With the launch of TheQuint.com, a mobile news service, by Raghav Bahl’s new company, Quintillion Media Pvt. Ltd., we revisit Rahul Bhatia’s profile of Bahl and TV18 (a quintillion, incidentally, is 1018), ‘The Network Effect.’ In this extract, we take a look at Bahl’s earlier enterprises and the ambition behind them.
Raghav Bahl is a former management consultant who entered the media industry when he became a correspondent for Doordarshan in the 1980s, while he was still in his twenties. Soon, he was anchoring Newstrack, the monthly television newsmagazine made by Aroon Purie’s sister, Madhu Trehan. “He was a really dynamic young anchor then,” CB Arun Kumar, who met Bahl on the Newstrack sets in 1989, said. “He was full of good ideas. People were more into politics and general news, but he was into business.”
In 1991, Bahl joined Business India, a publishing house, to create a business version of Newstrack for television. The programme was called The Business India Show. They had produced exactly one edition when, on 21 May 1991, Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated. “You have to imagine how the whole country was in turmoil. It made a lot of business people very jittery. We put the programme on hold because we wanted to wait and see what would happen,” Arun Kumar said.
Sanjay Ray Chaudhuri, one of Network18’s founders, described the ensuing upheaval in an essay he wrote for Mint. “There followed a frustrating time when we were drawing salaries and doing no work. We were young, hungry, ambitious, impatient and at the prime of our working lives. The Gulf War had already shown us the future. The satellite revolution was at our doorstep.” In the meantime, Bahl, Chaudhuri, and Arun Kumar started a new production company, Television Eighteen, in Delhi. (Chaudhuri is now executive director in the Network18 group; Arun is the academic director of a film school in Mumbai.)
With nothing happening, Bahl pitched for work everywhere. “The mood was depressing at the time,” Arun Kumar said. He lucked out when the BBC saw the work Television Eighteen had done. They signed Bahl up to produce and anchor a show called India Business Report. To train the staff, the BBC sent down a retired veteran who went out on shoots with Television Eighteen’s young staff for a few months. His mandate was to bring them up to the BBC’s standards. This wasn’t difficult. Bahl’s video editors and cameramen were graduates of Jamia Millia Islamia, whose mass communications programme produced skilled technicians. Their methods seeped through the organisation, as did the experience of Television Eighteen’s founders.