A number of news channels and online ventures are in offing, including Hindi channels of Arnab Goswami’s Republic TV and Kapil Sibal’s Harvest TV.
New Delhi: Media and politics are set to become an even headier cocktail as several news ventures — many of them promoted by politicians — are in the process of being launched. All these ventures will be looking to cash in on the heightened interest in the forthcoming Lok Sabha elections.
In the pipeline are news channels, online portals and even a newspaper as the ventures will see the return of several high-profile journalists such as Barkha Dutt, Karan Thapar and Punya Prasun Bajpai.
The churn is set to engulf the language sector as well, with Arnab Goswami’s Republic TV set to launch a Hindi news channel in February while Hemant Sharma, formerly of India TV, is working on launching a Hindi channel for the TV9 group, along with journalists Vinod Kapri and Ajit Anjum.
Sharma is known to be close to the BJP and the RSS and had fallen out with India TV’s Rajat Sharma. He had quit the channel after his name was linked to a group of people under investigation for suspected fraud in a medical education scam in Haryana.
Sharma did not respond to calls from ThePrint.
Channels, channels and more channels
Harvest TV is expected to be the first off the blocks. The English news channel, which has Congressman Kapil Sibal as one of its promoters, is set to go on air from 26 January.
It is owned by Veecon Media that already has licences for English, Hindi and other regional language channels. A Hindi channel will follow the English news channel, as per reports.
Barkha Dutt, a consultant for the channel, will anchor a prime show and so will Karan Thapar. Other prominent TV anchors such as Seemi Pasha (ex-India Today) and Vineet Malhotra (ex-Times Now) are also expected to be a part of the channel.
When asked to confirm his role, Thapar told ThePrint to “please speak to Harvest TV about it”. Dutt refused to comment.
There is speculation that former ABP News anchor Bajpai, who had a much-publicised exit from the channel, will be a part of Harvest Hindi.
He said that he is on the verge of joining a news channel but refused to name it since negotiations are still underway.
Insiders at Harvest TV told ThePrint that launch preparations are on in full swing. “The promos are being shot now and will be on air before the launch,” said a source in the channel.
“Our channel’s promise is that we’re a platform ‘Where Truth Matters’. The channel will ask the right questions, be fair and not editorialise while offering news,” Deepak Choudhry, who is helping with the expansion of Veecon Media & Broadcasting told ThePrint. “We seek to provide space for an alternative narrative while avoiding unnecessary jingoism.”
Choudhry insisted that the channel “will not be partisan”.
Republic of Hindi
Republic’s Hindi channel was meant to be launched in January. “But there were issues with the distribution network, including getting it on DD Free Dish that accounts for 25 per cent of the viewership,” a source explained. “In fact, a third channel of Republic TV — global channel or a lifestyle channel — is on the cards by the year-end.”
If it is as provocative as Republic TV with Goswami, it could well shake up the Hindi news channel space currently dominated by Aaj Tak, ABP, India TV and Zee News.
“Republic Hindi aims to get into the number 1 position in its first week,” an insider said. “So the launch would only be after setting right all the distribution networks.”
Republic’s Hindi channel comes close on the heels of the launch of Swaraj Express, which went on air in November. It is headed by Gurdeep Singh Sappal, the ex-CEO of Rajya Sabha TV, and advisor to former Vice-President Hamid Ansari. He is known to be close to the Congress.
Those launching Hindi news channels clearly see potential in the market. Data from the Broadcast Audience Research Council (BARC), which analyses approximately 70 Hindi news channels, indicates a 28 per cent jump in viewership during the 2016 -2018 period.
Online not to be left behind
With 20 per cent of all newspaper readers in 50-lakh plus population towns reading them online (Indian Readership Survey 2017), this space is set to expand.
Dutt is expected to join this bandwagon with industry sources saying she will launch her new digital venture in March. Dutt refused to comment on this.
Two other online launches by experienced journalists are in the offing.
Asiaville is one such venture. It is being launched by Sashi Kumar, who founded and chairs the Media Development Foundation, the not-for-profit public trust that runs the prestigious Asian College of Journalism (ACJ) in Chennai.
Jairaj Singh, former editor of Daily O, will be the editor and chief producer for Asiaville.
Kumar told ThePrint that Asiaville will be multimedia and multilingual digital news venture that will be operational by the end of January. “It will be in four languages, Hindi, English, Tamil and Malayalam,” he said.
Investigative journalist Josy Joseph is also starting a news portal. He hopes his project will take off by early 2019 and said that it will focus on “academically-rigorous” content.
“Numbers show that there are more consumers for digital news than for print and television,’’ he said, even though advertising is much less. “There is a lack of focus on the real issues and we intend to focus on them in the new project.”
As for the print media, Network 18, the promoters of CNN News 18, News 18, and the news portal Firstpost will start a weekly newspaper of the same name, with Praveen Swamy as its editor — Arun Jaitley did a video-link launch of the newspaper from New York, on 17 January. The Reliance group owns the media enterprise. The first edition is expected to be out on 26 January.
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