Indian news executives share advice for navigating turbulent times

2024-04-05. With rapid developments around AI, the upcoming demise of third-party cookies, and audiences’ evolving content consumption habits, it is crucial for publishers to adopt a more agile mindset: “Gone are the days when you could create a five-year plan, three-year plan, one-year plan… Now it’s a one-quarter and one-month plan.”

(From L-R) Moderator Suparna Singh, Co-Founder & CEO of Frammer AI, with Puneet Gupt, COO of Times Internet Ltd., and Aroosh Chopra, Group Director of Punjab Kesari Group of Newspapers.

by Teemu Henriksson | April 5, 2024

Exploration and cautious optimism. This seems to be the attitude that more and more publishers have as they consider the role of AI in shaping the future of news content creation.

For instance, Times Internet Ltd., India’s largest digital products company, has taken an open-minded approach to experimenting with AI for a wide range of use cases – apart from using it to create fully AI-generated content.

“Our AI policy is that we will not create a zero-to-one content piece using AI. But we will do everything else that’s possible with AI,“ Puneet Gupt, the company’s COO, told participants at our Digital Media India conference in New Delhi in March.

One specific area where AI offers significant opportunities for the publisher is in dealing with multiple languages (Times Internet has content in nine languages), as well as streamlining the process of transforming content from one format to another, he said.

‘We should start learning it now’

Meanwhile, the Punjab Kesari Group of Newspapers is also experimenting with AI tools, though perhaps in a slightly more cautions way: “We’re still perceiving it as a ‘wait and watch’,” said Aroosh Chopra, the publisher’s Group Director.

“We should start learning it now,” he said, but with the understanding that it may take some time – even a few years – before publishers can really “understand how to use it to our advantage.”

“I think the important part is to be everywhere, to be a jack-of-all-trades, and eventually decide how it benefits us,” he said.

See also: DMI2024 key message: Explore usability of AI and adapt it early for the right reasons

The panellists also cited video as promising in terms of AI potentially helping to streamline the content creation workflow, as well as the ability to transform video into different formats and translate video content into other languages. Even virtual newsreaders could be on the horizon.

But early tests in these areas have shown that the quality is not there yet, Gupt said.

“We tried the virtual humans, we tried Hindi-to-English videos. And then we said, OK, maybe it’s not the right time yet. We’ll pick it up again in six months when there’s better technology available.”

Agile approach required

The rapid evolution of AI tools is just one example of the significant developments on the horizon that publishers would do well to keep an eye on.

Another issue that will shape the year ahead is the demise of the third-party cookie, which Gupt said will significantly disrupt yield management. On a more positive note, he said the upcoming US presidential election could lead to another “Trump bump” in terms of subscriptions.

All in all, publishers are in for an unpredictable period. Navigating it will require above all agility, he said.

“It would be wrong for me or anyone to stand up and say, ‘We know everything and we have the path figured out.’ Gone are the days when you could create a five-year plan, three-year plan, one-year plan… Now it’s a one-quarter and one-month plan.”

This puts the emphasis on continuous experimentation with new products and workflows, and rigorously assessing what works – and, crucially, what can be discarded.

It’s too easy to get into a situation where you are “doing too much in digital, not realising what needs to be actually focused on,” Chopra said.

The panel discussion was part of WAN-IFRA’s Digital Media India conference, held in New Delhi on 13–14 March 2024. The event, now in its 12th year, was attended by more than 125 news media executives from more than 40 organisations.

Platform trends: short-form video and influencers

One specific area where experimentation is needed is new content formats.

While short-form video is becoming a leading format on social platforms, it is still unclear what the optimal way is for publishers to produce and distribute short videos – and whether the audience for this content is likely to become more loyal users (and eventually subscribers).

“I would say we are still students of the video business. We don’t know enough,” Gupt said.

A related development is the rise of social media influencers, which some see as potentially competing with news publishers for audience attention.

Gupt pointed out that there is a big difference between influencers and publishers, however: influencers rely on platforms to build their audience and engagement, whereas “our success should come from saying that we stand for who we are. We are a destination.”

“We don’t want to deprive our viewers who are on some other platform. So [you should] build content as a destination, but distribute content so that if your users are on any other platform, they can find you,“ he said.

Cookieless future also an opportunity

As for the demise of third-party cookies, Gupt said this actually presents an opportunity for publishers to double down on their relationships with direct advertisers, which for Times Internet have always been an important part of the mix alongside programmatic.

As a result, the company has created a data management platform for direct advertising, while also focusing on improving programmatic and making sure it is still available through the user ID frameworks that are emerging.

In addition to building on relationships with direct advertisers, Chopra said his company is highlighting combo packages that combine print and digital advertising products for advertisers.

Teemu Henriksson

Research Editor

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