Update: The tech tab on FirstPost now links to Tech2. The tech tab on IBNLive does not.

Earlier: Tech2, a technology news and reviews portal started in 2008, has been moved from In.com sub-domain to a FirstPost.com sub-domain, continuing a long-standing tradition at Network18 of playing musical chairs with its websites. Despite Tech2 being brought under FirstPost, Firstpost still has a tech section. This change follows layoffs at Web18 in August last year, where between 50-70. From what we had heard, In.com was impacted the most, followed by MoneyControl.com, and Tech2. The TV business also laid off a significant number of employees. Operations of FirstPost had remained unaffected. We’d heard of Infomedia18 also being affected, with especially the tech magazine T3.

In our opinion, the problem for Network18 has been a lack of a vision for its Internet business, which has led to a regular changes in strategy. Chasing an IPO starting 2006 (now not feasible), it first launched multiple brands, taking a vertical centric approach. Too many brands launched (13 between 2007 and 2008) meant that not enough management bandwidth was available for building each vertical into a business, following which just about everything was integrated into a common platform of In.com, essentially switching to a quasi-horizontal portal strategy, while still maintaining individual brands. This was an attempt to aggregate traffic that was being distributed across different sub-properties, possibly with the intent of selling advertising on In.com in a consolidated manner, since higher pageviews (and claiming higher comscore numbers) warrant greater attention from advertisers. Another attempt was made at scraping content from websites (including ours) at In.com. A case of short term tactics, versus having a vision for In.com and Web18 as a whole.

It’s also worth remembering that Web18 had launched StoreGuru, an e-commerce portal, despite HomeShop18 being an integral part of the Network18 portfolio. That didn’t make sense. They also built a Tumblr clone called Blish, but that didn’t last very long. Tech2, which was launched as a website supporting a TV show of the same name, has been moved from its own domain to an in.com sub-domain, and now to FirstPost. TV18 no longer has a TV show of the same name. At its peak, Web18 had 24 properties live, either on their own domain, or as subdomains of its key properties In.com or Moneycontrol.com. Now it appears there’s a move to create sub-domains for FirstPost, with first Faking News, and now Tech2.

network18-website-launches

Some points to note about Network18’s history of website launches:

– Total sites launched/acquired: at least 27 sites
– Total sites shuttered: 3 (Indiwo.com, Blish.in.com, Storeguru)
– Total sites integrated: 5 (IndiaEarnings, EasyMF, Buzz18, Josh18, Aawaaz Karobar)
– Total sites sold: 3
– Max sites live at any given time: 24 in 2010
– Maximum sites launched/acquired: 7 each in in 2006 and 2007 (read: This portal launching frenzy)
– Maximum shut-downs/integration/sale: 5 in 2010, followed by 4 in 2012
– Quickest launch-and-shut: Storeguru (Blish.in.com surprisingly was live for more than a year)

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There remain significant overlaps between existing Network18 businesses: As we’ve mentioned before, FirstPost has a tech section while Tech2.com (which was launched to support a TV show of the same name) exists, and IBNLive also has a tech section. Why do all these sites have tech? Because it bumps up pageviews. The broader question is why both IBNLive and FirstPost exist, given the overlap between the two, and the answer probably lies in the fact that FirstPost was launched as an independent initiative – independent of TV (which is what IBNLive represents) and of the web (which was floundering with In.com at that time), while IBNLive was merely a site that owed its existence to a TV channel (CNN-IBN). Readers might recall that the web division launched a Hindi property called Josh18, and then had to launch IBN Khabar to act as a link with the TV Channel.

Verticals can be sustained only if they can scale, and as of now, only three of the content verticals that Network18 has experimented with can sustain on their own, given adequate resources: Tech, Cricket and Movies.

The verticals currently exist on their own (not on any subdomain) include Moneycontrol.com and CommoditiesControl.com, FirstPost.com, In.com and the completely independent ones, which have raised external funding: BookMyShow, Yatra and HomeShop18.

Here’s how I would restructure Network18’s websites:

Keep

Business & Finance site: Moneycontrol.com, a single site combining Moneycontrol, MoneyControl Hindi, Commodities Control, Poweryourtrade, IndiaEarnings, EasyMF, Awaaz Karobar, BizTech2. Poweryourtrade, CommoditiesControl and BizTech2 should cease to be independent brands. Poweryourtrade rebranded as MoneyControl Pro.
General News and entertainment site: FirstPost.com, combining FirstPost, IBNLive, Buzz18, Josh18, IBNKhabar, FakingNews, Tech2 and CricketNext. Tech2 and CricketNext should cease to be independent brands and IBNLive would be integrated. Hindi (and language verticals) would be a separate FirstPost tab (maybe FirstPost.in), integrating IBNKhabar and incorporating Hindi versions of other websites.
Listings: Burrp (though AskMe was a much better a brand name)
Subsidiaries
(external funding and management): Yatra.com, Homeshop18.com, BookMyShow.com

Shut

In.com, CompareIndia, and integrate IBNLive content into FirstPost.

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The above structure also makes sense given Network18’s approach of integrating web and TV operations in order to reduce costs, but reworking databases, URL’s and SEO will be a nightmare. This is where a vision for the web business would have helped. Among Web18’s content businesses, FirstPost has stood out because it appeared to have been launched with the intent to be a site that drives conversations around news and politics among readers. In contrast, IBNLive was always appeared to be an add-on for TV, and it has suffered because Web18’s headquarters have always been in Mumbai. I’m not a fan of FirstPost’s approach to content, but, in contrast with other Web18’s properties, there is a discernible approach, and it shows.

P.s.: This is an independent take on the strategy adopted by Network18 for the Internet. Some stats, in terms of launch and shut-down dates in the above chart may not be accurate, but are indicative.