The story goes that when EchTee decided to part ways with its erstwhile editor it was done in an awfully graceless fashion. At the same time, the previous Editor, who has dreams of becoming a TV star and still has an office on the First Floor of the building announced that the guy was being fired just as the CEO was urging him to sign the severance package. So, people were actually texting the guy asking him if he was indeed being fired while he was being fired. The story gets even more interesting that it was the sudden cancellation of a column written by an ace TV journalist that broke the camel's back!
But, that my readers isn't the whole story. The story gets even more interesting...
Bennett&Coleman, publishers of The Times of India and The Economic Times, and part owners of Times Now, by far and away the largest media group in the country are supposedly interested in buying a stake in HT Media.
The two papers combined will have a stranglehold on the Delhi market and monopolies in several other small city markets across Northern and Eastern India.
But why would Mrs B want to sell?
Ever since she was elected to the Rajya Sabha, Mrs B has been a very conscientious Member of Parliament, really, no sarcasm intended. Her interest in handling the day-to-day affairs of the paper are diminished and her sons do not seem to be interested as well. Sameer Jain on the other hand is already grooming his daughter for her future role. HT has also been lurching from one Editorial crisis to another, and strangely enough, it is fairly widely accepted that despite their sometimes silly focus on pointless stories, ToI is the better paper. You would never have said that two-three years ago, where people parised HT for their editorial content. Nowadays, you do get the distint feeling that the paper is becoming a 'Me-Too' sort of place.
What happens? If BCCL steps in with money, at a substantial premium to current market price to buy a largish stake in HT Media, it actually helps them compete with the India Today Group's new planned daily paper - the Daily Today or whatever it is going to be called (I will reserve judgement on that till later). Whether it is another case of BCCL management driving themselves paranoid yet again before a new product - they drove themselves and editorial nuts before Papermint launched. After that their was massive consternation among management and editorial at ET - 'We drove ourselves crazy... About THIS?' Heck, every ET staffer I met in the weeks following Papermint's launch was actually pissed that the new paper wasn't the product they hoped it would be.
What might also happen is that BCCL will send one of their Editors (Gautam?) to run HT, with most BCCL senior writers having risen through the ranks and not being imports from foreign climes, this could lead to a truly competitive daily market. The problem is that how competitive can two papers from effectively the same umbrella be? Well, they can be different, if positioned smartly and with semi-decent content. The issue is now with regards to Papermint, you seriously wonder what will happen there, if such a takeover does go through.
Unlikely, some of you might say, HT will never give up control. Maybe, but this a rumour that has being doing the rounds recently. Not the chotta-motta rumours you hear from the line staff, but from senior guys and from the markets. Another reason to give some amount of credence, HT and BCCL have been collaborating on Metro Now. Which, while a rabid rag and positively unreadable most of the time has been doing not so badly.
Legalities? There is nothing like the FCC in India. PRDM wants to regulate TV News content in India, and can't really stop this short of passing a legislation preventing this, which is unlikely to happen. We do not have something like the FCC in India or anti-monopoly laws which would prevent something like this.
This will be fairly interesting to watch. Whether it will finally happen or not might be speculative in the truest sense of the word, but while we obsess about new-age TV companies, if the Grandmother of all media companies becomes aggressive, things could really spice up a lot!