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Shekhar Gupta’s Mediascape to launch TV, digital, print products

Livemint:  December 01, 2014

New Delhi: Editor-turned entrepreneur Shekhar Gupta is gearing up to launch products for television, digital and print media under his company, Mediascape Pvt. Ltd. Gupta, who was editor-in-chief of The Indian Express for 15 years, quit the Viveck Goenka-owned newspaper in June and briefly joined the India Today group as its vice-chairman, before moving into an advisory role at the company.

For a start, Mediascape, registered in 2000, will launch two television shows for NDTV Ltd's English news channel. The programming tie-up between Mediascape and NDTV is expected to be announced on Monday. Currently, Gupta hosts the interview-based show Walk the Talk for NDTV 24X7 run by Prannoy Roy's broadcasting company.

"With the two shows, Mediascape will make its debut in the media sphere. Other than doing things in partnership with NDTV, Mediascape also plans to get into digital and print media," said Gupta, chairman and managing director of the company. "We will launch different products across media but they will all be in the news genre," he added. The company has started hiring people and two top-level business executives have already joined Mediascape in Mumbai.

Gupta said that the company's first digital news product may take about four-five months to launch as he's still negotiating for the release of a domain name registered by someone else. "The newspaper brand will most likely be the same as the domain name we are looking at," he said, explaining why he could not share more details.

Gupta said he is putting in his own money in the venture, but declined to disclose the exact investment. "At the scale at which we want to operate it for the first six months, I can fund the enterprise myself," he said. To be sure, the former editor-in-chief at the Indian Express Group had a 9% stake in the company that owned the Express Towers building in Mumbai. When it got sold earlier this year, Gupta's stake in it whittled down to 1.2% and he made money on the transaction.

However, there's been speculation that Nandan Nilekani will part-fund his venture. "There is no question of any investment from him right now. For the initial period, I will manage on my own even though several people have shown interest in the enterprise. I want a good valuation, so I want the business to reach a certain scale first," he said. He hopes to get a much better valuation if he dilutes his stake at a later stage. "I don't want to sell right now, but I don't want to run it like a boutique operation either," he added.

To be sure, Mediascape is not the only company planning a digital media product. Among a clutch of new businesses in the segment is TV18 founder Raghav Bahl's Quintillion Media Pvt. Ltd, which is planning to launch several digital news products.

According to a November survey by consulting firm Bain and Co., a new wave of "native digital" models-unbundled, short-form content, streamed at-will and monetized through subscriptions-is emerging. This is being drive by cost-effective digital devices, fast-developing communications networks and increasing digital content consumption. The Bain survey covered nearly 7,000 consumers across 10 countries, including India, for its report, Generation #hashtag: A new wave of content for the age of Digital Natives. The report's findings suggest significant growth opportunities for firms that understand how to develop and publish in these new formats.

But how will the Mediascape digital product be different than those already available in the market? "I can't tell you more right now. But what we launch will be the Bentley of Indian journalism. It will be the last word on news, opinion and analysis," he claims.

Isn't it late to get into print at a time when newspaper companies are seeing profits decline and readers are moving to other media to consume news? "Frankly, if this was 2020, we could have gone straight to the Web. Today, even to get good journalists to work with you, you need to give them a print product," he said.

He does not have much faith in the current quality of Web journalism either. "What is available on the Web right now are streams of consciousness. Web journalists write opinion pieces which are read by their 100 friends who don't even pay for it," he said.

He rues the fact that today, access is seen as a bad thing by the new left ideological gang. "They see journalists with access as being compromised, whereas, in my old rule book, your skill lay in having access and not getting compromised."

The challenge for good journalism today is to get good stories, something which costs money. Journalists should be paid well, too, and yet the company must make a profit for the shareholders, he said.

Smita Jha, head of media practice at PricewaterhouseCoopers in India, said that it is still not the dead end for print. "If you have a clearly targeted smart product, there is still scope. After all, print still gets 42% of the total advertising expenditure in India.

Disclaimer: This information has been collected through secondary research and IBEF is not responsible for any errors in the same.

x IBEF : India Brand Equity Foundation