June 23, 2005

End of Whatever!

After almost two years of trying my best to move to the mountain, yesterday, I finally took up the offer that came my way and by this time tomorrow, provided all goes according to plan, I should have put in my papers and once the required (un)necessary explanations are given, I can hopefully get close to what I really want to do in life -- to do the start up thing again. After all, if the mountain were to move him, Mohammed would have quite an existential problem on his hands and it was getting quite close to that.

Even though I have had my little triumphs here, I have performed nowhere close to what I could have done and everything, good or bad, has to end at some point. I don't believe in bitching anonymously about the organisation that I am working for and even after I leave it, I don't think I'd be doing any of that. It has its huge share of problems, I did give it a good shot and I also had given a fair degree of warning in advance that I was looking to move on. But I have learnt a lot in the past two years and I don't think huge places are really my cup of tea.

The new profile is an out-and-out start up scenario. We have to find and hire all the right people and set everything, from the basic HTML page to the level of integration we are aiming for, up from scratch. It should be a refreshing change, after two years of fighting established processes, procedures and mindless bureaucratic hurdles, to write your own rules and get things going. After a prolonged period of near-constant inactivity, it is time once again for the action to start. It is time to oil the rusty cogs and get them squeaking first and then make them run like hell.

While we were in the process of thrashing out our vision yesterday, I was kind of amazed at how almost no one, even the REALLY senior television star who was there, had not much of a clue about the state of the industry. While I did say a lot, in my usual fashion, there was nothing groundbreaking or revolutionary that I said, it was stuff that I thought was common knowledge. Stuff like how media, especially the big newspapers, are nothing but enablers of a desirable lifestyle and how they are no longer providers of news or information. Strange!

We talked about the raging rag wars in Mumbai -- DNA, HT, ToI, TMM and everything else under the journalistic sun. I was once again taken aback, though, when almost everyone said out in unison that it is the content that is going to win people over for DNA. Really, how different can you do content these days? 80% of space is covered by wire copy, there is only so much packaging can do and really, with ToI establishing mainstream journalism as various combinations of skin, soft news and advertorials, does there exist space to stand apart and sell a lot too? I don't think so.

Eventually, if you have to beat the ToI behemoth, you will have to beat them at their own game by becoming the number of vehicle for advertisers in India. It won't matter to most if you push the plight of rural Bihar as a page one anchor. It would matter to a few, but that few will only get you into The Indian Express territory, where you have such low print runs that you can comfortably release your late city edition even at three in the morning or even scrap the page one, make another one that late in the game and still not have your readers not know of the delay.

Ultimately, it will be about the buzz, hype and the muscle that DNA is willing to push ToI with. It will be about the degree of 'should have it' factor that they can attach with the product which will get them the readers. 80+ pages is something nobody reads these days. The battle will be fought at the level of the vendor, who will be the ultimate arbiter of who gets the top spot on his display window. ToI has nothing to fear from the content that DNA is going to push. What it has to fear is that its rate of growth is slowing and it can only go down from here.