Saturday, January 31, 2009
Friday, January 30, 2009
Back to Mr India, last year or 2007, I don't quite remember when when I met Shekhar Kapur at a hotel lobby puffing away on a smoke, I made it a point to thank him for making the movie. Amazing when you see the talentless prats who produce, act in and make movies in Bollywood nowadays that sometimes something decent can still come out. But they are too few and far between - instead we see incredibly stupid Kill Bill rip-off's being pranced about as dance numbers. maybe there are some nice movies on their way, if they can get this man to like their music, maybe there is hope for Bollywood yet, though I was hoping that RS' mid-life crisis would be caused by a cranky man rather than Bollywood music.
Anyway, thanks to The Comic Project - there is now a comic book form of Mr India (see in Picasa). And you know what? At this point of time, surrounded by inept murderers as politicians, corrupt defenders, armymen who plot against their countrymen and all, maybe India needs Arun Verma to come back. We have our Mugambo state - Pakistan - though neither Geelani or Zardari or Kayani would do Amrish Puri's Mugambo any justice. Anyway, this is my afternoon rant, I'm bored of cars, electronics, planes and random tycoons. I need a drink. Enjoy the Mugambo video below ('Zahil Hindustaniyon apne history, apne itihaas se kuch nahin seekha' Heh, prescient!) and what was your favourite Bollywood movie of the late eighties?
I wonder if the bunch of journalists (a friend posed a question recently, what would you call a collective of journalists - I think the terms 'gaggle' and 'irritation' come to mind) who have collected Padma Vibhushan's, Padma Bhushan's and Padma Shri's would refuse them. Nope, if the Indian Express' coverage on the fraudulent award given to a Kashmiri exporter is anything to go by, not quite likely. Did I mention that Shekhar snagged a Padma Bhushan this year?
Thursday, January 29, 2009
"I loathe close-ups of dead bodies, I loathe reporters asking survivors 'how do you feel'" - Barkha Dutt, Journalist.
Don't sue me, it won't be worth it!
This is a cache of the offensive post! (Abhishek has a copy of the 'offensive' post here)
And the apology tendered!
Amit Agarwal steps in!
As does DesiPundit
And Smoke Signals
I really think that when Wikipedia puts in adjectives in a profile, well, thatb proves that the site is shoddy, but how NDTV manages to constantly manage to piss off its core audience amazes me. Times are tough for everyone, and whern your losses are mounting pissing off viewers is not a smart move. Honest! The Mediaah! incident happened too long ago when the community was far too small, but Ponytail C still pays somewhat of a price for taking people on, it would be a shame if NDTV manages to shoot itself slap-bang in the ass on this matter.
But I'll keep filling you guys in on it. Dang, if January 2009 has been such a bomb of a month online in India, what about the coming eleven months. I can't wait!
But, really if you want to watch another nice story, watch The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.
Wednesday, January 28, 2009
And this is a nice afaqs piece on the adverts for equity model being followed. Surprisingly, HT Media also announced in their last quarterly results that they'll be doing exactly the same thing.
EDIT: Afaqs link corrected
Also, there was this very interesting graphic in Mint (PDF) recently and that puts what P. Sainath (who in reference to later in this post, refused a gong) says in context. Sainath accused mainstream media of ignoring agrarian India and well, looking at 2008 coverage that is horribly true (though, The Hindu was also measured). However, I suspect that 'International Affairs' includes all news of Pakistan, Nepal and Sri Lanka and lets be honest our neighbours have been newsy this year and I'm sure that 95 per cent of the coverage was from these three countries, four per cent on Obama and one per cent on the rest of the world. 'National Security and Defence', I presume would include all terror blasts and 2008 had one hell of a lot of them. Yup, go down the chain and you see that 'Public Policy & Governance', 'Education' and 'Science & Tech' is way down the list. As the column accompanying the graphic says, this should be a wake-up call to Editors, there can be substantial improvements in coverage.
A little birdie tells me in reference to a 'pompous ass' mention in a Sunday column that someone is very upset that he didn't get a gong. Journalists close to the government always get gongs and god forbid that the BJP come back to power later this year and all chances of any gongs or Parliamentary posts might go away. But to abuse a senior bureaucrat Hmm, corrigendum or not, that was intended, but then again MKN still has his job. That said, it is good to know that the Sangh leadership is finally managing to talk up against the extortionists that are the rabblerousers and rioters across the country.
The BJP's 'Digital Cell' is trying hard to project Advani as youthful, through his 'website', and in the process is sending a lot of money to Mountain View but incidents like Mangalore do not help, demographics and voter profiles are changing and until the Sangh can get a grip of its loony wing and get kids into the fold, things are not going to change. India needs a credible right-of-centre party and increasingly, it seems to be the Congress which after ditching the Commies has started treading ever so slightly to the right.
Dear Mr Branson
REF: Mumbai to Heathrow 7th December 2008
I love the Virgin brand, I really do which is why I continue to use it despite a series of unfortunate incidents over the last few years. This latest incident takes the biscuit.
