Raghav Bahl

Raghav founded the famous “Network18”

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An unprecedented hero of our generation and many generations to come, Raghav Bahl is undoubtedly the “Rupert Murdoch” of India. Raghav founded the famous “Network18” and was at its helm until it was grandly taken over by the Reliance Group. He was the sole driving force behind Network18 as he directly owned it and also had controlling shares of the company and all its subsidiaries which included print, film, television, internet, mobile content among numerous others.

Raghav was and rather is truly a pioneer of the Indian New Broadcasting Industry. He was indeed the first one to take the entrepreneurial route in his family with his father being an IAS officer in the Rajasthan-cadre. He is connubial to Ritu Kapur, who was a director in Network18 and presently looks after the show at his latest digital venture.

Bahl was a man of conviction and in true sense of the word, strongly believed in holding on to every opportunity that knocked at his door. With a rich experience of over 22 years in journalism and television to his credit; Raghav was the Godfather of his own career and deserves every inch of the respect he gets bestowed upon by, today.

Raghv Bahl did his schooling from the prestigious St. Xavier’s School, Delhi and graduated from St. Stephens College with degree in Economics Honours along with a Masters in Business Administration from the Delhi University. Moreover, he also attended a doctoral program at the Graduate School of Business in New York at the Colombia University, but left it midway. In addition to the already impressive CV, Raghav was also a recognized university-level squash player but due to an accident wasn’t able to continue for long enough.

Other than all the awesome stuff that he has already done; Raghav, after quitting Network18 gave into his dreams and followed his life-long craving passion and finally wrote a book – Super Power? – which compares the two developing nations i.e. India and China. As of now, he started a brand new firm – The Quintillion Media Pvt. Ltd.

EARLY LIFE

Raghav had never, in his wildest dreams, thought of becoming an entrepreneur; but little did he know then, that that would become his destiny making him one of the most sought after man in the whole of India.

Bahl had first stated some passion in broadcasting when he was just a student with gleaming eyes, looking for an opportunity in the faintest of light; but instead of going down the route where his dreams were taking him, Raghav joined a multi-national bank after graduating. He had joined AF Ferguson as a Management Consultant at first; then later went on to work for the likes of American Express as well.

Albeit being a banker now, Bahl still had his inner cravings doing the rounds in his mind; and he somehow managed to make up for the love of his life by doing some kind of youth programs or moderating debates and stuff like that for the state broadcaster. But since this industry was limited in its reach at the time; Bahl wasn’t able to take up his so-called “hobby” and make a career out of it.

Ultimately, Raghav let go of “what was … and what will be …” and took the big jump and joined the Media Industry in 1985; taking up the job of an Anchorperson and Correspondent for Doordarshan.  He managed and looked after the India Today Group’s and India’s very first monthly video newsmagazine called the Newstrack.

Raghav continued with the same job for a few years, when he got the opportunity of a lifetime to work as the Executive Director of Business India Television and produce the Business A.M. and Business India Show for Doordarshan; which changed everything.

Up till the 90s, foreign or otherwise; it was not allowed for the private enterprises to set up their own television stations or transit any kind of TV signals. And India, as of then, had only two state-controlled television channels. But since the inception of the 90s, something changed; something changed drastically and for good as the government changed its policy and gave the right to private enterprises: foreign or otherwise, to broadcast via satellite television!

The impact that it had on the lives of the people was out of the ordinary, as a whole new industry was born that day. All the foreign companies quickly began with the procedures of importing and launching and stuff; and prepared themselves to showcase their talent to a whole new set of audience!

On the other side of the road; the audiences were too, excited about witnessing a revolution: a Television revamp! People started installing dish antennas and wires and all; over the houses, some hanging on trees – all in order to get the best possible view!

But what all the business minds failed to deduce then was felt by Ragahv, deep in his heart; that in spite of all the programming becoming suddenly available and stuff, there was still, something missing.

He noticed on that fateful day, that not only the content was being hampered by, by the foreign administrators but also because of all the content, there would come a point when all the Indians would feel the lack of “Indianness” in the material. He realized that what India needed was local programming; and with that came to his mind the idea that truly transformed the way the people thought at the time!

network18

Image Credit: www.capital18.com

ENTREPRENEURSHIP

“With great power, comes great responsibility.” And Mr. Raghav Bahl had both the potential and the willingness to make it big; which he did, eventually. Let’s see, how he conjured up this dream as a whole.

