It is an awkward marriage – a channel dear to India’s liberals and a social media website home to the Hindu right-wing. This month, NDTV and Koo inked a one-year partnership to host their respective content on the other’s platform.
On August 18, NDTV went live on Koo, collecting over 20,000 followers since.
On the same day, the social media website featured twice on the news channel NDTV 24x7 during primetime: first, in anchor Sanket Upadhyay’s interview with politician Sushmita Dev, who recently quit the Congress party to join the All India Trinamool Congress. Upadhyay picked a question from Koo – ”what is the current position of Congress in Indian politics?” – and posed it to Dev.
The second instance occurred in a debate on India’s diplomatic strategy on Afghanistan. The channel’s incipient Koo handle had put out a poll on the right-tilting social media website. It asked, “Should India engage with the Taliban?” Fifty-two percent said it shouldn’t, and that was flashed on the channel as what “Indians feel” about the country’s foreign policy.
That’s not all. On August 18, the editorial desk at NDTV.com received a simple instruction from an editor: “Important: We need to have Koo embeds in 3 stories every week, starting from this week. (Part of the NDTV-Koo deal.)”
So, when the government of India’s press information bureau, or PIB, Koo-ed that the country’s vaccination coverage had crossed 56 crore, it was duly published in an NDTV on Covid, and not the that carried that same information.
According to a person familiar with the deal’s fine print, for one year, NDTV has to feature Koo content on primetime slots every night. While this and the embeds on NDTV.com will help Koo increase its visibility, it will in turn let NDTV tap into a vernacular online constituency.
NDTV told Newslaundry that the Koo deal was rooted in the value that the media company finds in social media engagement. “This partnership with Koo, like others that we have with platforms like Google and Facebook, establishes NDTV’s strength and credibility on social media which is an increasing area of importance for all news organisations,” it said. “We look forward to engaging with our broadcast and online audience on all platforms.”
The channel declined to comment on Koo's concrete deliverables as part of the deal. Koo co-founder and CEO Aprameya Radhakrishna also refused to comment on this story.
In its efforts to reach out to more media companies for partnerships, Koo has emphasised how it gives “vernacular languages speakers of India a platform to express themselves in their mother tongue and consume thoughts from other community members in a language of their preference.”
The website, which on moderation and has earned a reputation for becoming a refuge for anti-Muslim hatred, claims that it has more than 10 million downloads and nearly 4.5 million active monthly users, up from six months ago. While this makes it a small fish chasing Twitter’s big shark – Twitter has nearly 17.5 million users in India – the app has the helping hand of the government of India, which sees it as an to an errant Twitter.
Earlier this year, as the Narendra Modi government sparred with Twitter over a “manipulated media” tag on tweets of several Bharatiya Janata Party politicians, the information technology ministry Twitter on Koo for not fully complying with its order to take down inflammatory content. Union minister Piyush Goyal even urged his followers to join Koo, with the social media website returning favour by about the minister’s growing followers.
NDTV is not the only media company to join Koo. Early entrants from the news channel space include the Times group, the News18 group, India Today group, India TV and the Republic media network. From print media, Hindustan Times, New Indian Express, Amar Ujala, Dainik Jagran, Loksatta and Punjab Kesari have pitched their tents on the social media website.
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