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India's largest media group accelerating push into digital services

[MUMBAI] The publisher of India's largest English-language newspaper is accelerating its push into technology services as it aims to boost revenue from segments outside news to about US$1 billion by 2025.

Bennett Coleman & Co, also known as the Times group, is aiming to take advantage of the shift among readers to online platforms from the traditional print media the company had thrived on, Satyan Gajwani, vice-chairman of Times Internet, the conglomerate's digital arm, said in an interview. The company is working with an adviser on possibly selling a 10 per cent stake in Times Internet, Bloomberg reported last month.

"The space where we feel we can be competitive is somewhere in between media and technology, which is kind of our sweet spot," Mr Gajwani said. Deeper engagement with audiences is the broader goal, he said.

The group's push for digital growth tracks a broader trend among the world's biggest tech companies as they spend big towards winning pieces of India's booming online gaming, e-commerce, payments and streaming businesses. Times Internet, founded in 1999, already owns some of the country's most popular news websites, live-streaming apps and fintech firms. It operates Cricbuzz, which specialises in cricket news, and news website EconomicTimes.com. It also runs the Gaana online music app, which had 150 million active users as at February.

Competition is quickly mounting in the sector, with Reliance Industries scooping up about US$20 billion of investment from giants including Facebook, Google, Intel and Qualcomm. Billionaire Mukesh Ambani's Reliance has drawn stake buyers with a plan to transform itself into a digital services powerhouse as hundreds of millions of Indians begin to rely on the Internet for shopping, payments, health and education.

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Times group is also drawing interest from investors, Mr Gajwani said.

"We've been approached by both financial and strategic investors," he said, without providing any details.

Some of the group's digital businesses are grabbing attention as well.

MX TakaTak, a short-video app owned by Times Internet portfolio company MX Media, has seen a sharp rise in downloads following India's ban of TikTok in June. The app is one of several including Roposo and Moj that are viewed as local competitors to TikTok, which was one of 59 Chinese apps banned in June amid rising tensions over an India-China border dispute.

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