Ironically, by the end of the flight I would have gladly paid over a thousand rupees for a single biscuit following the culinary journey of hell I was subjected to at thehands of your corporation.
Look at this Richard. Just look at it: [see image 1, above].
I imagine the same questions are racing through your brilliant mind as were racing through mine on that fateful day. What is this? Why have I been given it? What have I done to deserve this? And, which one is the starter, which one is the desert?
You don’t get to a position like yours Richard with anything less than a generous sprinkling of observational power so I KNOW you will have spotted the tomato next to the two yellow shafts of sponge on the left. Yes, it’s next to the sponge shaft without the green paste. That’s got to be the clue hasn’t it. No sane person would serve a desert with a tomato would they. Well answer me this Richard, what sort of animal would serve a desert with peas in: [see image 2, above].
I know it looks like a baaji but it’s in custard Richard, custard. It must be the pudding. Well you’ll be fascinated to hear that it wasn't custard. It was a sour gel with a clear oil on top. It’s only redeeming feature was that it managed to be so alien to my palette that it took away the taste of the curry emanating from our miscellaneous central cuboid of beige matter. Perhaps the meal on the left might be the desert after all.
Anyway, this is all irrelevant at the moment. I was raised strictly but neatly by my parents and if they knew I had started desert before the main course, a sponge shaft would be the least of my worries. So lets peel back the tin-foil on the main dish and see what’s on offer.
I’ll try and explain how this felt. Imagine being a twelve year old boy Richard. Now imagine it’s Christmas morning and you’re sat their with your final present to open. It’s a big one, and you know what it is. It’s that Goodmans stereo you picked out the catalogue and wrote to Santa about.
Only you open the present and it’s not in there. It’s your hamster Richard. It’s your hamster in the box and it’s not breathing. That’s how I felt when I peeled back the foil and saw this: [see image 3, above].
Now I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking it’s more of that Baaji custard. I admit I thought the same too, but no. It’s mustard Richard. MUSTARD. More mustard than any man could consume in a month. On the left we have a piece of broccoli and some peppers in a brown glue-like oil and on the right the chef had prepared some mashed potato. The potato masher had obviously broken and so it was decided the next best thing would be to pass the potatoes through the digestive tract of a bird.
Once it was regurgitated it was clearly then blended and mixed with a bit of mustard. Everybody likes a bit of mustard Richard.
By now I was actually starting to feel a little hypoglycaemic. I needed a sugar hit. Luckily there was a small cookie provided. It had caught my eye earlier due to it’s baffling presentation: [see image 4, above].
It appears to be in an evidence bag from the scene of a crime. A CRIME AGAINST BLOODY COOKING. Either that or some sort of back-street underground cookie, purchased off a gun-toting maniac high on his own supply of yeast. You certainly wouldn’t want to be caught carrying one of these through customs. Imagine biting into a piece of brass Richard. That would be softer on the teeth than the specimen above.
I was exhausted. All I wanted to do was relax but obviously I had to sit with that mess in front of me for half an hour. I swear the sponge shafts moved at one point.
Once cleared, I decided to relax with a bit of your world-famous onboard entertainment. I switched it on: [see image 5, above].
I apologise for the quality of the photo, it’s just it was incredibly hard to capture Boris Johnson’s face through the flickering white lines running up and down the screen. Perhaps it would be better on another channel: [see image 6, above].
Is that Ray Liotta? A question I found myself asking over and over again throughout the gruelling half-hour I attempted to watch the film like this. After that I switched off. I’d had enough. I was the hungriest I’d been in my adult life and I had a splitting headache from squinting at a crackling screen.
My only option was to simply stare at the seat in front and wait for either food, or sleep. Neither came for an incredibly long time. But when it did it surpassed my wildest expectations: [see image 7, above].
Yes! It’s another crime-scene cookie. Only this time you dunk it in the white stuff.
Richard…. What is that white stuff? It looked like it was going to be yoghurt. It finally dawned on me what it was after staring at it. It was a mixture between the Baaji custard and the Mustard sauce. It reminded me of my first week at university. I had overheard that you could make a drink by mixing vodka and refreshers. I lied to my new friends and told them I’d done it loads of times. When I attempted to make the drink in a big bowl it formed a cheese Richard, a cheese. That cheese looked a lot like your baaji-mustard.
So that was that Richard. I didn’t eat a bloody thing. My only question is: How can you live like this? I can’t imagine what dinner round your house is like, it must be like something out of a nature documentary.
As I said at the start I love your brand, I really do. It’s just a shame such a simple thing could bring it crashing to it’s knees and begging for sustenance.
Saturday, January 24, 2009
EDIT: According to his website, this was his last column and Pursuits will henceforth appear only online. So peace obviously has not spread, oh well so much for hoping. Also while similar to a previous column on spies, this was a new column.
Friday, January 23, 2009
People have called and asked me what I think on the matter, now I’ve got divided loyalties. I believe Vir is a blessed writer, one of the best in the country. On television, it might be a different thing, but he is an amazing writer. Sukumar has the country’s best collection of graphic novels. In fact, both these guys have a bit in common with their attitude towards plebs, far too much in common, but I’m not going to go into that issue.
