming strategy? How will you attract viewers to your channel with the existing  competition in the industry?

I cannot talk about it. The moment I use the word “differentiator”, you will be able to piece together our strategy. This is at a tactical level. We have got a very paradigm altering plan for the mornings. It’s going to redefine news TV.

Will you strengthen your faces on the channel? Will it be about face or news?

Yes. We will strengthen the faces on Times Now. My predecessors were very focused on one individual. I think that is not how it should be. I believe networks should be built around many people, and we should all share value. In no other country in the world will you have a photograph of one person plastered in six places across the screen. You look at Aaj Tak, you don’t even see the anchors. You look at international channels, there are several anchors with different styles and different hours and are equally successful.

I think it is very important to acknowledge the contribution of several other people. I believe in rewarding people who have done fantastically well. It’s high time we repaid the people who supported us. They are very talented. Without their hard work, you will not have any brand. So the time has come to recognise them.

You have rebranded MagicBricks Now to Mirror Now. What was the reason?

I think there was a demand for a product which was at some level more variegated in content. The start we made with Magicbricks was a good one. But, the response we were getting to the 4-6 hours that we were putting out was so overwhelming that we realised that under the rubric our realty, property, etc, there were many issues that people face -- such as civic issues. And, nothing exists in isolation. We wanted to acknowledge these other realities, and therefore we wanted to go 24 hours. The response is huge.

People wanted us to take up issues which were limited to the logo and branding. We could not justify that.

So, what is the programming like? Will it also have a celebrity component as its print segment, Mumbai Mirror which is famous for its Bollywood content? Will the print and TV journalists work together?

Those are things that are coming up, but there is crime -- for instance. The programming is premature. There are a lot of things we might inhibit and lot more where we might want to expand. So, I don’t want to deceive anyone. Everything and anything that touches the heart of the city goes into Mirror. It’s a very simple equation.

Yes, the print and TV journalists are working together because we have great synergy across. We have so many different platforms and stories from everywhere. And, Mumbai Mirror does some fantastic work. We will be partnering those different levels.

How do you see things changing once Arnab launches his channel?

It is good to have competition in the industry. The more the merrier.

Your social media followers are less than that of Republic TV. You are lagging there. How do you plan to leverage it further?

We will figure that out as we go along.

What about your websites? How do you plan to manage your digital sites with India Times and Republic giving you a strong competition there?

We are big on all digital platforms, and are working on our digital strategy.

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