Marketing strategy

Strong content planning, programming and marketing strategy makes CNN-News18 the industry leader: Smriti Mehra

Mumbai: CNN-News18 became the leading English news channel by relative market share in weeks 15-18 2022, according to Broadcast Audience Research Council (Barc) India. The channel obtained a relative share of 29%, followed by the other channels Republic TV (25.90%) and Times Now (23.80%).

The channel’s lead became even more remarkable during prime time between 6:00 p.m. and 11:00 p.m. where its relative share reached 37.3 percent with Republic TV a distant second at 28.7 percent.

The channel’s jump in ratings was supported by a sustained strategy by the broadcaster to expand its programming to cater to all geographies of the country and to build its content strategy around the information consumers want to see. This strategy was implemented during the “ratings darkness” period that lasted from October 2020 to March 2022 (week 10 2022) when no Barc data was available for individual news channels.

With 19 years of experience, Smriti Mehra leads the Network18 Group news brands such as CNBC TV18, CNBC Awaaz, CNBC Bajar and She is an experienced revenue manager with a demonstrated track record of working in the media industry across all mediums.

His expertise lies in customer relationship management, market research, management, marketing and business development.

His past associations include stints at Bennett Coleman and Company, Discovery Communications, Turner Broadcasting and Arré.

In conversation with, CEO of Network18 Media and Investments – business news Smriti Mehra who talks about the network’s business strategy, brand positioning and marketing initiatives to become a leading brand in the English news genre.

Edited excerpts

On the programming strategy adopted by Network18 during the ‘dark ratings’ period

In the 18 months that there were no reviews, we consciously took a step back from everything we were doing. When you work in a fast-paced industry, certain paradigms and patterns are formed that everyone conforms to. We took this time to reflect and it wasn’t just a passive process, it involved social listening and observing the content. We asked if there was a more specific target group we wanted to target. We decided we needed to branch out beyond just the political news service to understand what consumers really want to watch.

The channel has built its content strategy around several layers of content. Now it displays content about start-ups and sports while there is still political news at the center.

Network18 has an extensive network of 1,200 journalists across the country that helps us go hyperlocal. There is also a strong international presence with brands like CNN and CNBC. It helps us to cover a whole palette in our content strategy and that’s what we offered to the consumer.

Bringing it all together has been an evolved content strategy. Along with distribution, this has resulted in a dramatic increase in performance for CNN-News18 and I think this strategy, where we put the consumer at the center and build content around them, is here to stay. CNN-News18 is not just a talk show channel, we offer story-based content that really resonates with our viewers.

On a wide programming to attract a wider audience to the channel

To expand our content offering, we have integrated our newsroom. The content should be offered on multiple platforms and in multiple formats, but at the center the product remains the same, which is the news. This has helped us attract eyeballs or target audiences beyond the core TG of the kind of news each channel is looking for.

On brand positioning – ‘news over noise’

What I have told you about also reflects our positioning. We want to invest our minds, our energy and our efforts in actually making the news. It’s also about breaking the existing mold of TV programming and moving away from the standard model. It’s an experiment we try and some of the experiments may succeed and some may not succeed but in the end the consumer is at the center of the news programming we build.

There has been a positive response to our efforts from viewers and acceptance of our programming. That’s not to say that this strategy is set in stone and not open to change because some things will work and some won’t. Overall, we are constantly putting pressure on ourselves to evolve as viewer demand changes and audiences demand something different from news programming.

On the consumption trends of the English-speaking public in the news genre

The broadcast notes a growing need for convergence. The levy of news consumption is shifting to screens beyond television. Television content is also moving from just cable and DTH to being fed over the Internet.

The sources of news and the credibility of news brands, however, do not change. There are still people who want to listen to brands like ours whether it’s CNN-News18 or CNBC-TV18.

We go beyond TV news. Our brand spans formats such as video platform, audio and we are investing in products like Local18, our hyperlocal news platform, and we are also growing our social media content. It’s the need of the hour and there’s no running away.

On channel revenue

Channel revenue changes in two ways.

One is just television ratings. Not just now but even during the Covid phase when the ratings were there because there was no new content on the entertainment channels and live sports weren’t happening the kind of news has experienced a huge increase in viewership.

The news cycle has become extremely relevant in the context of Covid and the economy. People were turning to the news and being an essential service we were up and running at all times. During this period, we have seen huge interest from viewers and because of this, many advertisers have partnered with us. This was an industry phenomenon and not limited to CNN-News18.

The return of the ratings has only reinforced our positioning and multiplied our associative and commercial agreements with many advertisers.

The second part is Network18 Group as a whole is diversifying its content and putting news at the center of all of its programming efforts. And I think advertisers noticed our efforts. We have become much more brand safe and have created a non-volatile environment to advertise.

We’ve created solutions for major advertisers like Reckitt, who partnered with us for the “Mission Paani” social campaign. P&G has partnered with us on the “Period of Pride” campaign around menstrual health education. These are reputable brands that want to influence behavior change through social campaigns.

When you do all of these things, my 19 year experience has shown that income usually follows. This strategy was not adopted solely based on revenue, but as an overall business strategy supporting all pillars of Network18.

Partnering with brands for larger initiatives

There’s a lot more appetite among brands to do socially responsible messaging campaigns. On June 5, World Environment Day, you must have noticed that a plethora of brands released posts celebrating the day. Climate change is a reality and while the country has experienced one of the harshest summers in decades, brands want their communication to reflect what the consumer is going through.

Many brands want to partner with a larger platform like ours to co-create and build great campaigns that speak to the consumer. We at Network18 are brilliantly prepared to run such campaigns as we have national presence, regional presence and speak 12 Indian languages. We report news from all corners of the country and there is also a great digital reach.

On the channel’s business strategy in the future

We want to continue our leadership in content and performance. We were able to achieve this very quickly during the exercise. Our efforts will be to stay in this position and grow from here. We will strive to experiment with more content formats as we continue to stay committed to our diversification intent for CNN-News18. Beyond that, we’d like to partner with advertisers to work on contextual campaigns and co-create great campaigns that really convey their message in a credible way.

English news content will go multi-screen sooner than any other language. The answer to this trend is not to divide your business into silos. Network18 has a very large television and digital business and we have seamlessly converged on the content side and the business side everywhere. This is a step that most companies have not taken.

For us, digital business is growing at a hyper-fast speed and that’s happening because there’s great monetization of audiences coming to digital.

On the marketing actions undertaken by the network to strengthen its positioning

During the two years of the pandemic, we consistently ran our campaigns that had nothing to do with the CNN-News18 brand or TV ratings. Our marketing was about building a responsible voice and communicating what was important to the consumer. We ran a campaign that celebrated frontline workers “Extraordinary Among Us” and another on India’s support for Covid orphans. There were campaigns about masking and social distancing because the community needed to know.

In the coming months, you will see new intellectual properties (IP) from our stable that capitalize on CNN-News18’s leadership position.