What would I have done? Lets look at it from both sides with my rather limited understanding of the media after almost a decade of working here and generally being myself.
As a columnist whose column was dropped, I would have written an indignant column in a rival paper or now that technology (of all things, given the person involved) allows make sure that I write a stinging rebuke (far better than the column incidentally) and make sure that it ‘leaks’ out to a media content ‘aggregator’ or ‘blog’ from a friendly source – which is exactly what happened and then wait and watch the fun from the moral high ground.
Also, remember to buy enough bandwidth to make sure that when two hundred people press the link on aforementioned blog (mine) at the same time the site doesn’t go under and leads to another round of speculation.
As an editor, it is my prerogative to decide which column goes through and which column doesn’t. No-one else can decide that, and no columnist, no matter how good (even Jeremy Clarkson or A.A Gill good), has absolute rights. However, given the equation in this case – this is no ordinary columnist not just because of his writing – I believe the piece should have been carried. Along with a rebuttal, a detailed rebuttal of the allegations mentioned in the piece and not least of all the bunkum about ‘gut’ feeling.
Sure, many of us are very lazy, but if we all started writing articles based on gut feeling, I would be spending a lot of time with Ramalinga Raju in jail for defamation or write that the price of fuel might come down by ten bucks based on some random sheet of paper, the fact of the matter is that political reportage still has that cloudy area where contacts determine everything, business reportage is based a lot on facts and figures reported to SEBI. The rules were made by politicians. Just because I might feel that daal mein kuch kala hai doesn’t mean I say it without resorting to facts. Sentiments are nice, but you can not be sentimental (in a matter of speaking) when writing. And what is with the Dhirubhai Ambani love?
Not least because that the columnist involved was an interested party and while I agree that Mint’s initial coverage of the INX saga was very one-sided, once their other media reporter (and I wish Sruthijeet all the best at ContentSutra, he is one the country’s best media reporters) came onboard the coverage improved manifold. Doing so would still have stirred the honey-pot and the bees might still have stung, but the moral high ground would not have been ceded.
Listen these are just my two cents on the matter. I know there are far higher political hi-jinx behind all of this and the philosophy of ‘never forget, never forgive’, is in play. By no means is this the end of the matter, and I will try and keep everybody posted on what happens next. As always please do comment and leave your opinions. Have a great weekend and Republic Day.
Wednesday, January 21, 2009
Also read Outlook Groups response to Monika Halan's resignation letter, they call Monika's charges baseless and defamatory. This could shape up to be quite good fun, stay tuned for more. The morning papers seem to have drunk the Obama Kool-Aid and overdosed on it, five, six pages to what was a rather ordinary speech but one that sounded like the Sermon on the Mount - though you can read Mihir's counter-argument to Obama-mania in the Express today. Obama sounded messianic yesterday according to my mother with whom I watched the speech and I must agree with her, and that frankly scared me - the man is an extremely intelligent man and extremely intelligent people are as scary as extremely dumb people. Talking about pomp and pageantry, I was thinking of going down for the R-Day celebrations on Rajpath, it has been at least a decade since I went to my last R-Day parade and while security has always been insane, if the weather holds, it should be fun.
Also, since the morning I've been getting text messages talking of lots of lay-offs at HT Media (read Nikhil's post on HTM's Q3 results and the immense amount of cash sunk into FireFly) companies and from what I've heard is that there have been lay-offs at all major media groups in the marketing, printing and distribution functions. In editorial functions there have been lay-offs in some media houses, but to the best of my knowledge there have been no lay-offs per se. at EchTee. I believe that several people might be, and this is not just in EchTee, taken 'off the rolls' where they become consultants rather than full-time employees.
Listen times are bad everywhere (I believe at Times Life, SToI's supplement is down to one or two adverts, this was until a few months ago an advertising supplement for all intents and purposes) and employee costs have soared over the past few years. fair enough people were being paid jack till the media boom, but there are far too many examples of rather lacklustre people getting paid quite a lot. Some people will lose their jobs in editorial, and one hell of a lot of interns will not get jobs. I've seen a couple of message boards with 20-somethings crying about their lot in the media, but this is the current economic reality.
Tuesday, January 20, 2009
For a country that advertises its democratic credentials wherever it goes, and I guess this would be the tag-line: Look at us, a history-sheeter who has murdered people can now legislate matters of importance here - can they do that in your so-called 'developed democracies'? Huh? We do have a horrible history of propping up some rather unpleasant people - Sudan, Myanmar and Zimbabwe for example - the first two for oil and gas and the last so that M/s Pawar and Modi can carry on their diabolical gameplan with cricket. But with neighbours with whom we share cultural and historical bonds and with whom we haven't entered into a sixty-year long war that doesn't seem to end, we have made it a point to ignore what is going on across our borders.
