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Network18 has launched News18.com, its third general news site, based on news covered by the ETV Network in the seven Hindi speaking states of Bihar, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand, but it appears the company plans to expand coverage to other states as well. In terms of design and usability, this is probably the best deployment from the Network18 group yet: the site is responsive (we loved the mobile interface), unusually quick, and the ease with which it allows selection of type of content (latest news, videos, local news stream, weather and Cricket), apart from discovery options via tags, and information from specific cities within states, is just brilliant. We particularly liked the inclusion of both the latest news and newsflash on story pages.

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What’s particularly noticeable is that News18 has incorporated both Hindi and English: we haven’t seen many news sites that take a multi-lingual approach, although much of the Hindi news on the website is in video format.

The Newsflash segment reminds us of Speed News from the Times of India group, though we liked the News18 integration more.  The inclusion of hashtags, as well as the maps interface for news stories suggests that News18 is going to take a local news approach, though it isn’t clear whether they’ll get as granular as hyperlocal news. We’re reminded of Localbeat (once Tazzaa) and Rediff’s maps based news interface.

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Frankly, it’s unusual to see a news site make discovery and reading so smooth and clutter free. Then again, the website has no advertising yet. This is ads-free launch is an unusual approach that we’ve seen earlier from Network18 properties; we don’t recall any ads when FirstPost was launched, and we’re not sure if ads were included when IBNLive launched in 2005.

Was News18 Supposed To Aggregate ETV Channels?

The launch of News18 as a site focused on state-specific news also comes as a surprise to us, since we were under the impression that News18 was a UK based news venture. This launch comes shortly after the Network18 Group received regulatory approvals and completed the Rs 2,053-crore deal to acquire stakes in different channels of ETV, which was announced in 2012. With this deal Network18 has 100% ownership of ETV’s Hindi news channels, which are a part of the website,  and 50% ownership of its non-Telugu GEC channels.

Network18 has 100% stake in ETV Uttar Pradesh, ETV Madhya Pradesh, ETV Rajasthan, ETV Bihar, ETV Urdu, and 50% stake in ETV Marathi, ETV Kannada, ETV Bangla, ETV Gujarati and ETV Oriya. TV18 and Network18 are funding the acquisition through a consolidated Rs 5400 crore rights issue, a part of which is being subscribed to Network18 Promoters backed by RIL backed Independent Media Trust.

Yet Another News Site?

This is the third English general news website from the group, the other two being IBNLive.com and FirstPost.com. IBNLive essentially caters to news related to the groups first general news channel: CNN-IBN, in the same way that moneycontrol was a companion site for CNBC-TV18. FirstPost was a business launched independent of Network18’s TV channels, and as we’ve said before, the group appears to lack a cohesive vision for the Internet space. A simple question: why does the group have three websites for general news? Why do three properties cover tech: IBNLive Tech, FirstPost Tech (which was once another tech property – Tech2) and now News18 Tech. There’s now News18 Cricket and CricketNext, apart from FirstPost’s own Cricket coverage. Oh, and In.com has some Cricket as well, though the links on that page don’t appears to be working.

Note that Network18 has other news properties as well: its financial news portal is available in English and Hindi.

For a comprehensive overview of Network18’s changes in online strategy (until before the News18 launch), do read: More Musical Chairs At Network18′s Internet Businesses.

In case there’s another English news site being planned at Network18 (Hey! Why stop at 3?), do let us know.

P.s.: A January 14th story on Network18’s financial site MoneyControl.com, about the group launching a Gujarati business channel and an ‘online pink paper’, appears to have been removed. The google news cache indicates a business channel.

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The non-longer functional URL suggests an ‘online pink paper’: http://www.moneycontrol.com/news/business/network18-to-launch-gujarati-biz-channel-online-pink-paper_1024459.html