Prothom Alo is the largest newspaper in Bangladesh, centred around one of the most spoken languages in the world – Bangla, with a daily print readership of 5 million.
Prothom Alo Digital is a separate entity from the newspaper and the company has prioritised its digital platform since its inception in 1998, and expanded on it.
“Prothomalo.com was our only product at one point. We now have a few other portals and also have an e-commerce platform primarily for selling books, since we also have a publication business,” said ABM Jabed Sultan, Chief Business Officer at Prothom Alo Digital.
Today, the platform also includes several other websites, an e-paper version with a paywall, OTT platforms, and more.
He said that Prothomalo.com was the first to provide paid news service in Bangladesh. In addition, the company has a Google partnership programme that helps other publishers monetise from AdSense. Their OTT platform Chorki, which features Bangla content, has become one of the top OTT players in Bangladesh within two years.
Sultan’s claims are evident once we look at the number of page views it receives for a single site – approximately 300 million. With more than 17 million monthly readers, Prothom Alo Digital is the “number one Bangladeshi website across categories and the number one Bangla language website in the world,” Sultan said.
Making the most of a small digital advertising market
The Indian digital advertising market is around BDT 30,000 crore (approximately US$2.8 billion), he told participants at Digital Media India. In comparison, Bangladesh’s digital ad market is relatively small, roughly BDT 2,000 crore (~US$190 million), according to an informal research done by Prothom Alo Digital. But it’s growing.
Digital advertising in Bangladesh is dominated by display ads, which holds a 44-percent market share, according to Prothom Alo. This is followed by video ads at 38 percent, and native influencer and gaming ads at 10 percent. Search or browsing ads only account for eight percent of the market.
But Sultan said that local publishers receive only 19 percent of the display ad revenue, similar to India. However, Prothom Alo Digital enjoys 77 percent of the display market share from their website alone.
Speaking of which, Prothom Alo generates 84 percent of its revenue from direct ads and the rest comes from programmatic ads (GDN, Google, and other networks). “But it wasn’t always like this,” Sultan said. “Prior to 2018, our revenue was split 50-50 between programmatic and direct. However, our business grew, but programmatic didn’t. This was a conscious decision on our part, as we wanted to increase our direct revenue.”
The publisher still uses programmatic ads, and it is trying to optimise its inventory. So what inventory size are they sharing for the 16 percent revenue? “It’s around 40 percent, but not the premium inventory. We’re only giving non-premium inventory to programmatic ads,” Sultan said.
Does this mean Prothom Alo is discouraging programmatic ads? Probably not. Sultan said the company wants to generate more revenue from programmatic with lesser inventory by leveraging its strong brand preference in the market.
“The effective cost per mile (eCPM) that we receive from direct sales is at least 3.6 times higher than what we get from programmatic ads. So, in essence, the difference is significant,” Sultan said.
Challenges with direct ads
- Price: The first challenge is price, Sultan said. The inventory provided to the direct clients is not as healthy as the programmatic inventories. Considering the price, the eCPM in the Bangladesh market is lower. The company get 18 cents from GDN for programmatic ads, but the same inventory is sold to direct clients for 65 cents with lower quality facilities.
- Technology: Programmatic ads do a great job in reaching the target audience. But that’s not the case with direct ads. And in case of Prothom Alo Digital, they don’t have that facility to reach its target audience.
- Convenience: Programmatic ads are transparent and convenient, allowing advertisers to put ads on 100 portals in just a few seconds. It’s more convenient. But to run a campaign on a website with direct ads is more expensive and time-consuming, and this is a limitation.
The five USPs of Prothomalo.com
Sultan listed the five unique selling propositions (USPs) or the “signature recipes” of Prothom Alo Digital and explained how they add value to their direct customers without compromising on quality.
- Premium inventory: “It’s not just about who you’re reaching, but where your brand is being advertised. As the most credible news media company, we charge more for our premium quality impressions.”
- Multi-format ad support: The company has its own platform, which means it can offer multi-format ad support. Customised advertisement formats sets them apart from the competition. These ads are charged 200% higher than the regular prices, but the customers get a unique and interactive experience.
- Tailor-made content for brands: Around 1,000 content creators work for Prothom Alo, and their skills are leveraged to create innovative and interactive content. For example, the company partnered with Coke Studio to create 50 pieces of content for every song and earned 10x revenue from the same brand by leveraging its strengths while maintaining transparency. They also produce branded and sponsored videos, and last year alone, the company produced over 3,000 branded videos and published most of it on its Facebook handle, which has around 20 million followers.
- Distribution across platforms: Prothom Alo has a wide distribution channel across various platforms. For instance, 11% of revenue came from print real estate agency ads, but less than 0.5% came from digital ads. To solve this, Prothom Alo designed an online real estate fair that resulted in 57 companies participating and over 3,000 leads generated. This event convinced the industry that digital advertising works, and now the real estate stack makes up over 10% of the company’s revenue. The company now hosts 12 fairs per year.
- Contextual ad placement: “We know our content well and place ads based on context,” Sultan said. This model has been successful. Prothom Alo also successfully tested a content-to-commerce strategy for the first time in Bangladesh with BKASH, a mobile financial service provider. The campaign included using AI to direct traffic to the landing pages for 45 e-commerce websites participating in a cashback campaign, celebrity endorsements in 30 video stories, original Ramadan recipes and culinary evaluations in 10 video stories, as well as banner ads. The campaign received a 47-million reach, 28 million impressions, 5 million views, 55,000 overall engagements, a 51 percent increase in traffic to e-commerce sites, and a 21 percent increase in food traffic to offline stores, two-fold increase in engagement on the articles, and a 134 percent increase in organic leads. This resulted in revenue of BDT 4 million (~USD 37,200) for Prothom Alo beyond advertisement.
“In a nutshell, we strive to be the capital of content around the Bangla language,” Sultan concluded.