Digital is the new frontier, says Bloomberg’s Parry Ravindranathan

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Mumbai: Having announced a partnership for a digital platform, events and a TV channel with Raghav Bahl owned Quintillion Media, Parry Ravindranathan, managing director—International, Bloomberg Media Group, spoke about the decision to invest in the joint venture and the opportunities in this market. Edited excerpts:

This is your second attempt to create a meaningful presence in this market. The first – as Bloomberg business news channel with Reliance Capital and others — didn’t pan out as expected. What makes you optimistic about this joint venture?

I don’t want to put it that way. I think we have had great experiences with the previous partnership and there were some great learnings, for us as well as our partners. It was a partnership that lasted for seven years, and if something lasts for seven years, you don’t call it a failure. We chose to go in different directions and take different paths, that’s all. I have known Raghav for 10 years, he was my first boss. And not just me, but all the way up to Mike Bloomberg, Justin Smith (Bloomberg Media CEO) and John Micklethwait, Bloomberg editor-in-chief, all of us in every way believe that Raghav has scaled up businesses like no one has ever before. And this is where it gets really crucial — the editorial values, the aesthetics and production value and quality sense that we deeply admire, we are exactly the same. It’s not just about, Raghav did CNBC, let’s just follow suit. He innovated the last time round and actually created this genre in television. These products are successful because of their editorial DNA and it is their DNA that sets them apart from anyone else.

Anything you will do things differently this time round?

To begin with, the biggest change is that we are actually investing in this. The other thing we have realized is that we can no longer have just a TV play, or a one platform play, in a market of India’s size and potential. Digital is a new frontier for us. We are a very closed network company; for us to be able to trust the brand and the partner and go with digital is a fairly big deal.

In a market where business news has really struggled to create value, where do you see the opportunity?

If you look every television network, the way I see it, nothing has changed in the last 20 years. Ten years ago, all the shows I was producing still exist, in exactly the same format. And it is no one’s fault. That is how television channels mature. But I think there is a space to experiment and try new things, but no one is willing to try new things for the fear of failure. There was a template that Raghav created and everyone has been following that template for about two decades now. It’s time for us to create a new template. Media evolves, we have seen this everywhere in the world, you try new things and people embrace it. Look at Mint, it entered the market and disrupted the newspaper space. It has to evolve.

Will there be a representative from Bloomberg on the leadership team? Who will control the editorial decisions?

We have Harsha Subramaniam (Bloomberg executive producer looking after Bloomberg TV for the last five years) who, apart from being a close friend, used to be in TV18 and knows Raghav very well. And has admirably looked after our partnership, and will be on the leadership team working with Menaka (Doshi) and Raghav. It is a partnership; when we look at designing our studios, we will be working together. As far as day-to-day editorial calls are concerned — no, we will not be getting involved in that. You cannot run a newsroom by consensus. Raghav doesn’t need any lesson there. It’s a smooth process, we have templates for it all over the world.

Will digital be at the heart of this project?

There is no doubt (that digital will be at the heart of this joint venture) Raghav will remember, the first conversation we had was about digital. We are a digital-first media company, in every which way. All the products you see in the market today are television first; this will be digital first. Again, we will have to see how the product actually plays out. But we believe that the business-consuming audiences first get their alert, and the first brush with business and financial news, on their handset. Which means that you then have to recraft this whole DNA of being digital first, and that will be the first differentiator amongst all the other players. This will have a profound impact on how we get news, how we do TV, etc. When it comes to television, you can always debate that this company is number one in this market and number two in another. But when it comes to digital, and you can look up all the facts, we are by far the largest in this space. We are the innovators in the digital video space, we bring our best practices and Raghav’s deep knowledge of creating great digital products in India, I think it’s a powerful combination.

What will be the growth drivers here in this market?

The two markets that you can never ignore in Asia are India and China. China is a much more difficult market for a media player, but India is, after that by far the largest. India figures right on top. We just celebrated 20 years in India. Most people don’t realise that machine has been functioning for last two decades. It was always hidden and now we are out in the open market and with Raghav, we will be out in the open market even more.