Times Internet, the nearly Rs 1,000 crore (~$155 million) digital subsidiary of the Times Group, the Rs 10,000 crore (~$1.55 billion) giant that is India’s largest media company, has ambitions.
For the past six months, it has been in the market to actively raise venture funding to increase its scale as well as reduce its dependence on its parent. Informal and early conversations with a few investors that started last year are learnt to have morphed this year into a clear mandate given to Raine, a globally respected investment bank that specialises in technology and media clients. According to multiple sources, the mandate was to raise between $150-200 million at a post-money valuation of above $1 billion.
Times Internet has also been working on “Times Prime”, the internal codename for a subscription-based digital offering under which it plans to roll up various media and entertainment offerings from its own stable as well as others. The tentative launch date for this programme is understood to be October 2017, that is around the festival of Diwali.
In addition, it is also putting together an ambitious new streaming video offering that will feature both original, commissioned content as well as that syndicated from its own stable of media brands.
Incorporated in 1999, but having spent the first 10 years of its life under the claustrophobic and controlling shadow of its parent, it was only around 2009 that Times Internet began to chart its own strategy. The first few years were tough until in 2012 it finally hit its stride. And like a child that spent its formative years under suspicious, control-freak parents, only to bloom as a 13-year-old teenager, it then started to dream big.
India is undoubtedly the biggest internet and mobile opportunity globally. For a country of over 1.2 billion, only 450 million are connected to the internet. Of these, only around 300 million have a smartphone. The number of e-commerce shoppers is much lesser.
Google and Facebook control most of the gates that connect advertisers to this population, while everyone else fights for the scraps. There’s a clear gap for a viable third player—a homegrown alternative. That’s the opportunity Times Internet sees.
Across over three dozen of its varied properties, it, today, claims to reach nearly 250 million unique users, making it the biggest aggregate publisher after Google and Facebook. “We’ve seen 4X growth in the last three years, including acquisitions,” says Gautam Sinha, 52, the CEO.
Under the amiable and polite Sinha, who went from being hired as CTO in 2006 to becoming the group’s COO in 2012 before finally becoming its CEO, Times Internet has doubled down on a multiprong strategy to become a “B-A-T equivalent for India”.
B-A-T refers to the Baidu-Alibaba-Tencent trio that controls much of the Chinese internet and mobile sector. Each of the three giants have their tentacles spread across dozens and hundreds of companies that in turn offer services to Chinese consumers.