Monetising voice, video top the priority list for India’s ManoramaOnline

India’s ManoramaOnline, the digital arm of Malayala Manorama, delivers news from Kerala to more than 30 million Malayalis every month.

by Neha Gupta | March 16, 2020

Based on current census figures, this accounts for more than 90 percent of the total Malayalam-speaking population worldwide.

An early adopter of paywalls, Manorama Online has used them for all of its e-magazines since 2008. While the brand has made its e-magazines subscription-based, the company’s main source of revenue is still online banners, followed by native advertising and paid-for digital classified products, such as the matrimonial site m4marry.

Manorama Online also took home the award for “Best News Website or Mobile Service” at the South Asia Digital Media Awards 2020 in New Delhi in February.

In this interview, Mariam Mammen Mathew, the brand’s Chief Executive Officer, discusses their goals for 2020, diverse monetisation options and how the company is capitalising on technology such as artificial reality and machine learning.

WAN-IFRA: What are some of the key priorities for Manorama Online this year?

Mariam M Mathew: Manorama Online’s key priorities this year are voice, video and subscriptions. We are looking at enhancing our content with unique videos, and adding voice to mix with podcasts that set context to the storytelling process. In this process, we are looking to create a value product that we can put behind paywalls.

Malayala Manorama emerged as the seventh most read Indian daily and reported a growth of 6.1 lakh (610,000) readers in Q2 2019. On the digital side, how have your reader numbers developed during the past year or so?

We pride ourselves in creating quality content by our editorial team and the same stands for the digital side as well. Our efforts in the last couple of years have been to further enhance this, with a focus on good hyperlocal content. Making stories come alive to the reader showed a surge in our monthly unique visitors by over 100 percent in 2019.

Media companies everywhere face continuing declines in traditional ad revenue. What are some alternate revenue sources Manorama Online is exploring?

Yes, that might be the case with most of the traditional media companies, but for Manorama Online we are seeing a growth in our digital advertising business.

On the digital revenue side, like with tech and editorial, we have had to constantly innovate to give creative solutions to our advertisers. We explore all possible monetisation options available such as banners, videos, natives, sponsorships, activations, social media integration, affiliate revenues etc.

We have a few products behind a basic subscription paywall, an aspect we are planning to concentrate on in 2020.

Besides this, we also have digital classifieds products for matrimonial, real estate, education and yellow pages that help us create alternative revenue options.

How many Manorama Online products are subscription-based? What are some of the things you are doing to keep subscribers and reduce churn?

The digital replicas of all paid offline products are subscription-based. This includes the e-newspaper and all our magazines. Subscribers are willing to pay for digital content, provided it is content worth paying for. Our business and data analytics teams regularly monitor the behavioural approach of subscribers across products.

How difficult is it to monetise hard news in India? What sort of paywall experiments are you trying at Manorama Online?

Hard news is in abundance everywhere, digitally. From a reader’s perspective, there is no point paying for that. This is an area where traditional players can secure leverage.

Adding value to hard news is the key deliverable. How to add value differs from player to player, market to market, depending on marketing conditions and user requirements.

The ManoramaOnline digital newsroom goes beyond traditional news reporting norms. Our team believes in developing premium content with the right end-user packaging framework, delivering unique and credible information that our readers will invest in.

The Google-Facebook duopoly accounted for around 60% of the digital ad spending in 2019 in India. What are some steps that Manorama Online is taking to maximise its share of digital advertising revenues?

Yes, there is no doubt about the growing dominance of the duopoly. We play to our strength which is 99% vernacular, focused on the regional language “Malayalam,” making it difficult for larger platforms to encroach on.

Manorama 360 is a free application that lets a user experience the culture and terrain of Kerala in Virtual Reality. Do you have more such projects in the pipeline? How do you see these trends (AI/machine learning/AR/VR/voice) affecting your brand’s strategy?

We are undoubtedly one of the early movers in that domain, globally. We are currently adopting a wait-and-watch policy. The technology and user interests should stabilise for such content to evolve. Once it does, we will have products to match that, not necessarily restricted to VR.

Your brand is also experimenting with video and audio. How are you monetising these areas?

The major focus age group of ManoramaOnline are the millennials and Gen Z who are more inclined to consume video and podcast content. ManoramaOnline has made investments in good technology and understanding the product gap in this area.

Our tech platform provides us with flexibility of enhanced monetisation for video content within our web pages. ManoramaOnline is aiding the perception drift in regional advertiser spends from a television-to-digital platform by offering them in-stream, out-stream, native and branded visibility business offerings.

Last year we also launched ManoramaMax, which is an OTT offering from our television brand.

Neha Gupta

Multimedia Journalist

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