A vibrant media is important for any country, sure, spreading occultism is not the job of the media and that must be controlled and note to the Broadcasting Association - stopping occultism is not censorship, it is common-sense, so please self-censor. Back to my point, I believe, and I'm no foreign affairs wonk here, that ensuring that the media remains free and fair across the border is in India's best interests. To allow governments or ideologies to muzzle their media - no matter how much we say that it is an internal matter will do nobody any good. And a note to the Indian media at large, I know this blog gets read, so there is no harm in writing about these things. I know that the readership surveys might indicate otherwise, but then again, didn't analysts say that the market would keep on going up!
Plus, Ronnie Screwvala has a long, rambling mail on how UTV will do well in 2009, I'm still debating whether to put it up, because it is long and rambling, lets wait and see!
Monday, January 19, 2009
Car India & Bike India Awards - NDTV
Infraline Energy Awards - CBNC TV18
Samsung IIFA Awards - Sony Enetertainment TV
and I'm pretty sure the list might go on and on...
But here is the strange thing, 'Awards' until and unless they're given by an independent body are always open to manipulation, and even that is suspect. Look at any automotive award show, invariably every manufacturer gets a cheaply made gong, which sometimes looks like a cheap dildo to put on display in their lobby. Well, at least some manufacturers are so embarrased they don't send out 5-megabyte mails (I will will personally slaughter the next PR flack who sends me a multi-megabyte mail with a silly picture of some corporate twat attached) and don't put up said dildo's in their lobbies.
Now, back to the mail which has been generating quite a few comments - one underlying thread of late is quite simple. Shouting 'ethics' so late in the day is akin to screaming wolf - if ethics were an issue (and believe me, it is an issue in every media house) then a stand should have been made earlier. There are always two sides to every story - we haven't heard Outlook's side, though I'm pretty sure it will not be pretty.
Back to the world of the media - the logo for ET Now could have been more well, exciting. There are also changes afoot at ET with verticals being formed and responsibilities divvied up - someone from ET please clarify in a comment. Also, and this is interesting, every large media group is indulging in mass-scale lay-offs in their online divisions and rumours are swirling that with their results a publicly traded newspaper company might shut down their online ventures division. Keep in mind that many major media organisations are in the business side of the internet as well, this is not just about maintaining websites. More later.
Saturday, January 17, 2009
Friday, January 16, 2009
But on a serious note, and I’ve said this before, moderating comments allows me to practice my little dictatorship here. Comment is and should be free, but there are limits and don’t use me to get at others. On the look and feel aspect, the simplest thing to do is to increase the font size on your browser, it is a one-click function on all major browsers. And give me a couple of weeks for a comprehensive change, this is going to get a lot larger than K, but just wait!
Anyway, going beyond procedural issues the last post brought up issues of awards being bought and sold – and I might have mentioned it in passing before – this is not new. And every major group indulges in it from ‘Car of the Year’ to ‘Indian of the Year’. Yes, there are some ‘clean’ awards but those are few and far between. In Mail Today during the last week of December there were a whole bunch of ‘scam’ ads – awards are the easiest things to game, but advertising awards always have been.
A senior journalist who was on the jury of a TV awards show told me how the organisers gamed the jury, in essence everyone won an award so that everybody could be happy. Sort of like car award shows - make sure everyone wins something so that everyone keeps advertising. But forget gaming, one of the oldest awards given out by a really old publication based in Bombay has been known to be bought and sold. This organisation was in deep financial doo-doo a few years ago and forget selling the award, they started selling the cover.
I know a case that involved a large HR consultancies whose ‘Employer of the Year’ award was essentially given to companies who hired them to do HR work, or was a ‘potential client’. That made the organisation I work in now switch to a double-blind assessment method for the award (the HR consultancy used to work with us earlier until they were found out and subsequently have bounced around several media houses before getting caught).
This business of awards and advertising is always quite dubious – I know that several awards for ‘Indian of the Year’ last year were normalised to give the award to acceptable people – because Narendra Modi won quite a few of them when it came to SMS voting. Voting patterns were ‘normalised’ to make sure there was always a more acceptable winner. Remember voting patterns are never normalised or daily SMS polls all these channels. Some winners never make sense until you figure out that they actually bothered to land up for the function, so they get the award. That works!
There are awards and then there are awards – it just depends on what you call it. Some awards are done on the basis of empirical data that has ‘supposedly’ been audited – like top companies. However, despite auditors getting stick nowadays for all sorts of reasons I would suggest that awards get audited and vetted. It would make things a bit more believable.
Thursday, January 15, 2009
I am deeply upset to tell you that I have resigned. For the last three
years we've been like a close-knit family and to leave like this so
suddenly is not nice I know. But there is an increasing conflict of
interest between edit and management and my work ethics do not allow
me to be a party to this. As always, transparency is the key word and
I want to share why I am taking this step.
1. The OLM Awards are being used to fulfil the advertising goals of
the Group. In fact, we were all part of the meeting where we were told
that the award should have gone to LIC despite it not making the cut
since it is a large company with many readers as policyholders. In a
subsequent mail from the President, I was told that the concern is
that LIC has withdrawn all ads to the Outlook Group. I see it as a
clear conflict of interest between ad and edit, especially since edit
has sincerely worked on the awards in an attempt to make them the most
unbiased awards in the country -- and for which we involved eminent
market professionals like Dr R.H. Patil of CCIL and Ravi Narian of
2. Edit is being blamed for falling circulation. When we were doing
1.5 lakh copies a fortnight there was no sharing of credit with edit
by the management. But in the middle of a global downturn when the
circulation of a market-linked product like OLM slips, edit is being
blamed. I think all of you pull really hard, work sincerely and have
re-created a sinking brand to a world class product that OLM is today.
