SHARANYA KANVILKAR writes from Bombay: Indian media houses, generally speaking, have been cagey in reporting the economic downturn and what it is doing to the man (and woman) on the street. They haven’t ignored it, of course, but they have been, let’s say, less boisterous than they were when reporting the boom.
At one level, this is because of the widely held belief that gloom doesn’t sell. “Let us report what is happening, but let us not amplify it too much,” one top Hindi publisher wrote in an email to several co-publishers a few months ago. At another level, this is because of the belief that the blip was temporary and the good times would soon be back.
The good times may soon be here, so help me god, but will they be for India’s most glamourous television houses?
Moneylife, the personal financial magazine run by India’s pioneering business investigative journalist Sucheta Dalal and her husband Debashis Basu, has a special report on the state of of TV18, the BSE-listed company of Raghav Bahl (in picture), which runs CNBC-TV18 and the Hindi business channel CNBC Awaaz, among other businesses.
It is nothing short of eye-popping.
“Bleeding to Death?” reads the headline.
The story, authored by Debashis Basu, talks of the “horrifying story of cyclical revenues and non-cyclical costs,” and it warns that “things may only get worse”.
It compares TV 18’s current plight with NDTV’s.
“Both are losing profusely. Losses were a little lower when the [Indian] economy grew by 9% and the market euphoria fetched the two groups newer dumb investors and more money to keep going. But now, both are nearing this endgame.”
In broadcasting (CNBC TV18 and CNBC Awaaz), Basu writes that revenues are down and profits have collapsed due to higher costs. In web (moneycontrol.com, in.com, etc) revnues of Rs 65 crore have been overtaken by losses of Rs 66 crore. The newswire and printing businesses are not doing too well either.
Basu writes that TV18’s financial situation today is the result of accumulated sins of the past couple of years: the expansion of web-based businesses with no profitability in sight, huge expenses on staff and stock options, to finance which the company stares at a mountain of debt close to Rs 850 crore.
Even with the stock markets clawing back, Basu concludes that “the problems of TV18 have just started” because the economics of the business has changed with the entry of new players like ET Now, and with rumours of heightened competition in the form of Bloomberg.
“The big issue for TV18 is exactly what hit NDTV a few quarters earlier: how to keep funding the losses? One way out is taking on more debt hoping that the businesses would reviee…. Or get foreign media companies to buy your story….
“Even if there is value in some parts of the group, Raghav Bahl has locked up that value in a complicated group structure that got created when he funded these businesses as a network of entities, not independent businesses. So squeezed between competition on one side and cash crunch on the other, the endgame for TV18 begins.”
IBN18, which runs CNN-IBN, IBN Lokmat, IBN7, have always been losing money.
Read the full TV18 article: Bleeding to death?
Read the full NDTV article: Reality show
Also read: How the Indian media dream went sour