  1. The Rise

The gap in the market which was slowly arising now, inspired Raghav to think of alternatives to avoid the catharsis and without putting much of a thought, a television production company providing Indian content to satellite broadcasters – Network18 was launched in 1993.

Other than the government reforms that were taking place; Bahl’s earlier banking stint combined with the management skills he learnt during his student days, proved to be of great help to him in launching this company of his.

The company’s inception was quite small; as a start-up, they put together two pilot programs – one was a business program while the other a weekly entertainment cum feature program. And with that; there was no looking back for the company.

After spending some time in the industry, Raghav also started a show on STAR Plus called “The India Show” which was a sort of co-operation with India Business Report that aired on the BBC channel. After a while, BBC in London and STAR TV in Hong Kong, picked them up and agreed to broadcast them on their Indian channels too.

In time, the whole scenario of the company changed. It was so magnificent that at one end, it was producing programs with the local content for foreign channels while on the other, it was producing content for indigenous channels broadcasting in India as well. They were slowly stepping up as the undisputed king of the industry!

In the year 1999, Raghav took maybe the boldest yet the wisest decision of his life that changed his life for good and that being appointing CNBC as their proud partners. This also presented the ideal opportunity to rope in some professionals with unmatched talent; and rightfully so, he brought in Harsh Chawla – an IIT & IIM graduate (who had the rich experience of working with biggies like HCL, the Times Group and ABCL). Harsh was indeed, given utmost freedom and allowed to make any changes he felt necessary to the company.

With the onset of the year 2000, the company witnessed a drastic transformation; when Raghav finalized to switch over the company from the producing line to a 24-hour India-focused television channel, “catastrophic” was the word on the lips of the masses but it didn’t bother Raghav and he continued on with decision; and it disappoint him or others at all.

The main reason to shift from news to television, as thought by Bahl was that he realized that the company lacked the amount of resources needed to grow the news programs up to the optimum level.

The timing of this transition was just perfect because they were already providing Indian business news for CNBC Asia, and during the same time CNBC had decided to establish itself firmly within the Indian market and as Network18 had already proven their worth, they turned out to become their ideal choice.

After five long years, Bahl worked on the same business module and took away CNN from right under NDTV’s nose to launch a general television news channel for India. After that, he also hired Rajdeep Sardesai and Sameer Munchanda to set up CNN-IBN.

Raghav, in the year 2004, played yet another smart move – launching the IPO and going public in an attempt to place it strategically ahead of the race while the contemporaries could simply give a contemptuous look.

Bahl took yet another bold step in the industry by launching “Colors” – an entertainment channel by forming a joint venture with Viacom in the year 2008, to rival the likes of biggies like STAR, Zee, Sony who had carved a niche for themselves in the market in this industry.

The decision was deemed far too risky, but Bahl went on with it, no matter what. In order to launch something big of this scale, Bahl required to raise somewhere between INR 300 crore to 500 crore which was roughly half or rather more than Network18’s then revenue itself! But the luck was on Bahl’s side and the risk paid off! The channel became a roaring success and today, accounts for a dominant chunk of the company’s total revenue.

With this, Network18 became one of India’s hottest media firms. A company that started from rags (Revenue of INR 0 in the beginning) and managed to reach a heart-warming INR 15 crore in revenue by the end of 1999; having suddenly risen upto INR 657 crore in revenue in 2008 was no ordinary feat.  It had beaten the likes of NDTV and TV today with a gigantic margin and left them to bits!

Network18 now had its roots everywhere! From cable television to films and from music to broadcasting (don’t forget radio, web portals and publishing!); Network18 had racked up everything in such a little time! And with multiple subsidiaries under its belt which included CNN-IBN, Homeshop18, Television Eighteen India Ltd. (TV18), IBN 18 Broadcast Ltd, Studio 18, Infomedia 18, Web 18, Shop 18 and Viacom 18; Network18 had indeed, made it big!

