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BW Businessworld

Vernacular Media’s Poster Boy

Under Abhinav Khare’s stewardship, Asianet News Network’s digital business has grown 300 per cent in the last two years

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AN ENGINEER BY QUALIFICATION, Abhinav Khare is the CEO & Board Member of Asianet News Network and manages various media brands like Suvarna News, Kannada Prabha, Indigo Music, Radio Indigo, Mynation, Indigo XP Music Lounges. Under his guid­ance, the brand has achieved 300 per cent growth in digital business between FY18 and FY20. 

Although the company has been cash positive in its operations, it witnessed its fair share of challenges during the lockdown on account of lack of face-to-face interaction. Despite initial hiccups, they were able to raise money. 

Asianet News Network also did exceptionally well in terms of viewer traffic. “In the lockdown situation, people were naturally curious to know what was going on, so in that case traffic on the news platform rapidly improved. We had revenue growing at 300 per cent compared to last year,” says 38-year-old Khare. 

Khare informs that his organisation started experimenting with work from home much before the imposition of lockdown. To begin with, the staff was rotated between home and office with only 30 per cent working from office at any time. This was done, Khare says, to see the impact on productivity. When the lockdown was actually implemented, work pro­ceeded as normal without any major disruption. The personnel were already used to working from home. There was a just a slight adjustment in the business model.

Work From Home

“Like any other CEO, I was also slightly concerned and sceptical about pro­ductivity and contribution of our employees working from home, but I am extremely humbled. The productivity of employees has gone up multiple fold, especially since they are saving two and a half hours of commute time every day,” says Khare.

Talking about his team management philosophy, Khare says, “You take care of your team; your team will take care of your business.” So while the media industry was laying off people by the dozen, Asianet News Network neither fired a single person, nor hand out any salary cuts to its employees in the lower management. Of course, people in the higher man­agement position received a much higher salary cut. With this kind of planning, they were able to sustain the entire organisation without dropping off a single employee.

Despite efficient administra­tion the company faced competi­tion from established players. But that was the least of the worries for Khare who saw something else as being a major challenge for his company. “I am more wor­ried about the uncertainty around FDI regulations. Twenty six per cent FDI in the media industry is slightly weird. If 74 per cent FDI can be allowed in telecom industry, media should not be treated differ­ently either,” says Khare.

Goal for 2021

Irrespective of these issues they have been able to sustain their business model. “We are the largest vernacu­lar or the regional language media platform in the country right now,” asserts Khare. They could say this with confidence and certainty as they had resorted to the strategy of mapping each state individually. There immediate goal for 2021 is work on a customised video plat­form, supported by artificial intelli­gence. 

As to the future projections about his company, Khare says, “I expect the revenue of the company to be anywhere around three times. We will continue our leadership position in the market.” They are also aiming to become more of a technology based company than a media com­pany. To achieve this they will focus on hiring tech-based talent this year, while experimenting with AI-based products. 

One of the biggest responsibilities of the media industry is to keep peo­ple aware of the ongoing news, as well as to counter misinformation. To further these objectives, Khare predicts that the future of media will be AI-created videos, with the anchor being created as per individ­ual liking. More robust fact checking along with government regulators, who will have to wake up and make the digital laws more stringent, will be key for media’s growth.