The 84-year-old Kunwar Natwar Singh stole the limelight last year after a silence of eight years for his autobiography “One life is not enough”. A former senior bureaucrat and a loyal politician of the Indian National Congress party since 1984, opened up for the first time via his book for the ill-treatment his party meted out to him and specially by the Congress President Sonia Gandhi. The book brought out the inner politics, leaving the party in a compromising position at a time when Congress was trying to shield itself from various corruption scandals.
I am yet to read the book but it was the extensive conversation between well-known Indian journalist Madhu Trehan and Natwar Singh that gave me the dope on the entire episode. More than an hour long, the video wasn’t a part of any TV show but hosted on Newslaundry (NL), the online publication’s YouTube channel in three parts.
Madhu, one of the founding members of Newslaundry that claims to bring unbiased coverage and questions everyone including the media too, has also been one of the popular faces of its YouTube channel. Whether it be her no-nonsense interviews with popular personalities - Rajdeep Sardesai, Sanjay Baru, Rahul Pandita, among others or the channel’s most viewed video published three years ago with 349K views - “Can You Take It Karan Thapar.” A spectacular 18-minute interview where Madhu gives Karan a dose of his own medicine.
Surely, TV can’t digest a show where Karan couldn’t take it anymore. “Presently TV channels have very strict S & P (standards and practices) rules and lines that you can’t cross. While there are many upsides of TV stations like the reach and also the logistical support they can give to a creator, they have a rather narrow view of programming which is understandable because the costs and overheads of running a TV station are very high. Thus there is very little scope or appetite for risk and experimenting with something new,” informed Abhinandan Sekhri Co-Founder at Newslaundry.
Founded in 2012, Newslaundry launched its YouTube page in the same year and has uploaded more than 571 videos gaining more than 38K subscribers and more than 5 million views. It was a bold move from an online publisher to venture into the space of videos when the industry was debating on infrastructure problems and cost. Things have changed in 2015, India is one of the top three video consuming markets in the world and mobile is driving the consumption patterns. “The idea is to tap into the low cost webcast as opposed to high cost broadcast platform and target the mobile viewer. Its been interesting with many learnings,” he added.
Talking about the experience on hosting the YouTube channel with a wide variety of web shows, he said that in the online world content matters more than production values and scale, whereas on TV, style can trump substance. “Also viewing habits of people on mobile are different than on TV. The objective is to be a big enough player to matter when the mobile and internet connectivity Tsunami peaks. I’d say we’ve been successful in our objectives so far.”
Content has been the forte of NL’s YouTube channel; from interviews to candid talks, the focus has been to bring about discussions over current topics, not leaving behind humor too. Clothesline, NL Lite, The Cleaners are some of the web shows that have also found popularity bringing a different aspect to the video content being hosted on the YouTube channel.
Drill down the playlist section of NL on its YouTube page and you can find a heap load of interesting videos. “We’ve tried many things. The strategy has been to try anything that pops into our head and see how it works. That is what is great about this medium that you can know for sure (with credible data, unlike TAM which is up for debate) and see what works and when and why. The analysis one can do from the analytics are amazing.”
Here is one instance where NL has explored news delivery while wrapping it in humor for its web show NL Lite:
Going forward NL plans to explore its content further and wants to break up its content into 3 categories. “One that is editorial conviction which is not analytics driven, one directly funded by viewers and one that is a hybrid of the two. More details will be available on our website as we move forward,” said Abhinandan.
In terms of platform NL has been dominant on YouTube for years now but with Facebook trying to snatch Google’s dominance in videos, the publication is also exploring both platforms. However the experiment is pretty new so NL has been patient and considers it to be pretty early to pass any judgement on the difference in the reach from both platforms.
With more and more online publishers experimenting with online video content specially with YouTube, Abhinandan finds it really great and thinks that there is always a demand of doing something that has been done before and succeeded, it’s a culture that doesn’t let creativity really push the boundaries. “YouTube series allow creators to go with their gut and experiment with all sorts of formats, stories and storytelling devices. This will throw up a lot of shitty and average work but it is also the only way really brilliant ideas, films and series will come alive.”
The space is getting exciting for NL and the future is also interesting for the publication, “We have some plans here as well. Keep watching.”