Arnab Goswami’s Republic TV set to launch Hindi channel ahead of the 2019 elections

10 July, 2018

Republic TV is set to launch a Hindi-language clone. A fundraising note for the Hindi channel is being circulated by the Gurugram office of Client Associates, a financial consultancy firm, and states that the firm has received the mandate to do so by the channel. The note further states that “with the Hindi news channel scaling up in the next few years, Republic plans to either go IPO or get a large strategic investor by 2020-21.”

Describing Arnab Goswami as a “celebrity anchor” and Republic TV as “the first English news channel in history to turn profitable within such a short span of time,” the note says that “the company now plans to enter the Hindi news genre ahead of the 2019 elections and is planning to raise INR 120 Cr, to set up a Hindi news channel under the ‘Republic’ brand.”

It is accompanied by a document titled Opportunity Overview, which contains several bullet points about Republic TV and the proposed Hindi channel. “Hindi news will strengthen the company’s broadcast portfolio, while its contents will feed into the company’s digital forays, thus providing additional avenues of monetisation.” The company being referred to here is presumably ARG Outlier Media Asianet News Private Limited, which owns Republic TV. “The Hindi News genre is ripe for disruption and will benefit immensely from Republic's brand credibility,” the note adds.

ARG Outlier was incorporated on in August 2016, and Arnab Goswami became a managing editor on 19 November—a day after his unceremonious exit from Times Now. The principle investor in Republic TV was Rajeev Chandrasekhar, then an independent member of parliament from Karnataka who had long been trying to get into the good books of Amit Shah, the president of Bharatiya Janata Party. Chandrasekhar, through his firm Jupiter Capital, invested Rs 30 crore in Goswami’s channel. Earlier this year, Chandrasekhar was sworn in as a member of the BJP. A day later, he symbolically resigned from the board of directors at ARG Outlier.

Even the most watched English-language news channels in India hold but a tiny audience compared to the Hindi ones. The latest data released by Broadcast Audience Research Council, or BARC, shows that last week Republic TV was the most watched channel in English News category. Though Republic TV’s rivals highlighted an anomaly in the channel’s ratings last year—a single household in the 61-plus age group in Gujarat apparently accounted for an improbable share of its viewership—even at face value, the impressions gathered by the most watched Hindi news channel last week, Aaj Tak, were nearly 122 times that of Republic TV. According to a bullet point in the Opportunity Overview document, both Republic TV and Client Associates are well aware of these numbers.

If the channel comes to be, this is the market that Goswami will be tapping as the general election looms near. Each of the current top 5 Hindi news channels earns more than Rs 250 crore in revenue annually, one of the bullet points notes. “Historically news space has seen investments from industrial houses to influence public opinion which is what led to Arnab launching an independent channel which is professionally run,” the fundraising note states. It adds: “While Arnab may have certain political ideology but the channel has no external influence.”

If the editorial practices of Republic TV are anything to go by, the new channel will toe the ruling party’s line—several former employees of the channel earlier told The Caravan they faced constraints while reporting on the current government and BJP leaders. Such is the sensitivity that, according to one former employee, Niranjan Narayanswamy, the head of the editorial desk, personally cautioned a young journalist in charge of the channel’s ticker, after the latter typed in news that Amit Shah had arrived at a Gujarat court to testify in the case of Maya Kodnani, who was accused of multiple murders in the 2002 anti-Muslim pogroms in the state.

The fundraising note attempts to allay such concerns. “External influence in news channels is pretty common and is the prime discomfort of financial investors in this space,” it states. “This is an important aspect of this transaction and which is why we have decided to continue with the last round’s strategy of Republic management to raise this amount from a diverse set of well-respected HNIs”—high net-worth individuals—“and not from one large investor.”

Neena Puri Nagpal, the vice president of client relationships at Client Associates, who authored the fundraising note, told me over the phone that she is “not authorised as such to speak to the media on this.” She directed me to Lovkesh Kapoor, who heads the investment-banking division at the firm. Kapoor did not respond to an email asking him for a comment. Goswami did not respond to a text message asking for comment, nor answer phone calls.

The fundraising note ends cheekily: “All in all we believe this is a great investment opportunity,” it says. “If you’d want, we can set up a meeting with team and/or Arnab. I'm sure you will not mind meeting Arnab atleast once. In lighter vein, rest assured that he's nothing like what he is on TV.”