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The economic slowdown in the country is evident across industries, from the automobile industry and FMCG to media and entertainment. According to reports, major publication houses in the country have cancelled their literature festivals citing the economic slowdown as a reason. In the wake of this, the Mathrubhumi Group is gearing up for the third edition of the Mathrubhumi International Festival of Letters (MBIFL) from Jan 30 to Feb 2, 2020. Since its inception in March 1923, Mathrubhumi has successfully yoked tradition and technology in embracing change. The evolution from letterpress to their brave new world was made without sacrificing the values bequeathed by their founders who fought in the Indian Independence movement and pioneered social reforms. MBIFL is envisioned as an extension of this commitment and belief. MV Shreyams Kumar, Joint Managing Director of Mathrubhumi Group believes that there is a need to evangelise the package that the Group brings to the table. It is strengthening its core by experimenting with AI journalism, templatisation, and utilising reporters and stringers attached to the mother brand as contributors for the verticals as well.

Here are excerpts from his conversation with IMPACT
Q] Major publication houses in India have cancelled their literature fests, as the economic slowdown is keeping sponsors away. But Mathrubhumi has ventured into the third edition of MBIFL. Tell us about your expectations from MBIFL?
Though we are a late entrant, the last two editions of MBIFL was a great success. Our model is slightly different. This is not a revenue generating event for us, but more for covering the cost of it. We don’t look at MBIFL as an opportunity to make profits. We may get 20-30 clients on board with small investments. This is how we are working for the last two years and it has worked quite well for us.

Q] Can you elaborate on the ways in which the literature fest is adding brand value to the Mathrubhumi Group? How do you plan to take MBIFL and branding to your audience?
Mathrubhumi has always been at the forefront in encouraging literature and freedom of speech and thinking. We have nurtured young talent. Renowned writers of Malayalam like MT Vasudevan Nair, Kuttikrishna Marar and NV Krishan Warrier were a part of Mathrubhumi family. Along with adding value to the brand we are equally focused in giving back to the society. We believe that knowledge becomes knowledge only when it is shared. Through MBIFL we are giving an opportunity to people to listen to different voices and perspectives. The event will be promoted through our own verticals. The festival has attained more popularity through word of mouth. As part of enhancing the grassroot connect of the festival with people, we are conducting a lecture series across 100 towns in Kerala involving eminent thought leaders from all walks of life. A quiz on literature will be organised across 150 colleges across the entire state.

Q] The economic slowdown has hit the industry with slowing sales, plant shutdowns and layoffs in the news. What is your assessment of the Kerala market today?
Instability in the global economy has indeed impacted the Indian media & entertainment industry, and there is a radical shift with new requirements emerging in the sector. There is certainly a decline in the market sentiment in Kerala as well. However, the impact is not that worrisome, given that as a 96-year old media house, we have successfully faced many economic, political and social upheavals in the past. Going forward I am quite optimistic that the M&E industry will prosper in the future. In Kerala, the ad revenue has been moderate during the Onam festivities. Diwali ad spends were mostly driven by e-commerce players, mobile phone brands, consumer deliverables and the FMCG sector.

Q] Do you see subscription revenues for publications increasing in the near future and by what quantum?
Mathrubhumi has over 11 periodicals spread across various genres, its readership has shown a substantial growth in terms of ad revenue and circulation figures. The Q2 IRS findings definitely support this claim. There is a certain level of loyalty, and commitment which the readers always have towards the magazines they subscribe. Our periodicals are aligned to the expectations and preferences of our readers, the content carries a very high weightage along with the formatting style which we continuously enhance aesthetically to produce high value brands.

Q] Indian newspapers are going through tremendous technology transformation and are adapting with means to compete with electronic and digital media. What are the strategies that Mathrubhumi employs in this regard?
KPMG predicts that over the next five years, Print is expected to grow at approximately 4.2% primarily on the back of advertising revenue, which will continue to dominate the revenue pie. The industry has an eye on the Digital space as new streams of monetisation become available and investment in digital assets increases. Having said this, Digital and Print are not contrary and could grow by leveraging each other’s strengths. To navigate the digital maze, we have invested in modernisation in a timely manner and introduced automation in our newsrooms, scheduling and the like, which leads to increased efficiency. We have also equipped fresh practitioners of media in latest ways to focus on creative narration, an amalgamation of cutting-edge technology and the primordial human urge to listen to well told stories.