On behalf of all of you comprising this fantastic team as well as
personally, I do not accept this blame.
3. There is direct management intrusion into edit now. We are being
asked to get our cover stories cleared by the publisher and send our
stock picks to Outlook Profit for clearance. I think this is an insult
to a team that has proved its worth many times over.
I think the Group will be happier with a more pliable editor. I am not
Good luck to you all. And keep in touch -- you guys rock! One last
meeting tomorrow at 11? See you.
Editor, Outlook Money
8th Floor, NAFED House,
New Delhi -110014
Anyway, over the past few days I've met more than my fair share of journalists. Far too many of them, to be honest but everyone is talking about the same thing. Jobs! Even people who have no fear of losing theirs are talking. Downturn, downturn, downturn - it is the flavour of the month and the best thing are the numbers you end up hearing - 100 here, 200 there. The sad fact is that the good times are truly over and the bad times might be really bad. The worst thing is that unlike the Sakaal fiasco, most of this will be silent 'shedding' and I doubt that the media which made Naresh Goyal into the devil personified will report on this. Other than Mint and Business Standard maybe, but you won't hear anything on television I'm pretty sure at least for a while.
Going beyond, I know some of you read this blog think I'm a p.a or worse, but you're probably not as dumb as most. Heck, you can read my convoluted stream of consciousness despite the halo of last night's vodka tonics blurring it. But, if you are hearing of any lay-offs or pink-slips at media houses, send in a comment or an email. Silent shedding is insiduous in India and if we didn't let Naresh Goyal get away with it why should you let media owners? Don't restrict this to elevator talk!
Also check out (if you haven't already) Samreth's great post on the News X fiasco. Actually, his is quite a good blog. Much better than mine for example!
Tuesday, January 13, 2009
Sorry, this is a bit of an essay, but I got inspired for some strange reason.
Shyam made an interesting comment on yesterday’s post on the concept of incremental costs when launching an additional product. Basically, he rightly argued that the term is highly misused in the media world and frankly I will agree with him here. While many people will argue that the explosion of the media industry has led to glaring examples of bad journalism, one aspect has rarely been discussed, the media boom has led to horrible examples of bad management.
See, the media industry does not work like say the airline industry. Say airline X starts a new station, they have to sink in certain costs – hire ground staff, air-stairs, buses. All of that costs money. Now with one flight a day, the cost is spread out over just 100-150 passengers depending on the aircraft used. Now if the airline operated two, three, four flights a day, preferably at different times, they would hopefully not need to invest in additional staff or equipment, maybe some more staff to cover themselves. There might still be the cost of additional aircraft, but aircraft nowadays are an operating expense thanks to ‘sale lease-back’ policies. Airline X has managed to add flights to the new destination but at an ‘incremental cost’ to itself.
The same philosophy could apply to toothpaste, shampoo, televisions or any industry with a massive initial capital outlay. Where the media industry fails the ‘incremental cost’ test, at least in India it fails rather dramatically. Why? See, the biggest problem in India remains distribution – while South Delhi and South Bombay, India’s two largest media markets have switched en masse to addressable systems – DTH for example (as have outlying rural areas), the rest of the country (admittedly save Chennai, which is why Sun got into the DTH game – even more money) is still beholden to the crappy co-axial cable.
I don’t want to get into the physics of co-axial cables here, but let us be honest, the co-axial cable is 14.4kbps dial-up in an era of 8mbps DSL. It isn’t as if Indians don’t have the television sets to support several channels, any telly sold after 1990 can support god knows how many channels, and only with new addressable systems which feed through standard inputs that the channel wars are ending. The cable industry is dominated by politicians and the underworld who have loved the delicious tax-free incomes it generates at a far lower risk than selling narcotics. Investing in upgrades isn’t their kettle of fish, which is why even set-top addressable cable boxes haven’t really been popular. To cut a long story short, the co-axial cable can only support about twenty-odd channels with a decent picture and though it can be pumped with eighty channels, watching VH1 which is invariably at the end of the band is torture. Heck, it was in mono too. Ugh!
Moving on this meant, our friendly neighbourhood cablewallahs didn’t just enjoy the lard from consumers they also got paid by channels ‘carriage fees’ to carry their channels in the ‘prime’ band. More black money since the networks always accounted for this money as something else. Heck, at one point the PR boss for a network whose owners also owned an airline told me that their flights to Goa were booked out with cable operators and their wives. That same channel suddenly claimed to be number one in the Hindi news space.
