Republic Media Network elevated Hersh Bhandari as Group COO – Broadcasting Division – Republic Media network. In his new role, Hersh will oversee the entire national operations for all existing broadcast channels of the Network. With his impeccable record, Hersh will also lead and strategise all future growth of the Network’s broadcasting business into languages and regions. Hersh will manage the entire broadcast business operations from the Network’s offices in Noida and Mumbai.
In an exclusive interaction with MediaNews4U, Hersh Bhandari – Group COO – Broadcasting Division – Republic Media Network talks to us about the Republic networks growth, their expansion plans in 2022 and much more.
As Group COO for the Broadcast business what would be your role and responsibilities?
There is no specific immediate task but yes, a few priorities which would need immediate attention, the organization is process driven with very strong foundations in every department and with great team bench strength in all departments. The onus lies on us and my job is to make sure that the momentum continues within the teams. We will also be adding more professionals in the senior Management role keeping our vision 2022-23 in mind.
We are focusing on the Digital front very aggressively, YoY we have had a 33% growth, that incidentally is not the bench mark and we are strongly working towards increasing that number. We have the largest distribution platforms on the OTT space. Republic TV is on 18 OTT platforms and counting. We have done this consistently for the past 4 years even after having the first mover advantage.
Will you enter the South market this year; some of them have entered via the digital route, your thoughts?
We have moved at a very fast pace and in the shortest time established a Network of 3 channels in the broadcast space. We would like to consolidate and build on this foundation. South is definitely on the radar; how soon the plans will materialize I would not be able to comment right now. We move only when we are convinced and if our conviction takes us in that direction so be it.
Hindi & Bangla reached to the top in a very short period, what do you attribute this to?
Firstly, the tremendous amount of focus and commitment displayed by the team, secondly a positive outlook to deliver all goals. Thirdly, our philosophy has always been viewers first. Strategy that worked for us was that we delivered 100% news. When news was considered partially entertainment, we did not get into any kind of viral content, and shows like astrology, serial rounds ups etc. This brought the audience back to the news. We would proudly take credit for this. This worked for us, and the viewers connected with us. This gave us an edge and an entry into our journey to become the No1.
It was a very strategic move with a 100% news approach and distribution – ‘jo dikhta hai woh bikta hai’.
The R bangla audience how was their interest in a new channel?
TV medium is still traditional, and news as a genre has multiple views/ opinions on the same news, played across channels at the same time. I don’t know if News audiences today can be put into buckets of any particular content they want to watch or relate to, this would probably apply to GEC/ Sports. In R. Bangla our content once again proved that the audiences are not stereotyped, they are not expecting whatever you give them. They are ready to evolve, ready to watch what is relevant, also making sure that whatever they are watching is something they connect with and that is what helped us to break the shackles. Too much of stereotyping presentation and monopoly also makes it easier for new players like us to come and redefine the market. We have done that in the past and R. Bangla performance has also taken viewers & advertisers (number of brands on board) and competition by surprise.
Does content play an important role when it comes to the marketing of the channel?
Content is vital. Content Marketing is a very important component in marketing of a channel because it reflects viewer’s expectations and helps a brand build trust, develop relationships, improve conversions, and generate customer enquiries. Consistency of content communication and its regular renewal enhance brand credibility, build trust, and reinforce its reputation. This is applicable for both the demand and supply side of the channel business. I think it is a mix of not underestimating the viewers that plays a very important role. Whether it was R. Bharat or R. Bangla we did not take our audience’s for granted and did not assume they would not accept anything differentiated. We struck a Chord with our Communication ‘Nation first’.
In this competitive scenario how are you keeping pace and taking the Republic Network forward?
Our strategy is to pace and to look beyond any boundaries. As leaders in the news genre, our process has been of adopting the leadership approach always. We believe that thought English is beyond metros and it worked for us. We are the largest English platform to reach out to any consumer beyond Metros.
There are two aspects to the answer viz- a- viz the future of the language and future of the genre. While both are interdependent, there is not an iota of doubt about each one’s scintillating future.
I have a firm conviction that the fire of English would never wither away (except when the world moves towards a dystopian future). Why? Because worldwide it is a dominant language of Business, its geography and country neutral. Regional content would flourish for entertainment but imagine anyone getting a job due to one’s fluency in local language. I am referring to white collar jobs specifically. Consequently, English content consumers are by default ensconced in the higher socio-economic strata of society.
Secondly, about the genre of English news would always be bright. The first reason is included in the previous point. Thirdly, news and sports are the only genres where we see recency influences spike in audience engagement. So in spite of a small share in numerical terms of audience size, the genre exerts a disproportionate impact on stickiness and trickledown effect on the audience, directly or indirectly. So English news is for the affluentials, for image intensification, and for impact.
Net net, the future of English news in TV would continue to outshine others.
Republic’s distribution network in India?
We have covered the spectrum of both audience audiences India and Bharat. Our distribution reach is unparalleled in the industry today. 4 years – 3 channels and over 18 OTT platform platforms together with Republic World is reaching out to over 400+ million audiences/ viewers.
