‘I’m happy with the way Republic TV has grown’

K Giriprakash Bengaluru | Updated on January 08, 2018 Published on October 16, 2017

RAJEEV CHANDRASEKHAR Member of Parliament and investor in Republic TV   -  Handout E Mail

The media has to be financially viable in order to be able to pay the bills and to sustain itself, says Rajeev Chandrasekhar

Rajeev Chandrasekhar, MP, who is one of the pioneers of the country’s telecom industry, is now known more for his interest in media. In an interview with BusinessLine, he shares his views about the media and also about the controversy surrounding his investment in television channel Republic TV. Excerpts:

Let’s start with your investments in the media business. How much have you invested in Republic TV and why did you decide to invest in that channel?

You will be the first one I am talking to on this issue. I have tried not to get into too much of a discussion on Republic. So, this is how it happened. An opportunity came up when Arnab (Goswami) wanted to leave Times Now and start something on his own. I grabbed it because Arnab to me represented somebody who really had an audience that was his, which was not an audience that belonged to Times Now or to a category. It was an audience that he could really carry with him. So it was quite an easy decision to make to partner with him and invest in Republic.

But are you satisfied with the way the Republic TV has evolved itself?

For someone to enter this market from scratch and become number one or number two in some markets in such a fast, rapid manner is a huge achievement. I never thought it will be so fast. I thought it will take about a year. I knew that he (Arnab Goswami) had the ability to be the market leader, the ability to set the agenda. I knew that he had the audience and the ability to consolidate the audience, but that it would happen in the first month and continue for six months — I had no idea.

So, from that point of view, it has been a very successful investment and a very successful growing brand. Has it brought me a lot of unwanted attention? It has. I suspect that is par for the course. I am happy with the way the brand Republic, and the media tech Republic company has grown. Absolutely no doubt about that.

There has been a lot of criticism against Republic TV, especially its approach towards news. Even the Delhi High Court wanted the channel to tone down its rhetoric.

Look, I have to tell you something very clearly. I don’t get into styles because that is not my domain. What I don’t know about, I don’t poke my nose into. So, for example, I have multiple media investments; the editors and the journalists pretty much do what they have to do. The only way I measure their success is 1) has the brand become more credible under the stewardship, and 2) have the audience and therefore the monetisation ability of that audience increased? So, credibility and the value of the brand, and the financials and the audience — these are a few things that I measure. I do not answer questions on a particular journalist’s style. You know, even in his previous avatar, Arnab was a man who was either intensely liked or intensely disliked and that is always the hallmark of leaders, market leaders. There is nothing new to it. That is why I like quoting Christiane Amanpour who said: media is not about being neutral, it’s about being right.

There is a bit of mystery about who the investors are in Republic TV. How much do you own in Republic TV and who are the other investors.

Nothing like that. Republic TV is a joint venture between my company, Asianet News, and Arnab Goswami. Who owns a larger stake is something I don’t want to discuss. Now the confusion or the buzz or whatever is, where Arnab’s company has raised its capital from. He has also raised his capital for his equity from a series of investors. That is where you get all these rumours. More than this, I don’t want to discuss.

So who is backing him?

That is not my business to know — whether he borrows it from a bank or from X or Y or Z. My role as an investor is a role I take seriously, and the credibility of this brand is rock solid. There is an audience expansion, and an audience — that we need to build — who follows the credibility of this brand and therefore, there is a financial monetisation possibility that happens as the audience grows.

Investments like yours clearly show that there is a growing interest in buying media houses, especially by corporate houses...

Except for BBC, which is a relic of a legacy situation where the taxpayers fund it like Doordarshan, every other media company in the world is a corporate entity. CNN Time Warner, Fox, Yahoo, anything in South-East Asia — everything is owned by some corporate entity. And the reason why you cannot escape that is that for the media to be credible and to live and sustain itself, it has to be financially viable. You have to be able to pay your bills and for that, you need the discipline of a corporate structure. You need to talk about profit and loss. I am not from the school of thought that believes that media should be an NGO. I don’t believe it at all because it is just not sustainable. You would call yourself an NGO, but you end up going to some corporates for donations, you know.

How much have you invested in your media properties so far?

First of all, my investments are all in the black. I am very happy with my investments. I have a total of almost ₹500-600 crore invested in media alone.

I think those are all very valuable. I mean, if I wanted to monetise them at any point, they will be extremely valuable because the brands are credible.

You must understand that in media there are two assets that you are looking at — one is the brand itself and then there is the cash flow and the financials. On the financials, you will never make that kind of return.

You will not make a return like you would do in tech. But given that all of my media businesses are now almost 100 per cent media tech, they are all very valuable vis-à-vis public investments and market. It’s like my entertainment business. When I acquired my entertainment business, it was nothing, and I put in almost ₹250-300 crore. But when I sold it, I made 6-7 times that investment.

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Published on October 16, 2017
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