MEDIA WATCH

Decoding the fuss over Arnab Goswami's Republic TV

Republic TV will have to go beyond the Arnab Goswami advantage if it wants to break even and make money.

SA Hariharan of Thanthi TV was one of Tamil news television’s star anchors. When he was offered a job at Arnab Goswami’s much-talked-about and yet-to-be-launched Republic TV, an English news channel, he was hesitant because of his Tamil accent. But Goswami was insistent because “we want journalists from all over the country, not just Mumbai and Delhi.”

“Republic TV is about the emergence of a new generation of content creators,” he said. It is a point the co-founder and editor-in-chief of Republic TV emphasises while talking about how the channel will be different.

It will need to be if it is to make a dent in the Rs 3,500-crore, hyper-competitive Indian news broadcasting market. Republic TV, which will be launched by ARG Outlier Media sometime over the next four-five weeks, will join over 390-odd news channels broadcasting in India, the world’s most overserved news market. The digital brand, Republic World (website and mobile app), will be launched concurrently, said Chief Executive Officer Vikas Khanchandani.

Race to the top

To start with, the free-to-air channel will target India’s 180 million TV homes. There are, however, plans to take it across the world – to the West Asia, the UK and the US, among other countries. The company has already hired 300 people, of whom 215 are on board. A state-of-the-art-studio is being built in Mumbai’s Lower Parel area.

According to the estimates, the company has raised Rs 150- Rs 200 crore from a bunch of big and small investors (Goswami retains majority control, according to company sources). A senior news broadcasting person estimates Republic TV’s capital cost at Rs 50-75 crore and operating costs in the first year at Rs 50-60 crore.

Analysts reckon that Republic TV has to hit the top spot in the shortest possible time if it has to make a dent in the ad market and break even. Typically, the top two channels in a genre make money; the number three just about survives. This then raises three questions about Republic TV’s ability to crack the Indian news broadcasting market.

Challenges ahead

One is distribution.“If Republic TV gets its distribution right, it has every chance of becoming number one,” says the head of a TV research firm. It costs anywhere between Rs 25 crore-Rs 35 crore a year to get cable companies to carry a channel across India. DD’s Freedish, India’s largest DTH service, charges a minimum price of Rs 4.3 crore to carry a news channel. Each of the private DTH operators charges Rs 3.5 crore. Add it all up and “there is no way their carriage fee will be less than Rs 30-40 crore,” said the former CEO of a news broadcasting firm.

Those costs dampen most networks, which have several channels and, therefore, better negotiating power. For a standalone channel, they can be killing. Khanchandani refuses to share details on which operators have signed on. All he says is that the firm is in talks with everybody. “If we had a network, distribution would have been easier but it is not impossible because there is a big void in the market,” he said.

The second question then is of the market opportunity. English news is a tiny proportion of the news TV Indians watch. It reached an average of four million people every day, compared to 117 million people that Hindi news reached in 2016, going by the Broadcast Audience Research Council data. Advertisers spent an estimated Rs 700 crore reaching those four million people. This tiny market already has 10 serious players, with Times Now, CNBC-News18 and India Today TV in the lead (See charts). Here too, “like in any genre, it is a question of content,” said Shailesh Kapoor, CEO, Ormax Media, a consulting firm.

Source: BARC, India. Note: TG1: All India, 4+.
Source: BARC, India. Note: TG1: All India, 4+.
Source: BARC, India. Note: TG1-Percentage calculates on the basis of impressions garnered.
Source: BARC, India. Note: TG1-Percentage calculates on the basis of impressions garnered.

The difference that Republic brings is Goswami and his blustering style, which has a fan following that gave Times Now its numero uno status. “People like my journalism,” said Goswami. “There is a want/desire for this kind of news.”

“I don’t agree that media is a challenged industry if you look at the viewership we got at Times Now,” he added. “The channel made 20%-25% (earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortisation) and ad rates were 50%-60% of the Indian Premier League.”