What would be your Focus for 2022 and expansion plans for the Republic Network?
We will continue at the same pace and speed, that is the only thing we understand. We are poised for growth and constantly want to grow news as a genre and make it an important mix for advertisers as part of their Media Mix. There is a hunger to grow more, and we haven’t even started. We want to launch a global channel and we will surely enter a few regional markets. With the growth in the broadcast business that I handle, expansion is one of our top priorities.
BARC is still holding on to the numbers for the news genre, does it affect the business?
Honestly, the Question is why? Having said that, I too have seen some intuitive decisions from clients and agencies at their best & feedback from the trade has helped. For example, R. Bangla launched during a data dark period has a fairly large advertiser base. It’s a mix of both hyper local and national brands that advertise on R. Bangla and we had 35+ brands on board even before we launched the channel.
If BARC starts putting out the ratings do you see Ad rates going up for Republic Network?
We were in the No 1 position when the ratings stopped. Considering the performance of the channel, and the confidence of our stakeholders, we are on the course of rate correction already. And we have a positive response from the market and that’s a great demonstration of our brand power. Advertisers can see the obvious even in this Rating dark period.
I feel that the industry needs to take notice that it is not very easy for any news channel to deliver live through the day- 365 days. It takes a lot of effort to report from every nook and corner of the country. That is why even today after two years the news genre has seen it all, from a data dark period to a pandemic, the viewers and advertisers continue to stay with the news. Inventory consumption continues to be in demand. Premium for elections continued to rise and we have a large list of sponsors on R. Bharat and Republic TV for the elections.
Pricing index of the news genre compared to the GEC is comparatively low, is it justified?
It’s definitely not justified, most people will agree with me, we need to do some serious introspection about it.
Every advertiser was on the News genre during the peak of the pandemic, did you feel that it was the right time to hike your rates?
We went with the sentiments of the market and felt the pain of the advertisers/ Partners and we decided to walk with them. It was an easier option to raise the rates then, as viewership was at its peak with challenges across all other genres. This included non-news advertisers migrating from GEC’s at that point. A few brands continued to stay invested in news post this phase, which we didn’t expect. The focus at Republic was to walk alongside our advertisers, leading by example, made them understand that the pandemic was a factor equalizing all, some industries were spared and some were not. We were very conscious about this and we did one of our biggest award winning initiatives with a large FMCG brand and delivered.
Digital takes the major ad spends today?
There is no denying the fact that as a society we are moving towards an increasingly digital, mobile, and social media environment. But one needs to examine this statement a tad more closely. First, a limited number of large tech companies enable billions of users across the world through services search, social networking, video sharing, and messaging. In consequence, they play an important role in distribution of news, information, and digital advertising. I presume your question is skewed for allocation of advt dollars for advertising. If that is so, where is it growing outside Google and Meta which are cornering approximately 70% plus of the spend. Secondly, let’s confine the answer to your question in the context of News genre irrespective of format. One can’t gloss over the role of legacy broadcasters in producing news that are diverse, professionally produced content on critical issues of national importance and on hyper local issues. Digital news sources find it challenging in making a significant contribution towards that for competing impact fully in the age of attention deficit disorder and intense competition for advertising dollars. With quality journalism (for obvious reasons of investment in news journalism), citizens develop media and information literacy necessary to navigate a plethora of dubious news sources. Finally, one needs to de-average generic statements about inter -category migration of attention and revenue. Individual media formats can buck a generic trend through a blend of unique strategy and value added selling (VAS). Hence, I see proposed development as a great opportunity for showing strategic resilience and develop digital capabilities to serve our stakeholders.
In the near future will you go the subscription way like your competitors?
Free to air is our strength and that comes from our confidence level in a way we connect with the audience, and they love Republic as the voice of the nation. This message peculates down to the advertisers that we are free to air, and we can reach your brand to the maximum people, penetrate markets. Their support to us has been critical to us as advertising is the only way for us to build this organization, and we have done so successfully till now.
Hersh personally your journey from selling jeans to producing Events to Ad Sales in the media and now Republic? What gives you satisfaction?
Personally, the one thing which has been consistent in all that I have done News Genre for over 25 + years. I had opportunities in GEC & Sports, personally, I love sports, but the news is something I enjoy selling for its live and dynamic nature.
My journey has been as good as it can be, thankfully I have been a constant learner and have worked with some great people in my career. I have mentors in this industry who have helped me grow, and I kind of absorbed that and followed the rabbit hole and it told me where to go next, nothing was planned. I concentrated a lot on knowledge and the function/role I was given, the growth followed. I am sharing an anecdote from mythology; Goddess Laxmi sits on a Lotus and the lotus (Money) can sway from side to side, but Goddess Saraswati sits on a rock (knowledge) and that is where the learning comes from. The wealth for me has been the learning’s from my teammates and how I implemented them. You get lucky when you work hard but you need to be lucky first to be given work first.