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India is one of the rare markets where Print continues to grow year on year, but most publishers agree that Digital is the way forward. But then Digital comes with its own set of challenges which a round table discussion recently held in association with Akamai hoped to address. Amongst those who attended it include Varun Kohli, CEO at iTV Network, Mike Melli, Co-founder & Chief revenue officer, MissMalini. com, Murtaza Rangwala, CEO, FilmyMantra.com, Abhijeet Rane, MD & Founder, Mumbai Mitra, Deepesh Kothari, Head - Digital Strategy and Transformation, Amar Chitra Katha, Mukul Kumar Sharma, COO, Pinkvilla, Ammol Ghavare, General Manager, Deshdoot Media Group, Nitin Tej Ahuja, Publisher, Box Office India, Saurabh Garg, Audience Development Director, Condé Nast India, Rajat Nigam, Group Technology Officer, Network18 Media, Ankit Dhadda, Product and Digital Head, Bloomberg|Quint, Kapil Sharma, Senior Vice President, Marketing and PR, 9X Media, and Sandeep Reddy, Country Sales Manager, Media, Akamai Technologies.

Elaborating on the how the digital ecosystem has evolved Rajat Nigam said, “I started my career 26 years ago, when there was nothing called Digital. There was a single television channel- Doordarshan. Back then the TV was called the Idiot Box and today it is called the Smart TV. The trend has moved from Print to Television to online and now social media. In fact Digital has evolved drastically in the past five years, which is what makes this medium so exciting. Today the strategy is not to just be digital-first but mobile-first, even desktop traffic is going down. That puts incredible pressure on the business models and revenues.”

For any digital publisher today, monetization is by far the biggest challenge, be it through subscription or ads. India has largely been an ad-led market however some digital publishers like The Hindu Business Line or Economic Times are experimenting with subscription for differentiated content. Mike Melli however says that now there is a third category of ad spends, which is through integrated content. “It is one of the faster growing trends. When we started MissMalini.com in 2011 Digital was less than 2% of the overall marketing spends, now it is around 15%. We don’t ever plan to charge users for content and advertising has never been more than 5% of our total revenue mix. We focus on integrating brand messaging and products into our content which we distribute freely to our audience.”

Talking about a slightly similar model that 9X Media has used Kapil Sharma says, “Both on TV and Digital platforms we create music content for brands. Like when Bingo wanted to penetrate the Punjab market, we worked on a music video for them featuring big stars like Baadshah and other Punjabi artistes. It then got converted into an activation for the hunt for the Music Star of Punjab. The winner was to get his own music video which will run on Youtube. Post that, various brands like Godrej, Ponds etc approached us.

Adding to that Mukul Sharma said, “Two years ago, 100% of the revenue was ad driven for Pinkvilla, now 50% of it comes through branded content, syndication targeted around fashion, beauty and lifestyle. Video production is very expensive and we do 4-5 videos a day. The only way to sustain it is by getting brands on board.”

Saurabh Garg said, “We at Conde Nast put some bit of premium curated content; and not just magazine content behind a pay-wall. Easily 10-15% of our subscription share is coming through digital platforms today. Also, you cannot ignore the fact that the discovery of your content happens on third party platforms like Instagram, Facebook and Google and you have to package your content in such a way that at least the sampling of your content can happen there. But how do you stitch together data across three different platforms so that you get one single view of the customer/user –that is a key concern. ”
Talking about the challenges that a regional newspaper which is making the transition to Digital faces Ammol Ghavare said, “Whenever we approach corporates, the biggest blockade for us is ‘ad networks’ Every client has a budget and says that their ads are being routed through an ad network. So we really need to create a big property to get revenue.”

Raising a different point Abhijeet Rane said, “The survival for regional media is anyway very difficult. As far as my newspaper is concerned, which has the same reach as a political newspaper, our ad revenue is generated on the basis of readership. But for digital I don’t know who my audience is, plus there are so many competitors here. I don’t know where I stand and thus it becomes difficult for me to monetize it.”

Deepesh Kothari said, “The changes in technology in the last two years has caused a dip in the ad sales, for e.g. the entry of ad blockers. Over the last two years we have had around 5.7 billion smartphone users. Majority of them used to go through the ads but now because of the ad blockers that would change. Of course now mobile players are coming up with technology which will block the blockers.”

Another important aspect of the discussion was the use of personalization to improve the readership metric on websites to get the user back to the websites to read the content of his choice. So what are the tools and ways by which publishers can use personalization to their benefit and how are they engaging the readers through the different platforms.

Nitin Tej Ahuja said, “We are a weekly film trade magazine and we also have a website, Boxofficeindia.co.in, we are active on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and Youtube where we upload all sorts of videos which go beyond what we put in the magazine.”

Ankit Dhadda elaborates, “We have seen a lot of growth happening courtesy our newsletters and podcasts. Today the newsletter drives 5X the amount of engagement that an organic user who comes via search would be driving on the platform. So we have highly engaged users and obviously they leave us with tons of data which help us know our audience better.”

Murtaza Rangwala said, “Earlier when I had to promote FilmyMantra I would say that we have 9 million followers on Facebook. But then my wife asked me why the success of my business is dependent on Mark Zuckerberg’s decisions? So my concern now is to create my own platform where I can do whatever I want. For e.g. to resolve the ad blocker problem, I have installed a small plug-in on my website which says that if you want to see content you will have to allow ads.”

Varun Kohli raised another pertinent point, “While we talk about how to monetize our platforms, let’s also look at what Google is doing. It is taking my content, making money out of it and giving me a small share. Why shouldn’t the content aggregators come together and say that Google needs to pay me money if they want my content. We have to move towards that stage sooner or later. Another important point is security of content, today even the largest agency GroupM faced a security threat which nobody had envisaged. Can an outsider intrude into my system-- is a bigger challenge.”

Summing up Sandeep Reddy who was also the moderator said, “The biggest challenges digital publishers of today face are monetization, driving engagement along with technology and security.”

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