It is true that Times Now ruled the English market in viewership and revenues, thanks in large measure to Goswami. But it is part of the Times Group, one of India’s largest media firms. Its network (Zoom, ET Now, Movies Now, etc) and distribution and marketing strength made Goswami as much as Goswami made the channel. Note that Times Now continues to be the number one English news channel. It seems then that the company has weathered the storm of losing its star anchor.

That brings in the third question around Republic TV. Isn’t it too dependant on Goswami? “Yes, Arnab is larger than life,” said Khanchandani. “Republic TV is leveraging on Arnab to start with. But eventually content, anchors, format everything will get built up. We will have to work hard to build the brand. But the star will always be Arnab.”

He points out that without spending too much money, the channel has got huge amount of publicity purely on the back of Goswami’s equity. “Arnab has travelled for events to Chennai, Bengaluru, Jaipur, Mumbai, etc. The buzz is overwhelming,” said Khanchandani. “He has a cult following with youngsters, even the ones who are not into news follow him.” That will be a lever with advertisers who are obsessed with the young. At the under-25 convention in Bengaluru this January, Goswami got a demi-god like reaction.

Going by the empirical evidence, news channels take four-five years to break even. How much time Republic TV has depends on the tolerance of its investors, said another analyst. If it was private equity investors, with a mandate to exit in four-five years, the pressure is greater. “But, if it is a political investor or a semi-political one who is not seeking economic returns, they will be more tolerant to the channel’s losses,” the analyst said.

Republic TV’s investors are a mixed bag, including MP Rajeev Chandrasekhar and businessman TV Mohandas Pai, known as supporters of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party. “My investors are my viewers,” said Goswami. “They have invested in my brand of journalism.” Khanchandani seems confident of meeting expectations on break-even and returns based on his discussions and deals with advertisers so far.

So far, Republic TV is coasting on hope and adrenalin. Its real test begins once it goes on air.

This article first appeared on Business Standard.

Support our journalism by subscribing to Scroll+ here. We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content BY 

Swara Bhasker: Sharp objects has to be on the radar of every woman who is tired of being “nice”

The actress weighs in on what she loves about the show.

This article has been written by award-winning actor Swara Bhasker.

All women growing up in India, South Asia, or anywhere in the world frankly; will remember in some form or the other that gentle girlhood admonishing, “Nice girls don’t do that.” I kept recalling that gently reasoned reproach as I watched Sharp Objects (you can catch it on Hotstar Premium). Adapted from the author of Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn’s debut novel Sharp Objects has been directed by Jean-Marc Vallée, who has my heart since he gave us Big Little Lies. It stars the multiple-Oscar nominee Amy Adams, who delivers a searing performance as Camille Preaker; and Patricia Clarkson, who is magnetic as the dominating and dark Adora Crellin. As an actress myself, it felt great to watch a show driven by its female performers.

The series is woven around a troubled, alcohol-dependent, self-harming, female journalist Camille (single and in her thirties incidentally) who returns to the small town of her birth and childhood, Wind Gap, Missouri, to report on two similarly gruesome murders of teenage girls. While the series is a murder mystery, it equally delves into the psychology, not just of the principal characters, but also of the town, and thus a culture as a whole.

There is a lot that impresses in Sharp Objects — the manner in which the storytelling gently unwraps a plot that is dark, disturbing and shocking, the stellar and crafty control that Jean-Marc Vallée exercises on his narrative, the cinematography that is fluid and still manages to suggest that something sinister lurks within Wind Gap, the editing which keeps this narrative languid yet sharp and consistently evokes a haunting sensation.

Sharp Objects is also liberating (apart from its positive performance on Bechdel parameters) as content — for female actors and for audiences in giving us female centric and female driven shows that do not bear the burden of providing either role-models or even uplifting messages. 

