“Sorry, no. Content by itself has no value for us, only views [of it] do,” said a venture capitalist last week to a media startup’s founder, matter-of-factly. “We’re still hesitant on investing in Indian media startups but are slowly leaning towards the possibility of investing in them sometime in the near future.”

The venue was a Hilton hotel in Gurugram, née Gurgaon, and the backdrop was an event titled “Indian Content Startup Conclave 2017.” Just a while ago, a panel had just finished discussing the topic, “Can content become a standalone business in the digital age?”

The founder was flabbergasted. Just moments ago, the VC on the panel discussion had said India media startups ought to delay attempts at monetisation till such time they had built adequate scale (say, 10 million page views?). Build credibility and scale, said the VC, and only then monetise.

If the founder found the VC’s response ironical, given the event and the panel discussion, he didn’t show it. Because, what was the point?

It’s a known fact that media, at least right now in India, isn’t a “VC fundable” business. But that hasn’t deterred many founders, including those of The Ken, from starting off. As millions of Indians get online and change their media consumption habits, traditional mediums like print and television are either going into a slow decline, or at best, a last phase of growth before the final slowdown.

And stepping into the funding void left by largely play-it-safe (or follow-the-herd) VCs, are angel investors. Like Raghav Bahl. Nandan Nilekani. Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw. Vijay Shekhar Sharma. Haresh Chawla. Ratan Tata.

Chennai-based Paper.vc helped us crunch some numbers on the officially available investment figures into Indian media startups, including us.

Investments in Indian Media Startups (Source: Paper.vc)

All quite accomplished entrepreneurs in their own right, but now bound by a desire to bankroll media startups.

“Not VC fundable”

“I look upon myself as neither an angel nor a VC, but as ‘long term strategic’”, says Raghav Bahl, the former founder and managing director of Network 18, one of India’s largest media groups, which was bought by Reliance Industries in 2014. Bahl, along with his wife Ritu Kapur, funded Quintillion Media, the company that runs news sites like The Quint and Bloomberg Quint. Quintillion is also an investor in The News Minute, the leading English language news site for South India.

“My investment in The News Minute is not about how quickly the venture can scale and return cash. They’re great journalists and at some stage, they will become large,” says Bahl.

Vignesh Vellore, the co-founder and CEO of The News Minute, says Bahl hasn’t asked him “a single question” about his strategy to date. “His only advice was for us to only focus on content.”

“We knew it would be tough to raise capital for media unless you had scale.

AUTHOR

Rohin Dharmakumar

Rohin is co-founder and CEO at The Ken. He holds an MBA from the Indian Institute of Management, Calcutta and an engineering degree in Computer Sciences from the R.V.C.E., Bangalore.

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