In the past few months, Times Internet is a name that keeps popping up in my news feeds for announcing something exciting. Part of India's largest media house, they are the new school in Times Groups' old school. Two weeks ago, Times Internet announced a partnership with Gawker Media to bring Gizmodo and Lifehacker to India. It was a surprising announcement and an intriguing partnership. The press statement talked about the infamous iPhone 4 scoop by Gizmodo that led to their editor's house being raided by the cops. Nick Denton's Gawker is a controversial media house, and Times Internet deciding to join forces is newsworthy in itself.
Last week, Times Internet launched mobile apps for its music-streaming service simply titled Gaana (Hindi for song). Leading to the apps launch, I spoke with Times Internet CEO Satyan Gajwani. Our conversation started with my simple question about what is happening at Times Internet, given all the new developments. Satyan's answer was summed up in three points, outlined below.
1. Company focus
"Instead of being a content company that uses tech, be a tech company that uses content."
The Times Group is a media and content company. Like most content companies, it can either pursue simple ways of wrapping the same content differently for devices or actually work on developing specific applications that tailor experiences for devices and type of content.
Satyan plans to achieve the latter by offering unique experiences for the wide variety of content. Gaana, BoxTV, and the several Times Internet web properties are examples of this focus.
2. Company structure
"Our competition is in a garage."
A media conglomerate is a media conglomerate. The mid-level management and hurdles of bureaucracy affect every large organization. Satyan realizes this. He believes his competition is an agile startup run by a few passionate people not restricted by a formal corporate structure. With this in mind, Satyan is turning Times Internet into a company that's a group of small startups working on their own projects.
The idea of inculcating the startup structure within Times Internet across its properties explains another philosophy that Satyan believes in for Times Internet at this stage. When I was arranging this conversation, I was sent a slide deck with all the properties under Times Internet. I had two quick observations as I went through the product list:
"Synergy is overrated; let businesses stand on their own."
There are just too many properties
There is no umbrella branding other than the group responsible for them.
I asked Satyan if he is planning any single destination to get access to all these web services offered by Times Internet, and he said that IndiaTimes.com is the place for now, and that synergy is overrated and he'd rather see his products spinning into their own business units. Satyan's vision of breaking Times Internet into smaller startups working on their product and not held back due to relying on another product team does help him achieve his larger goal.
When you are huge company that has investments across the board in your industry, you tend to try reinventing the wheel yourself rather than reaching out and forming an alliance. According to Satyan, this is the third change he plans to bring. Times Internet's partnership with Gawker Media and timesPoynt are examples of this. In addition to these, Times Internet has investments in around five to 10 companies.
My second part of the conversation was focused on the three high-profile products coming under Satyan Gajwani.
"Music was 1.0 in India."
The Times Group's interest in music isn't recent; it owns one of India's biggest commercial radio stations (Radio Mirchi) and started the brick-and-mortar music retail chain called Planet M (later sold to Videocon). Gaana isn't the group's first online music venture, either; the lesser-known Times Music is an online store for buying and playing regional Indian songs.
Enter Gaana, Times Internet's serious foray into digital music in India. To begin with, Gaana is now available across all popular platforms:
"Gaana exposes you to music you didn't know you wanted."
Windows 8 RT.
The service is straightforward and simple to navigate. Gaana's web-streaming service launched not long ago, after Dhingana and Saavn. However, according to metrics used by Times Internet, it's doing better than expected against competition, at least on the web. With the recent launch of its mobile apps, these numbers should improve.
Satyan is quite proud of the interface design of all the apps and the website. He explained that the website's design might seem cluttered to some, but for Times Internet, the interface is working. The variety of options all over the page helps it retain users longer than the competition; Gaana's retention is three times that of the competition. I agree. The option to switch between pre-configured top-20 playlists, new releases, albums, artists, etc is good. The interface backs Satyan's vision of making Gaana oriented toward discovery of music, rather than collections (Spotify or iTunes).
I got access to Gaana's Android app a few days before the apps went public, and it worked well. I could easily browse through it. It's a simple music-streaming app, and therein lies its goodness.
As of now, Gaana has no plans of monetizing the service through subscriptions or downloads.
2. Gizmodo and LifeHacker India
The Indian tech sector isn't as glamorous as the one in the US. Chances of a writer finding an iPhone prototype at a bar in India are highly unlikely. That aside, the harsh truth about India's consumer-tech scene is dominated by cheap tablets and mobile phones, which is not exactly what Gizmodo is known for. I asked Satyan about this, and while he largely agreed, his plan for Gizmodo India is twofold:
Leverage Gizmodo's existing Indian audience and tailor the content for them
Slowly build a small team of writers to cover the tech developments in India.
Satyan believes that the partnership with Gawker will let Times Internet get access to international events and developments without investing in sending their own people and essentially duplicating content that the most avid tech followers will eventually end up on the likes of CNET, The Verge, Engadget, or Gizmodo. (Gawker will most likely follow its Australian model.)
It will be easier for LifeHacker to find a foothold in India, since tips and tricks are as relevant to the Indian user as to someone in the US.
In a limited beta, BoxTV is Times Internet's movie- and TV-streaming service. There have been several attempts thus far for coming up with India's Netflix, none any good. If Satyan is able to achieve his vision, BoxTV might be India's answer to piracy, Netflix and India's insatiable diet for consuming movies and TV shows. While several production houses have turned to YouTube for serving their content, licensing remains an issue with most of the content being region locked to India. I asked Satyan if he plans to do something about this, and make BoxTV attractive to the Indians not living in India; his answer made sense in theory.
Satyan has a dual strategy to attract viewers in India and outside of India:
Offer Indian TV shows and movies to Indians living outside of India
Offer American TV shows and movies to Indians within India.
The idea is that the most popular TV shows in the US are eventually pirated in India (due to lack of availability), and the Indians outside of India have access to limited Indian content. Both groups would be willing to pay for a service that adds value to their TV-viewing experience. BoxTV will be a subscription-based service, and Satyan envisions apps for consoles at some point in time.
Efforts and visions like Satyan's are inspiring for two reasons:
Making huge corporations in India embrace technology, thereby helping develop better technology infrastructure
Exposing Indians to content that will help fight piracy and bring better broadband connectivity (more demand for better speeds, which might result in greedy companies offering it).