So, distribution in India is a pretty screwed-up business aided by ancient technology. I can’t believe there is so much talk of India skipping generations of technology when the advertising and media industry both of whom swear by high-tech depend on a horribly low-tech system. Even terrestrial broadcast is more high-tech nowadays thanks to DVB-Terrestial. Piecemeal solutions such as DTH or IPTV, which is the final piece of the triple-play puzzle will solve the problem until the I&B ministry replicates the forced conversion model. Not that the distribution mess is restricted to television, print is not much easier, but that is more of a logistical exercise. Well, the newspaper business is slightly different – and Times knows that – their rise to the top in Delhi began when they broke HT’s stranglehold on the distribution market, and how!
So back to the incremental cost question, launching a new channel does not mean an incremental distribution cost. Incremental costs mean costs of around 10-odd per cent more I would assume safely, but the cost in this case was rather massive. Admittedly not double, but not incremental either. In fact, the only cost that could be argued to be incremental was ‘marketing’. Because as I carry on, you’ll see that editorial costs were hardly incremental either.
Now, when you launch an additional product, flanking or not, you would need some additional people. To best leverage costs, you would ideally have people work across channels, magazines or papers. Keeps costs down, pay the people slightly more for the excess work, and you can keep hiring down to manageable levels. But in the case of several ‘additional’ channels, and the case of NDTV MetroNation is the one people will talk about for a long time, there was minimal leveraging of resources.
Of course, as Nag argued with me yesterday, that channel had another flaw – wrong language – the English speaking audience isn’t quite hyper-local yet while Total TV and Dilli Aaj Tak do quite well. The case is the same at Good Times, though that is funded by Vijay Uncle’s largesse until that also runs out. And as I’ve said again and again, Travel and Living is there. But the worst example in NDTV and for that matter even in TV18 are the near zero co-ordination between English and Hindi channels. Massive costs operating two independent operations and the Hindi channels can’t bring in the cash. IBN Lokmat on the other hand is a great success – but that is another story and goes back to the hyper-local point – it works with non SEC A/B audiences.
The problem of having such high costs is simple, the additional channels don’t provide anywhere near the revenue streams that the older, primary channel. Sure the costs were lower than the main channel but revenues are much, much lower. And then you get hit with the whammy of a downturn.
Anyway, I’m sure some media managers will take this a bit too critically and given that I’m disliked by that creed more than I’m hated by journalists for some strange reason I don’t know quite why, but anyhow that is another question. I’m not saying that flanking products or additional products don’t work. I’m just saying they should not be hyped up to be something they’re not. They’re not always money-spinners, they are not advertising specials like Bombay Times and Delhi Times!
Monday, January 12, 2009
You know, the speculation about NDTV Metro Nation shutting down has been doing the rounds for quite a while. Metro Nation along with Good Times are frankly pointless channels. I mean they could have been a lot better, but I really don't see any reason to watch them - everytime I've made the mistake of pushing the red button, you see rehashed Express Newsline or Times City stories along with a load of Delhi cliches on the lifestyle stories. As a city channel it fails royally.
Of course, in my honest opinion, it is a lot better than Good Times which tries to be something it isn't. When you have Discovery Travel and Living why watch second-best? Yes, so they have a captive audience on Kingfisher aircraft, but only the brain dead watch Good Times on the aircraft that don't have Live TV, I flew to Port Blair on an aircraft that didn't have live television and I watched the airshow. Trust me, it is more entertaining.
Back to the point, it seems that NDTV has put plans of a Chennai Metro Nation on hold. Good. But as someone told me the incremental costs of launching a channel should be minimal and good 'flanking channels' always help with advertisers, but by all indications from the movie hall, Metro nation has ridiculously high operating costs. Their traffic jam of an OB-van, you might have seen it float around Delhi with its indoor studio acting like a bad roadblock sometimes on the Def-Col BRT stretch (now you know why I dislike them even more!) costs over half a lakh to run everyday. Their employee costs are insanely high - with one insider saying that more people are employed there than watch the channel. Which I might even agree with given that the distribution is horrible - the bar on Tata-Sky is silly. OK, their anchorettes are pretty, but big deal, they don't have exclusive rights to vapid bimbettes.
The channel was a bad business idea to begin with. I agree with trhe concept of city channels, localised news channels is the direction that the US has taken. In the Bay Area and Orange County I got essentially local news on NBC and ABC with cut-outs during the Today show. For pure news there are other channels - CNN and MSNBC, but even on CNN you have cut-outs to the local news affiliate.
But India isn't a 'hyper local' market as yet and I don't think we'll get there for a while either, though I do believe we will get there all right. By our nature we like discussing news and affairs of the world (or maybe just in Delhi) - OK, the world for us is India and to an extent Pakistan, because as a people we are horribly insular to our local geographical neighbourhood. Zimbabwe could in chaos, but they're just a pesky cricket playing nation against whom we score records and whose administrators vote for the BCCI all the time. Who cares? Maybe only The Hindu reader, but that paper's maniacal obsession with Sri Lanka makes you wonder if they're a vested interest. But, that is another debate on our foreign coverage - long live the interwebs.
