The Times of India: Emerging Strategies for Growth

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Final Paper – Mini Case Study

May 13, 2004

The Times of India: Emerging Strategies for Growth
On January 22, 2004, Vineet Jain, managing director of the Times of India, entered his office smiling. He had just signed a joint operating agreement with Dow Jones & Co. to publish the Wall Street Journal for India. The Journal would be published 5 days a week, with Dow Jones owning 26% – the maximum allowed by foreign ownership laws – and the Times of India, owning 74% of the new venture. The content would focus on Indian readers and tap into the global resources of the Wall Street Journal. Additionally, the editor named was Suman Dubey, a nationally recognized Indian journalist.

This marked a major accomplishment for the both the Times of India and the country as a whole. The presence of a customized Wall Street Journal for India validated its growth and economic importance worldwide, a sentiment noted by Peter R. Kann, chairman and CEO of Dow Jones, who said in a press release: “India is a vibrant and growing part of the global economy, and we look forward to playing an increased role in charting – and spurring – that growth.” Jain himself echoed these comments, stating:

The joint venture comes at a moment when India is poised to become a global player across a range of industries: from software outsourcing and entertainment, to pharmaceuticals, textiles and automobile components. As Indian companies, investors and consumers begin to think beyond the geographical boundaries, the need for global information and perspective will grow. We believe that the venture fits in perfectly with the emerging needs of the time.
Indeed, the future seemed bright for The Times of India.
History of Journalism in India

While the printing press appeared in India as early as 1670, not until 1777 was the first newspaper printed in Bombay. These papers were operated by Parsi businessmen, and printed in English – several dozen existed by 1800. Papers in native languages appeared in the 1820s and 1830s; one example, Mumbai Samachar is still in publication today. By 1850 political newspapers like Rast Goftar began publication.

British colonialism contributed a tradition in freedom of the press, and ownership of many British newspapers was transferred to Indian business groups after independence. The country experienced an impressive growth after independence – in 1950 there were 214 daily newspapers and in 1990 that number had increased to 2,856. Today, India is a country rich with publications, with over 31,000 news titles published, including over 4,000 daily newspapers written in almost 100 languages. The largest newspaper in the country is the Times of India, published by Bennett, Coleman & Company.
Bennett, Coleman & Company

Bennett, Coleman & Co. is India’s largest media group, and owns several different media channels. It first published the Bombay Times and Journal of Commerce, later known as the Times of India, in 1838. Originally a British operation, the company has been under the leadership of the Jain family for 50 years. Vineet Jain is the third generation of his family to run Bennett, Coleman, and many of his family members play key roles in the business.

The American, and to a large extent worldwide, newspaper industry has experienced a slow decline in the past decade. Investors classify it as a mature industry and both circulation and advertising dollars have diminishing returns. But the Times of India is one of the papers to have bucked this trend, having grown 17% in the last five years, and becoming the largest English-language broadsheet in the world.

Bennett, Coleman’s holdings include:

  • The Times of India – Their flagship product and the world’s largest English broadsheet daily, with a circulation of 2.2 million copies nationwide daily and readership of 4 million.

  • The Economic Times – India’s most widely read financial paper and the second largest English business daily newspaper with a circulation of 400,000.

  • Femina – Magazine for the modern Indian woman. Femina organizes the Miss India pageants, the national feeder for Miss Universe.

  • Filmfare – Magazine about the Indian film and entertainment industry (Bollywood).

  • Navbharat Times/Sandhya Times – The nation’s leading Hindi daily newspapers.

  • Times FM – The largest FM broadcaster in five Indian cities, with an audience of over 7 million people.

  • Internet – Websites of their publications as well as a media portal.

  • Planet M Retail – Music and entertainment store.

  • Times Music Label – Indian and International music.

Critiques of Diversification

Jain has encountered much disapproval for his rapid growth. Critics argue that the Times of India uses its pages for too much blatant cross-promotion of its media products, which in turn diminishes its journalistic credibility. The paper published articles and used extensive editorial space touting their other media holdings, often ignoring stories pertaining to their competition. In 2003, the paper launched “edvotorials”, sections where public relations firms and companies can place content which, while they are advertisements, appear as news, save for a small disclaimer at the article’s end.

Press in India and around the world have picked up on the recent practices, which has cast a cloud over the integrity of the newspaper. The Times defends its methods with transparency, noting that paying to be featured in the newspaper is a practice they have never claimed to hide. Moreover, other media companies have looked at the soaring profits posted by Bennett, Coleman and considered replicating their methods. This has frightened many journalists, who have actively campaigned against these practices.

The backlash against the Times of India has been a continued concern of management. Ardent opponents have called for boycotts of all Bennett, Coleman products, prompting a protest campaign on a website, and calling the company the “Microsoft of Indian media – too penetrating, too rich, too arrogant, and too powerful.”

The Times of India sees this diversification and business development in a different light, an opportunity to meet a growing segment – the swelling ranks of the urban Indian middle-class. “[Combining news and advertising is] a model the rest of the media industry could follow and benefit from,” notes the Times Internet CEO Mahendra Swarup. Jain and his team have made the Times a destination, the must-read paper to begin the morning, not only for the current national, world, and business events, but also for the society gossip. And that combination sells papers. Jain noted:

Today's readers don't just expect news about politics or society or business issues anymore. They also expect an editorial line on contemporary issues like fashion, entertainment, and lifestyle. So instead of sticking to the traditional age-old methods of reporting on these categories, why not get the advertiser to give the news to you and pay for it as well! It's a win-win – the reader benefits and so does the advertiser.

Thoughts for the Future

As Vineet Jain reflected on the new exciting partnership with the Wall Street Journal, he reflected on other growth strategies for the future. He had publicly commented on his goal for more partnerships, stating: “We are open to strategic alliances that will not only bring value in terms of money but will enable us to emerge as a global media company.” In fact, a partnership with the BBC was already in the works.

However, the recent financially-motivated editorial decisions had serious implications towards partnerships with top global media companies. Jain had to wonder, does the richest privately-held media group in India really need to tarnish its journalistic integrity by chasing funds through quasi-news stories? Were there other emergent strategies for growth? Should Bennett, Coleman, & Company go public?

Staring out the window of his office, Vineet Jain reflected on these thoughts and where to bring his company in the future.

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