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BY Tasmayee Laha Roy (E4M)

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Newspapers might have been on and off the shelves in March, and slowed down the business for many, but some brands stood the test of time and emerged clear winners in their category. Dainik Bhaskar is one of them. While most newspapers struggled to keep up with their numbers from IRS Q3 2019, Dainik Bhaskar managed to surpass its own performance in multiple markets in North India that includes Bihar, Haryana, Chhattisgarh and others. The brand has also added a new feather to its cap. It has toppled long time market leaders in Rajasthan to be the top daily in the State. 

Girish Agarwal, Promoter-Director of the Dainik Bhaskar Group, talks about IRS Q4 numbers, the newspaper business in the present times and what keeps the group afloat even in the present crisis.

Here are excerpts from a conversation with him:

Q] Dainik Bhaskar leads the TR list in many markets across non-metros. However, there has been an overall drop in readership across cities and across brands. What do you think led to this drastic drop as compared to IRS Q3 2019?

We welcome the IRS Q4 results announced recently. The world and our country are in the grip of the COVID-19 pandemic. This has led to several extensions of the lockdown, bringing businesses to a halt. Production lines have gone, employment lost, migrants are making their way back home in severe distress, the health system is in deep stress, and above all, several lives have been lost.

At an overall level, a comparison of Average Issue Readership (AIR) and Total Readership (TR) for Q4 and Q3 of 2019 shows that newspapers have seen a decline of around 2-3% in readership, possibly due to the troubled month of March. At every brand and market level, the report shows strong positives and negatives as well, but at an overall level, we are satisfied with the outcome.

Media habits are changing, particularly at the metro market level. There is more and more media fragmentation, which leads me to believe, particularly after studying the results, that the Bharat story is playing out in full flourish – regional Print is holding steady and gaining ground in hundreds of markets beyond the metros and Dainik Bhaskar Group has stood out shining in this period.

For the past six to seven years, in terms of editorial content, we have been putting out hyper-local, unbiased and updated news with our ‘Kendra me Pathak’ motto. Tie-ups with the world’s best media houses are also delivering excellent results. It motivates us to continue to do more rooted, connected, research-oriented, knowledge-based editorial work to enrich our readers
across markets.

Q] In markets like Bihar, Punjab, Haryana and others, your numbers have actually gone up. Tell us how you managed to place yourself on a growth trajectory even as most newspapers suffered a major drop in both AIR and TR.

In Bihar, Dainik Bhaskar’s readership has increased steadily in both urban and rural areas. In urban Bihar, our readership has reached 8.14 lakh (source: IRS 2019 Q4, AIR, Main + Variant Urban).

Dainik Bhaskar’s urban readership has registered more than 20% growth (Q4 V/s Q1). In the coming quarters, with moving average method of readership, we should be able to grow even further. Further, in rural Bihar, we have been witnessing consistent growth. It is important to note that our initial focus has been largely urban markets as most of our circulation is concentrated in urban Bihar.

In the key markets of Chandigarh, Punjab and Haryana (without National Capital Territory) (CPH), Dainik Bhaskar has again increased its dominance. In Punjab, it is the only newspaper which
is consistently registering growth.
Further, in the key markets of Jalandhar, Amritsar and Ludhiana, Dainik Bhaskar is becoming a close No.1 with consistent readership growth.

In Haryana (without NCT), Dainik Bhaskar continues to maintain its dominance in the Urban and Rural market. It is the only newspaper of the State with a consistent readership growth. In Gujarat, Divya Bhaskar continues to be the undisputed leader in Ahmedabad with a 31% lead over its nearest legacy competitor. In the key markets of Ahmedabad, Vadodara, Surat and Rajkot combined, Divya Bhaskar has a 6% lead over its nearest legacy competitor.

It is heartening to see the good results from across the states – readers are rewarding us with their support and choice. It spurs us to do more. We are unwavering in our commitment to our readers and the product we place in their hands.

Q] Clearly, your plans to enter a lot many new markets has helped you up the ante. Do you have plans to further increase editions or venture into new markets?

We are already in 12 States and are focusing on consolidating our position in these States.

Q] Tell us a little about ad revenues in Q4. What is your target or expectation this fiscal? What is the Dainik Bhaskar Group doing to make its products more attractive for the advertiser? And how do you plan to bring overall readership back to a stable number?

We see that readership, viewership, engagement and time spent with all manner of mediums have increased substantially due to the lockdown and people being at home. Our approach has been to pro-actively engage with our customers and to offer any manner of help and assistance.

On product, we are delivering two front pages everyday - one for international news and the other for national and State news. We had placed reporters in 13 international destinations before the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. Due to this presence, we have been able to deliver first hand updates and reports to our readers from the hotspots around the world instead of syndicated news. So while the pages have reduced due to reduced ad volume during the pandemic, we are making sure that content has improved; there are more infographics and the readers are being provided a richer reading experience.

Q] The year 2019 had been full of roadblocks - from a slowdown-like situation to hike in newsprint prices. Tell us a little about the difficulties you faced last year and how did you overcome those?

In fact, in the 2019 financial year, Dainik Bhaskar Group outperformed the entire Print sector with high single digit revenue growth. Declining newsprint prices also helped us in improving our bottomlines and we paid one of the highest dividends of 82% payout to our shareholders.

Q] We thought voice and language are the future of the Internet; but IRS Q4 numbers show that languages is also where growth is in for newspapers. Even in March, when newspapers went off print for a considerable time, it showed growth. What is your brand’s take on venturing into more languages?

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has just announced the revival strategy for the country with a clarion call of ‘Vocal for Local’. I believe that language Print will play a very important role in helping advertisers reach their potential target audiences. In a recent mapping of our markets, to see how much of it was in the green, orange and red zones, we realised that in our footprint, only 17% of our markets was in the red zone. On the other hand, in markets like Mumbai and Delhi, the largest consumer markets in the country are in the red zone. Perhaps the time has come when we will have to re-orient our market prioritization in the medium term to planning for green and orange zones first. These may not be our P1 markets originally, but in the given circumstances, they will become priority as they open up for businesses. I suggest that in the given circumstances, there should be no national media plan or even a State media plan. There have to be green and orange zone media plans.

This is where the ‘Vocal for Local’ with language Print begins to make sense. Coupled with the credibility that Print enjoys, the ability to offer geographical splits will provide advertisers the opportunity to generate demand for their products and services and minimise wastage of precious advertising rupees. We are already available in Hindi, Gujarati and Marathi languages, and we are focusing on consolidating our position with our current offerings.

Q] Your numbers in Rajasthan are unprecedented. Do you plan to keep at it and pursue the market further and capture the State that is ruled by one legacy brand?

It is indeed a very big moment, no doubt. Beating the legacy newspaper in its home-ground on all parameters, Dainik Bhaskar is conclusively the undisputed No. 1 in Rajasthan, in both AIR and TR, in urban and in rural and in all possible metrics, and we congratulate the entire Rajasthan team on ground for this wonderful effort and achievement. Dainik Bhaskar has not only registered a growth in its readership base, but also a lead of 2,98,000 readers over its legacy competition. This also signifies that three out of four newspaper readers in Rajasthan read Dainik Bhaskar. The lead over competition widens in Urban Rajasthan with Dainik Bhaskar registering 5,45,000 more readers. (Source: IRS 2019 Q4, Urban)


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