10 December 2004: No bluffing, this time. Hindustan Times is finally coming to Bombay. After years of being held hostage by Medianet and Response which have practically taken over Times of India, Mumbai readers may finally have a choice. HT's tryst with the Mumbai reader is drawing close: Mid-June 2005, Hindustan Times is expected to hit the Bombay news stands. Boribunder, watch your back.
There have been previous reports, mostly unconfirmed ones churned out by out-of-job media analysts, which set Hindustan Times Mumbai edition launch for 2004. This did not happen, and the whole year passed by. A predominantly Delhi newspaper, Hindustan Times' Mumbai ambitions have always been well-known, though it never officially revealed any date to launch its Bombay edition.
Meanwhile, there was talk that Hindustan Times had put in a bid to acquire a stake Mumbai's little tabloid Mid-Day. This too did not happen. Even as rumour mills were working over time,Henderson Global Investors acquired a 20% stake in Hindustan Times Media, HT's holding company. Henderson invested US$22 million in HT Media for a 20% stake. HT Media is a KK Birla group company.
Hindustan Times has appointed Ranganathan Thota as chief for its Mumbai project. His designation will be Business Head (West & South). But Thota is not exactly a newspaper man. Earlier, he worked in consumer companies like GE, Whirlpool & Pepsi. He last worked with Pentair Water which markets water systems. One wonders HT's intentions in hiring a non-news man to head a project of enormousprestige and commercial importance to Hindustan Times.
Previously, Hindustan Times had appointed Triveni Das as Head of Ad Sales, West & South, who has worked in the media before. Rajiv Verma, who joined as CEO, HT Media Limited, in October 2004, said in a report: "I am confident that with Ranga’s addition, the HT team will be strengthened and our leadership talent pool will be broadened so that we can grow our business at a rapid pace."
Meanwhile, Amit Garg, previously Business Manager at Nokia has joined Hindustan Times as Associate Vice-president, Marketing, from January 3, 2005. He will be reporting to Anand Bhardwaj, Vice-president, Marketing, HT Media Limited.
In 2004, Hindustan Times bought land in the far-flung Mumbai suburb of Panvel to launch the edition, which mystified a lot of media watchers. Infrastructure to set up operations is being built in full swing at Panvel. Most of Mumbai's newspapers are located bang in the middle of the city. The exceptions are Indian Express, which in 1999 moved to a cheaper location in Lalbaug, Mid-Day, which works from Lower Parel and Business Standard, which operates from Worli.
Of all the papers, Hindustan Times, if it is launched from Panvel, will be the newspaper farthest from Bombay's city centre. If you take a suburban train, it takes you almost an hour and a half to reach Panvel station. By car, it would take even more. Panvel is expected to be a disincentive to hacks with Times of India, Indian Express and others, who have been impatient to receive the new player in town with deep pockets.
(In retrospect, it may be mentioned that several journalists in Mumbai got married at the peak of dotcom boom in 2000 - that was when several websites and Bridge News -- lured them with dollar paychecks.)
HT officials say that Hindustan Times Bombay edition would not be an exact replica of its Delhi edition. Readers and consumer behaviour in the two cities are not completely similar, and the Mumbai edition would be as per the requirements of that city.
Is there really space for another mass-circulation morning newspaper in Mumbai? We think so. So does Vir Sanghvi, editorial director at Hindustan Times. He has gone on record saying that "Readers in India’s most prosperous, cosmopolitan and modern city – and the city I grew up in – are tired of being taken for granted and treated like morons."
Though speculation about Hindustan Times Mumbai edition launch has been brewing for a while, Vir Sanghvi pooh-poohs them. " I’m not even aware that there were reports to this effect. But then this is a media business, so rumours are part of the game. As for the launch, it is going ahead exactly as we had planned," he told a website.
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