Moreover, Network18 directly controlled the telecast of various channels including IBN7, MTV India, Colors, CNN-IBN, Comedy Central, CNBC Awaaz, Nick India, Homeshop18 and many others!

Other than that, it also had zillions of internet offerings as well! Portals like in.com, Cricketnext.com, moneycontrol.com, tech2.in.com, Compareindia.com, fakingnews.com, homeshop18.com, and a hell lot more!

  1. The Unlikely Fall

When everything seemed to be going perfectly well for Raghav, something bad happened. Somehow, the company lost its charm and their success rate began to falter after having such a dominant run up till 2008.

The year 2008 witnessed the worst ever global market crash in the world; it was such a massive debunk that top level firms like the Lehman went bankrupt! Money and markets had all dried up. But unlike many of his contemporaries, Raghav continued to invest in Viacom 18’s proposed movie channel and in Forbes along with some other print and online properties as well.

But with the market on the edge; soon, advertising began to decelerate and the rise in carriage fees along with the interest rates started creating intense pressure for the company. And by 2011, Network18 had piled up a massive debt of INR 1,400 crore in revenues!

In an attempt to make things right, Network18 started looking for light in the dingy cave and that is when entered Mukesh Ambani – Owner of Reliance Industries. He helped the company get out from the debts by lending them the required amount of money.

This brotherly deal was bestowed upon by Mr. Ambani on a stark condition though, and that being “zero-coupon optionally convertible debentures into shares” which meant that Reliance industries could, at any point of time, convert those debentures into shares and get a controlling stake of 99.9% in the firm within a period of 10 years! Practically saying, they could simply take over the firm at any time within the 10-year period!

And like almost everybody had seen it coming; Reliance Industries Ltd. (RIL), in 2014, officially announced the takeover of Network18 Media & Investments Ltd, including its subsidiary TV18 Broadcast Ltd. The board of RIL also approved a funding of up to $40 billion (INR 4,000 crore).

Moreover, following the purchase, the entire founding staff (editorial and managerial) – put down their papers and A P Parigi was appointed the Group CEO along with Umesh Upadhyay as the President for News at Netwokr18.

And the dream that started with a boom, came to a diminutive end. Since the change, Raghav has been appointed as the Non-Executive Director at Network 18 Media & Investments Ltd.

  1. The Mighty Return!

After the derailment, Raghav didn’t let go off his conviction and along with his wife, decided to make a comeback!

Soon, he made an announcement of him launching “The Quint” under the parent company “Quintillion Media Pvt. Ltd.” The Quint is indeed, a popular, digital journalism platform which features a smooth blend of audio, video and text. This way, it cover all the news, from every section be it sports, politics, entertainment, business, food or anything else in the most efficient of ways.

One lesser known fact and rather an interesting one about the web portal is that “The Quint” is powered by a newly developed publishing platform called “The Quintype” which is similar to “Wordpress” and has plans to even beat it at its own game!

Co-founded by Ritu Kapur, Raghav Bahl & Amit Rathore; Quintype is a San Franscisco based firm and apart from the many services that it provides; it claims to offer a cloud-based solution for publishers to manage the editorial (assignments & collaborating) and the ability to publish to various formats and development of apps for Android & iOS.

The company presently, has a 20 member team consisting of  marketing, editorial and brand management which includes: Roshan Tamang (Former Web18 VP), Dhiraj Nayyar (Former FirstPost Editor-at-large), Jaskirat Singh Bawa (From India Today), Toral Varia (Former CNN IBN Journalist), Sanjit Oberai (Deputy Editor at IndiaSpend),Namita Handa (From DNA), and Girish Nair (Former CNN IBN News Editor) among many others!

ACHIEVEMENTS

  • Member of World Economic Forum (WEF)
  • Received the “AIMA Award” for the Media Person of the Year (2011)
  • Recognized as the “Entrepreneur of the Year” by BMA (2011)
  • Conferred with the degree of Doctor of Philosophy (D.Phil), Honoris Causa by Amity University, Uttar Pradesh (2011)
  • Awarded as the “Entrepreneur of the Year” by Ernst & Young as (2007)
  • Won the “Sanskriti Award” for Journalism (1994)

 

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Faber is a VTVINDIA correspondent

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