Q] Are you planning to venture into the OTT platform?
Not at present.

Q] Moving forward, what are your expectations in terms of revenue and readership growth for Mathrubhumi group?
One of the most identifiable factors associated with our mother brand is our unfailing commitment to journalistic etiquette. We have our key constituents - readers, advertisers and employees and distributors. Organisationally we have always believed that our fundamental responsibility is towards our readers. In the long run this will translate in to higher subscription numbers, which in turn will bring in advertisers. Mathrubhumi evolved in the crucible of the Indian independence movement and our founders championed social causes. We still hold fast to the same immutable ideals and are wedded to the eternal principles of truth, equality and liberty.

Q] It has been a muted year for the media industry as a whole. What is your take on the sentiment and when do you see things turning around?
Indeed, these are difficult times for the media. We have faced such turmoil in the past too, but in the long run it will bounce back and the sector will see growth despite the RBI cutting India’s GDP forecast from 7.4% to 5% since April. Moving on, M&E industry must invest in the future and be willing to look dispassionately at the changes that will be required in both mindset and approach.

Q] Are national brands giving regional publications the correct value or do you believe you are under indexed?
Well, for a regional player like Mathrubhumi, the major advertising revenue share comes from regional advertising. We see more of national advertisements during festive seasons like Onam and Vishu. Local advertisers respect and value the high degree of editorial credibility and integrity, of our different verticals, all of which are patronised by them in varying measure. Having said that, regional players are also getting impetus from retail, lifestyle and e-commerce giants entering Tier II and Tier III markets.

Q] What is the synergy you draw from Digital?
We draw more than 1.2 crore unique users every month to our in-house Digital platforms. Our external platforms engage around 30 lakh active users monthly. We constantly aim to better these numbers by delivering better content every day. This is the strength we draw from these numbers. A synergy that keeps our focus on quality content is always good.

Q] Looking ahead, how do you see the Mathrubhumi Group evolving? What will the growth drivers be?
The future holds exciting prospects from a news and information consumption standpoint. The positive news is that people will consume more media and at the same time there will be more content generation. The industry has an eye on the Digital space as new streams of monetisation become available and investment in digital assets increases. A standalone approach for either Print or other mediums like Radio, Television or Digital is not viable. The challenge is to offer integrated solutions to potential new age advertisers. We, as an umbrella brand, offer customised integrated solutions to our advertisers and are trying out new streams of monetisation available to us. There will be a change in the sales pitch towards performance, linking physical space sales with digital inventory, activations (physical and digital), interactive concepts and digital couponing, among other things. There is a need to evangelise the package that we bring to the table, stressing benefits and strengths. We are strengthening our core by experimenting with AI journalism, templatisation, reporters and stringers attached to the mother brand contributing to verticals as well, thus making for media synergy. We are already strategising to utilise our content across media and curate the news mix and features.

Q] Looking back, what are you most proud of? Any regrets?
I have corporate pride in seeing Mathrubhumi successfully straddle tradition and technology in embracing change from 1923 to our age of disruption. We have evolved from letterpress to frontier technological advances without sacrificing the values bequeathed by our founders, who were freedom fighters and champions pioneering social reforms in Kerala. Four years shy of turning a hundred, with presence across all verticals, Print, Books, Television, Radio, Digital (including MoJo - Mobile Journalism), Outdoor and Events, we have played a seminal role in shaping the Malayalam language, literature, aesthetics and modernity. MBIFL, into its 3rd edition in 2020, hosts the best and brightest – debating and discussing concepts, ideas and thoughts in an exercise of soft power. As the celebrated French singer, Edith Piaf famously warbled: “Je ne regrette rien”, {I don’t regret anything}!

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Tags : MV Shreyams Kumar Mathrubhumi Group Neethu Mohan Kerala Print Mathrubhumi International Festival literature festival