Instead, it presents a world where women are dangerous and dysfunctional but very real — a world where women are neither pure victims, nor pure aggressors. A world where they occupy the grey areas, complex and contradictory as agents in a power play, in which they control some reigns too.

But to me personally, and perhaps to many young women viewers across the world, what makes Sharp Objects particularly impactful, perhaps almost poignant, is the manner in which it unravels the whole idea, the culture, the entire psychology of that childhood admonishment “Nice girls don’t do that.” Sharp Objects explores the sinister and dark possibilities of what the corollary of that thinking could be.

“Nice girls don’t do that.”

“Who does?”

“Bad girls.”

“So I’m a bad girl.”

“You shouldn’t be a bad girl.”

“Why not?”

“Bad girls get in trouble.”

“What trouble? What happens to bad girls?”

“Bad things.”

“What bad things?”

“Very bad things.”

“How bad?”

“Terrible!!!”

“Like what?”

“Like….”

A point the show makes early on is that both the victims of the introductory brutal murders were not your typically nice girly-girls. Camille, the traumatised protagonist carrying a burden from her past was herself not a nice girl. Amma, her deceptive half-sister manipulates the nice girl act to defy her controlling mother. But perhaps the most incisive critique on the whole ‘Be a nice girl’ culture, in fact the whole ‘nice’ culture — nice folks, nice manners, nice homes, nice towns — comes in the form of Adora’s character and the manner in which beneath the whole veneer of nice, a whole town is complicit in damning secrets and not-so-nice acts. At one point early on in the show, Adora tells her firstborn Camille, with whom she has a strained relationship (to put it mildly), “I just want things to be nice with us but maybe I don’t know how..” Interestingly it is this very notion of ‘nice’ that becomes the most oppressive and deceptive experience of young Camille, and later Amma’s growing years.

This ‘Culture of Nice’ is in fact the pervasive ‘Culture of Silence’ that women all over the world, particularly in India, are all too familiar with. 

It takes different forms, but always towards the same goal — to silence the not-so-nice details of what the experiences; sometimes intimate experiences of women might be. This Culture of Silence is propagated from the child’s earliest experience of being parented by society in general. Amongst the values that girls receive in our early years — apart from those of being obedient, dutiful, respectful, homely — we also receive the twin headed Chimera in the form of shame and guilt.

“Have some shame!”

“Oh for shame!”

“Shameless!”

“Shameful!”

“Ashamed.”

“Do not bring shame upon…”

Different phrases in different languages, but always with the same implication. Shameful things happen to girls who are not nice and that brings ‘shame’ on the family or everyone associated with the girl. And nice folks do not talk about these things. Nice folks go on as if nothing has happened.

It is this culture of silence that women across the world today, are calling out in many different ways. Whether it is the #MeToo movement or a show like Sharp Objects; or on a lighter and happier note, even a film like Veere Di Wedding punctures this culture of silence, quite simply by refusing to be silenced and saying the not-nice things, or depicting the so called ‘unspeakable’ things that could happen to girls. By talking about the unspeakable, you rob it of the power to shame you; you disallow the ‘Culture of Nice’ to erase your experience. You stand up for yourself and you build your own identity.

And this to me is the most liberating aspect of being an actor, and even just a girl at a time when shows like Sharp Objects and Big Little Lies (another great show on Hotstar Premium), and films like Veere Di Wedding and Anaarkali Of Aarah are being made.

The next time I hear someone say, “Nice girls don’t do that!”, I know what I’m going to say — I don’t give a shit about nice. I’m just a girl! And that’s okay!

Swara is a an award winning actor of the Hindi film industry. Her last few films, including Veere Di Wedding, Anaarkali of Aaraah and Nil Battey Sannata have earned her both critical and commercial success. Swara is an occasional writer of articles and opinion pieces. The occasions are frequent :).

Watch the trailer of Sharp Objects here:

Play

This article was published by the Scroll marketing team with Swara Bhasker on behalf of Hotstar Premium and not by the Scroll editorial team.