For Times Internet Ltd, a subsidiary of Bennett, Coleman & Co. Ltd, last year was a year of collaborations and a plethora of product launches. This year, too, the company wants to push those initiatives but in addition, wants to combine content with e-commerce to enhance business relevance and customer engagement. Going forward, the company will collaborate with a lot more consumer, technology or non-technology brands in a bid to become their e-commerce and logistics partners. Over the next 12 months, TIL intends to partner with brands who have emerged as market leaders but need the TIL platform to help them sell and distribute products.
In an exclusive conversation with Techcircle.in, Rishi Khiani, CEO of Times Internet, speaks of future plans – right from launching the Tablet magazine Tweek onto other platforms to the soon-to-be launched Box TV, an over-the-top device which can be connected to TV, desktop and mobile phones to access content. He also discusses the upcoming trends in the digital space, the company’s investment parameters and functions of Tlabs, the only Delhi-based incubator for mentoring startups. Here are the excerpts:
A few days ago, you have launched the Nokia shop, an exclusive online store for Nokia. We have also heard that TIL will collaborate with more such brands and launch online stores. Can you tell us more about the brands you are looking at?
Yes, we are planning to collaborate with more such brands. But these brands have to be the market leaders. We are looking for brands who manufacture great products but need a company which will help them in selling, delivery, developing customer reach and making sure that the right customer is looking at the right product (only then sales will go up). We will also create relevant content for them to enhance commerce and customer engagement.
In fact, for the next 12 months, we will work towards ways to integrate commerce with content. We have already started it with Nokia and now we will do it for other consumer brands – both tech and non-tech. TIL will become the e-commerce and logistics partners of these brands.
So TIL is collaborating with a lot of companies now. What’s new on this front?
Over the past one year, we have struck quite a few partnerships. There’s a partnership with NBA to streamline all its content. Another is with Point, a company based in Canada, to build a hyper local app. Then there are a number of deals which may happen in the coming weeks – we are deep in talks right now. We are also going to announce an initiative called the Times Local Partner. This will target a number of global companies looking at India as the next geography for expansion. TIL will be focusing on companies who have products that will work well in India or those who have had some initial traction in the country. On the other hand, they must be trying to identify Indian companies who can help fill certain gaps in their India operations. And we will be the right partner for them.
Recently, Gaana.com from the Times Internet stable has developed an app for Facebook. How is it doing for TIL? Do you think Gaana will face competition now that Flipkart has launched Flyte?
Music, by its very nature, is social. When we integrated Ganna.com with Facebook, we saw an increase in traffic. In the Facebook timeline, you can actually see the music I am listening to and if you click on it, it will take you to the Gaana site where you can also listen to that music. The only common factor between Gaana and Flipkart is ‘music’ and nothing else. Gaana.com is a place where you can get music on demand and connect with your peers. You can listen to what they are listening and you can also get a personalised and customised experience. But Flipkart has launched Flyte as an e-commerce store where one can purchase songs. ‘Purchase’ is the basic difference here.
What’s the vision behind the Tablet magazine Tweek in a country like India, where Tablet penetration is extremely low?
Tweek has been launched to show the industry how you can re-use existing content without creating new materials. Moreover, the Tablet is a fantastic medium because of the interactivity it offers. Plus, it is pretty similar to the print medium in terms of advertising. Advertising on the Tablet essentially means better, richer user experience. So we would be able to charge a premium there. Of course, the initial rollout is on the iOS platform (for Apple iPad), but we will be rolling it out for android and smartphones by next month. For us, the first month was all about understanding the user uptake of the content and how to tailor it for the Tablet audience. Users’ feedback will be of great value to us when we roll out the product for smartphones and other devices.
Right now Tweek (for iPad) comes for free. Do you intend to make it a paid service soon?
We may consider that later but not right now. The android market is far more difficult to monetise. But we have seen a lot of interest from advertisers who are now keen to advertise on Tweek for a whole month or may be an entire year at a later stage. We have advertisers who look at the Tablet audience as people with lots of disposable income and thus, a part of their target audience. So they are naturally keen to advertise here.
Tlabs is probably the only Delhi-based incubator for startups. How does it work and how are you helping young entrepreneurs?
Tlabs is not a pure incubator but a catalyst which helps startups in terms of mentoring. So that they learn what it takes to run a sustainable business. Tlabs is like a boot camp – we have a group of mentors there who have been successful in their businesses and they guide the startups. We also provide each firm with a token amount of Rs 10 lakh as starting up expense.
The biggest challenge in India is there aren’t enough courses which can actually tell startups how to avoid pitfalls, assess opportunities, build sustainable products, market them right and utilise the money for customer acquisition.
What are your business and expansion plans this year?
For TIL, last year was all about getting product strategies in place and a slew of launches. But this year, our focus is Box TV, an over-the-top device which can be connected to TV, desktop and mobile phone for content access. Then there is Times Audience Network, a video ad platform. One would see a fair bit of aggression from us on the sales front; we will aggregate more partners and try and build more of theecosystem.
How has been the growth at TIL?
Talking about advertising, we have seen tremendous growth, almost quarter to quarter. It has grown by 120 per cent in the last two years and hopefully, this trend will continue.
What are the current trends in the digital industry?
Cloud is definitely becoming a common feature for all products and hybrid strategy is also gaining traction. Access to content whenever you want it and from any preferred device is a clear trend too.
What are your thoughts on online videos?
We will be pushing online videos this year. We intend to make Box TV one of the best Asian applications where we will feature our own content.
Are you considering other investments as well?
We are looking at a number of companies right now. And we are focusing on two things – either a financial investment into a company which has some value or which we can unlock or getting a profitable exit in certain years. While choosing a company, we look at its business model as well as other factors like who the founding team is, who has invested, its interests in various parameters and whether the company is building a product which will complement the operations of our group. Our approach is less like an investor and more like a partner.