Localisation of news will happen - there is some of it happening already (see the papers, though Metro Now's imminent demise proves that Delhi is not the best local market for stand-alone papers with little or no national content either), but I think NDTV bit off a bit too much, too early. There will be several city channels - slick ones not the cable owned channels on various platforms from TV to the Internet by 2015. And bad as it might be, I do believe that MetroNation should survive, not in its current avatar, but it would be sad to see them go the way of BiTV - another concept ahead of its time.
Saturday, January 10, 2009
Friday, January 09, 2009
Coming back to the Satyam fiasco, honestly we should have all smelt something was up given that Satyam's standard defence during the Upaid case was to pull the jingoistic heartstrings of Indian business reporters. As well as their habit of short-circuiting the system by going up in case things did not work out. Heck, they even some papers to criticise Sreedharan of the Metro when he questioned the Hyderabad Metro project being undertaken by Maytas. The Hyderabad media crucified the man, while the Delhi media could not because they do love Sreedharan. I know Udayan wants him hanged, but I'm sure he will run away to the Caribbean or something, but after all the finger pointing, I guess one finger will have to be pointed at the media. All of us screwed up, we should have seen through some of this bullshit sooner. Collectively. We may demonise Raju for the Devil he is, but we're gargoyles ourselves at times.
Satyam employees have set up a blog and they can't seem to read bylines - they're going after ET and ToI for a PTI story. And they're pissed with NRNM, Satyam vs. Infy catfight! Sigh!
And it has also thankfully, well along with the fact that the Pakistani's who work in our oil companies going on strike and holding the country to ransom, managed to bury news of a senile 80-year old man. Anyway, the way I understand it, teh man went to all and sundry and wanted his people to take over the Rajasthan BJP after Vasundhara lost the polls. But the BJP stuck with Raje and her acolytes in the Rajasthan BJP which led to this dinosaur trying to show his fangs. The BJP has a serious dinosaur problem - take Delhi for example where they replaced one generation of dinosaurs with even older dinosaurs - forget that lovely cliche 'Gen Next' the BJP seems to be adopting 'Gen Last'. Is there someone in that party who studies demographics? India is getting younger not older - forget my tendency to lean towards the right here for a second, I would like my member of Parliament to live out his term not die in saddle for heavens sake. I sincerely believe that there should be a retirement age for politicians, and that the BJP should start applying it before the General Elections.
And what on earth is up at Metro Now, if anybody here works there or knows someone who works there, drop in a comment or an email or a comment with updates. From what I've understood from a couple of people is that the product might well be shuttered ahead of a possible 'relaunch'. Personally, I have no clue just yet. But then again, they survived for two years without ever launching anything resembling a news site. But maybe there is money in a contrarian way of thinking - no internet news. However, we'll always remember the Geetanjali Nagpal story - and how one of the parents of the tabloid made the story their own.
Yes, and I'm so bored I'm listening to the Human (Remixes) album. Not bad actually.
And the breaking news I read on telly is that now Bharat, like Hindustan has Petrol. India doesn't. By the way, this is my line, if anyone steals it...
Thursday, January 08, 2009
Anyway, the conference was an eyewash - Ram Mynampati could not clearly answer any question let alone explain why they hadn't filed a police complaint against Ramalinga Raju. They claim they are responsible to their employees but Ramalinga raju wrote a metaphorical suicide note and while it could well be dishonest, one thing has to be taken at face value - the man committed a massive fraud. Mynampati is trying to be Gerald Ford to Richard Nixon but while like Ford he has inherited the hot seat he isn't the highest power in the land.
My underlying question remains, who on earth is buying Satyam shares? Over 70 per cent of the company traded hands yesterday - is the Raju family trying to buy back the company after scaring investors off and will they then claim that Ramalinga Raju was 'mentally disturbed'? Some online forums are even reccommending Satyam shares. I do not really believe this scam is over - something is still horribly fishy.
Moving beyond Satyam - Read Eric Schmidt's assertation on Fortune about how Google really, really wants newspapers to survive. After stealing all their advertising! Heh!
'Ram Naam Satyam Hai'
'From SWITCH to Witch'
Genuinely disappointed. I know, most people will think how I can be so callous with the jobs of 53,000 people of the line and Raju himself supposedly disappearing (people want to know where he is) to some country with whom India obviously does not have an extradition treaty (CNN-IBN claims otherwise). Pakistan perhaps? I mean if I were him, that would be my first choice given the current geopolitical climate (talking of Pakistan, nice satire from The Dawn on the frothing Pakistani media). The US is a spectacularly bad choice but then again the big guns at Enron didn't go to jail did they?
But there is still too much frothing at the mouth with the media (Udayan yesterday felt personally slighted - he even demanded that Raju be hanged on national television in so many words - take a chill pill Udayan, seriously) on the Raju affair. Granted the frothing at the mouth has been carying on for a while - last week Harish Salve castigated Shivnath Thukral on TV for doing that, though over the last 24 hours Salve has been desperately appearing on TV trying to distance himself from the fact that he was (very) recently hired by Satyam. Which is what made his questioning on Profit last night particularly hilarious.
