How Indian CEOs are prioritising strategies to balance print and digital

2023-07-27. Executives from several of India’s top media companies recently discussed the ways they are using print and digital to complement each other without compromising on credibility and profitability during a CEO roundtable at WAN-IFRA’s Indian Media Leaders eSummit.

Pawan Agarwal of DB Corp. (left) and Jayant Mammen Mathew of Malayala Manorama

by Aultrin Vijay | July 27, 2023

Finding ways to make the best use of print and digital to make their news publishing businesses successful has been a priority for most publishers. How to further fine-tune these efforts was a key part of the CEOs discussion during our virtual event.

Moderated by Debarati Guha, Director, Programs for Asia at Deutsche Welle (DW), the panel discussion featured CEOs of leading news media companies in India, including Jayant Mammen Mathew, Executive Editor and Director of Malayala Manorama; Samudra Bhattacharya, CEO Print at HT Media; Pawan Agarwal, Deputy Managing Director of DB Corp.; and Sitaraman Shankar, CEO of The Printers Mysore Ltd, and Editor at Deccan Herald.

‘We have to make it interesting for the viewers’

The media landscape in India has changed in the past couple of years. According to moderator Debarati Guha, young people have lost trust in traditional news and are looking for alternatives, mostly social media. These changes in reader behaviour have also been a catalyst for changes in strategy.

“In the early stages, readers spent more time on print, digital and television, at least in South India. But short videos started gaining momentum, and I think it is the future for at least one generation of viewers or readers,” says Malayala Manorama’s Mathew.

See also: How Brut India is engaging Gen Z through short-form videos

Media companies should provide a mix of everything the consumer needs and include more multimedia elements, he said, adding, “We have to make it interesting for the viewers.”

Young people have become more interested in politics and local news in the past three years, even though the time spent in consuming news is low when compared to a 40- or 50-year-old, says DB Corp’s Agarwal.

With the penetration of smartphones in rural India, content consumption has risen. But at the same time, delivering content across different mediums has become difficult.

However, a different perspective was shared by Deccan Herald’s Shankar. The credibility of print is very high today, thanks to the density of misinformation in social media, he said.

Digital operations mostly feed on print in India. Most of the big stories are broken by the print team, and that it is carried over to digital.

“The idea is to marry the credibility of print with the speed of digital. I think that’s the key,” Shankar said. But “one small mistake on the print side can linger much longer, and we are more responsible in that sense.”

Bhattacharya agreed and added that print can leverage its credibility to diversify its brand in digital format. This helps the publisher retain existing print customers while attracting consumers looking for credible information, he said.

(From left) Sitaraman Shankar of Deccan Herald, Samudra Bhattacharya of HT Media, and Debarati Guha of Deutsche Welle

Adding more paywalls

In terms of changing business models, many Indian publishers will continue to start charging for content by adding a paywall to their digital assets to make people understand the value of content and journalism, Mathew said. “There’s no cheap journalism,” he said.

People are willing to pay, and content from newspapers should also be behind a paywall – something many newspapers are doing currently, he added.

Malayala Manorama is experimenting with the premium content and paywall right now, Mathew said. “I think that would be an additional source of revenue and that’s the right approach.”

“Once everybody starts charging for content, the quality of journalism will go up.”

– Jayant Mammen Mathew, Executive Editor and Director, Malayala Manorama

HT Media’s Bhattacharya agreed and stressed the profitability of print as a business.

“It may not be growing at the same rate as other medias, but it is growing. Readership and revenue are increasing,” he said.

The business model of any news organisation needs to be centred on the reader.

“In return, we want to be paid better for what we do,” Deccan Herald’s Shankar said, adding they recently raised the cover prices of their daily newspaper and “we’re very happy with what we did.”

Driving traffic to platforms

Increasing traffic to their news platforms is one of the main focuses of publishers. Most media companies rely on third-party platforms or social media to drive traffic to their websites. Direct visitors are also increasing, according to Mathew and Bhattacharya.

But traffic from platforms is taking a nosedive, according to DB Corp’s Agarwal. Content is optimised so viewers can consume it without leaving the platform. Although a small percentage, direct traffic is increasing and loyal. Agarwal believes it will be valuable in the long term.

Shankar shared that their data shows print-centric digital stories drive more direct traffic, and it has been growing well, apart from traffic from aggregator sites. This also shows how data plays a vital role in assessing the engagement levels and user preferences, which could also be leveraged to identify new revenue streams.

For Shankar, data is a key new driver for business. With the help of data, Deccan Herald is identifying stories which stories should be promoted and discovering which sections are doing well in terms of readership and viewership.

“We have an online-only opinion section and that does fairly well. In fact, I think the engagement time is about three times as much as in a normal news story,” he said, adding that data plays a big role in terms of analytics.

Bhattacharya from HT Media agreed and added that almost every organisation is now learning to use data to their benefit.

Watch the entire session here.

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