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Raghav Bahl plans digital news business; Hopefully, not another Web18

Network18 founder Raghav Bahl is planning to launch a digital news business, he has told Mint. Bahl says he will begin with Hindi and English to begin with, and then move to regional news. The buzz about Bahl’s plans has been around for a few weeks, and from what we have heard, both Bahl and his wife Ritu Kapur have been in touch with current Network18 executives to discuss setting up an online news business, though it was not clear whether they had decided to launch another news operation.

Last quarter (Q4FY14), Network18’s digital content revenues dipped to Rs 24.1 crore for the quarter, down from Rs 28.4 crore in the corresponding quarter the year before (Q4FY13) and from Rs 24.8 crore revenues in Q3FY14. Digital content now accounts for about 16.1% of Network18′s digital commerce and content revenues.

Note that, over the past few years, Bahl had set up FirstPost.com as an independent online news operation within Network18, despite the existence of Web18 properties like IBNLive, MoneyControl.com, IBNKhabar. This was probably because of the need of a fresh team with a fresh perspective, and an experienced editor like R. Jagannathan guiding it. FirstPost, when it launched, had a definitive independent editorial direction, a mix of news and views, and wasn’t led by TV. Prior to FirstPost, and with Moneycontrol as a significant exception, Network18’s web business floundered because of a constant chopping and changing of strategy, something that I had seen coming, back in 2007. Things haven’t improved much.


Since then, Network18 has also launched another news site called News18. Go figure.

Do read: More Musical Chairs At Network18′s Internet Businesses

Some notes on Web18 from that post:

– 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)

Quick Take: While the Internet is growing, Bahl will find that it is a completely different beast, as compared to TV. There is fragmentation of both news and advertising, low entry barrier, and it is rare when costs of operation can be covered by revenue. Operating at scale and in a generic news space, as many recent news upstarts will find out, isn’t the best way out. Then again, Bahl built Network18 on equity stake sales and lots of debt.

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