I have a bad feeling that Raju might have just been siphoning off the money and is now lying (Mark To Market was quite interesting today) saying that company was up shit creek anyway and was horribly run - I mean three percent margins - who makes those. I am very sure the guy has been taking the money and putting it into his coffers - or his son's coffers over the past few years. But then again, I'm just speculating like everyone else. The skeletons will start falling over the next few weeks and I won't be surprised if some politicians get badly burned as well.
Anyway, I'm open to guys suggesting what the headlines today should have been in the comments. And on another note, Smoke House Grill really has to reduce their prices! Great place, but in a recession charging 500 bucks for a Martini after taxes and charges is insane.
Wednesday, January 07, 2009
I wonder how the trends will evolve through the day. Taking a break from seeing a puffy faced and visibly angry Udayan - who can't help but remind us that three months ago he was lied to at the second quarter earnings call. But to be fair, Udayan has a point, while Ramalinga Raju would like everyone to believe that he managed to pull off a Rs 5000 crore scam (maybe Rs 7000 crore) scam by himself, he couldn't have done it himself. Just like Telgi wasn't alone, this man wasn't alone.
Edited to add: Michael Hirschorn has written a very scary piece for The Atlantic. I foresee a flood of American reporters in India over the coming months, while the media scene here goes through a dramatic transformation itself.
But what happends to PriceWaterhouseCoopers is a slightly larger question? Enron took down their auditors and PwC audits quite a few Indian firms and to manage to get away with an accounting fraud of such proportions means that either auditors are lazy and not doing their jobs or are criminally liable. Maybe both. Surprisingly the Satyam website at the time of writing this blog had not updated itself nor had the site where useless wankers were defending Raju (How great they must feel now that their jobs are probably worthless and in this market I doubt 50,000 people can be absorbed by anyone). No wait, Business news sites had managed to update themselves - but to be fair, the media had climbed onto his back over the past few weeks. I wonder if Satyam will still sue the UN? Anyway, check out the Google news feed here for the latest.
In a completely unrelated story quite a few of us in Delhi got calls a couple of years ago to get headhunted by Satyam. Ramalinga Raju was looking for a ghostwriter for his book and by god they did trawl the depths to find someone - they even called me after they started with my former Managing Editor, who was flabbergasted. The money (from non-existent accounts obviously) was tremendous (10x what I earned those days) but something smelled fishy, and nobody I know took up the job. I wonder if anyone did, he or she can write a best-seller now on the anatomy of a crook!
By the way, the denial printed on the Britney case is hilarious - but even more inexcusable is that Mail Today is carrying on the story! But the question is did Sandip plant the story thanks to a malleable person to promote his flagging star? Or is it as someone says a easy way to brighten up a slow news day - claim some Hollywood celeb is coming to India or has some random Indian connection just because they happened to wear a Sari or a 'dot' - no sources, but it gives you an excuse to put a picture of ScarJo or some other babe on the first page of the supplement.
And on a final note, The Times (of London) has a great article explaining exactly why Tintin, boy reporter was a homosexual. Maybe that is why two generations of middle class young boys in India who grew up in the 70's and 80's have ambivalent sexual feelings. Hmmm...
Tuesday, January 06, 2009
The problem with flanking products however is during a downturn. The advertising rates are cheaper and to give the example of a magazine's popular monthly supplement, the reach in major cities at least is the case. So why advertise in the main product at all, some advertisers might argue. Well, because many people throw away the 'flanking product', but then again, many people only read the that product. So...
Problem B, which is faced by a bastard child. Well, the first problem it faces is that it is a bastard love child - you know the sort of thing that would be born if me and Rihanna (this is just an excuse for me to stick a picture of hers - much like Times puts random chicklets in its sports pages) were to spawn. Anyway, the problem is that the product was designed as a loss-leader, suck up adverts from soon to be launched competition. Yes, but newsprint costs of late-2008 changed the equation and have made that product unsustainable - much like the product it was designed to counter. So... Shut down? Well, the answer will have to be different in each of the cases mentioned above (a relaunch or a shut down or juggling advertising rates?), but 'supplements' which were a couple of years ago akin to printing wads of cash have now become horribly unprofitable. As certain industries go through trouble expect 'Response' features to take up less and less space.
Monday, January 05, 2009
I guess by today, everybody is back to their senses and have realised that it is a Monday and not some random rising of the sun, which thankfully in Delhi at least decided to rise. But that won’t stop political correspondents from celebrating Omar Abdullah’s rise and proclaiming India’s bunch of younglings as India’s answer to Obama without quite realising that the greatest element of the Obama revolution was that Obama was not a quintessential insider, unlike all our Gen-Next. Not that Obama’s Cabinet-In-Waiting is quite a massive change agent. But thankfully, 2008 is over and people expect 2009 to bring with it nice elevator music and cheap room deodorants. It won’t and at the cost of sounding like a cynical old hag, things will probably get a lot worse before they become better.
But with the week ticking over and everybody getting back to work means that the news is going to flow again with a vengeance. Hopefully. Unless of course, everybody digs their heads in the ground and pretends nothing ever happened. Which would be news in itself. I guess. Now get back ton work.