Summary:

The past year has see Reuters launch an India specific website, a service targeting farmers called Reuters Market Light in Maharashtra, and…

The past year has see Reuters launch an India specific website, a service targeting farmers called Reuters Market Light in Maharashtra, and most significantly, and on the television front part ways with BCCL (Times of India Group) over Times Now. Reuters has been talking to prospective partners in India over setting up TV operations – they need a partner in India because only 26 percent foreign investment is allowed in the news media space. I spoke to Azhar Rafee, Executive VP Media (Asia) for Reuters on the sidelines of the NDTV New Media Congress earlier this month:

How has it been for Reuters in India over the past year?
Very good. Last year we brought the top guy in – SN Bhaduri, who was heading the digital initiatives for Hindustan Times earlier – and he helped us create a strategic plan. We spent on getting a team together, hiring product people, and on editorial refinement and redoing the site. We put the first elements of the site together and launched in October 2007. The traffic has been very good and the revenue has also started. We’ve got some great advertisers – Microsoft (NSDQ: MSFT), Religare, HP, American Express.
There’s a certain dichotomy you face as an agency vs a consumer business…
You know, we don’t have that challenge anymore. The people who come directly to Reuters come to the source for some material, while our clients, who buy content from us, are established media companies. Our clients are very confident in their own ability to take content from us, and then create an experience and editorial material that serves their clients and readers. It’s not an apple to apple comparison, so we don’t really have to deal with that dichotomy.
How is Reuters Market Light doing?
We launched Market Light last year, and the idea was to empower the farmers, providing weather forecasts, price transparency. Amit Mehra is heading this. We want to go to three states by the end of the year and make it multilingual. We’re covering 17 different crops, and putting together an editorial team together just so the focus is right. We did strong pre-research, and are refining the content. I think we’re definitely going to push the Market Light a lot more. How about taking this price transparency into a transaction? Our goal is to get 250,000 – 300,000 farmers by the end of this year. Regional languages are very important here; the farmers need to have access to the content. There will be a component where they can dial in and get support, but it has to be a simple and easy service.

More on new services planned and the BCCL deal in the extended text

Can we expect more services from Reuters?
We’ve launched with a stock oriented site, and are going into mutual funds, commodities, currency – that’s the idea. We will continue to be a premium service and the idea is to be the leading brand for the personal wealth management and individual investing in India. We’re talking about generating revenue and having teams on the ground.
What happened with the BCCL deal?
Times Now is a channel that is number one in its genre. As partners, felt that our strategies were evolving, and that different approaches would work better for individual companies. It was nothing more than that. We continue to provide them with our content and services, but from the strategic partnership perspective we felt that the direction we wanted to take in India was different from theirs. Sometimes what happens is that the goals we set for ourselves – we did achieve them – but to move forward it was better for us and them that we work with separate strategy. We remain extremely bullish on India and the team size is increasing, but more importantly, it’s important to note that we are engaged to figure out how to take this forward and whom to take this forward with.
So have you set yourself a timeline? Particularly since many content partnerships – NBCU-NDTV, ABC-UTV – are being closed in India?
The media space is a broad area where you can have multiple partners. I don’t see any closed doors…it’s going to take a bit of time. I wish it was faster – sometime this year, but hard to pin down whether June, July or August. Our teams are actively engaged in conversations, and I hope something will materialize.
What do you need prospective partners to bring to the table? How do you compare new entrants into the media space with existing ones?
Anybody in the media space is typically a client of ours. Local market knowledge is important. Television experience is important. We’ve got things covered from the global perspective. Question is how can we take what we have and marry it to something local to create a compelling experience for the Indian marketplace. I see strengths in both new entrants and established entrants in the media space – the new entrants come with very strong backgrounds and new ways of doing things, and some challenges.

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