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Is the future newspaper a puzzle or a maze?

Technology is an important lever for creating unique solutions

Posted on Wednesday, 16 August 2017. Posted in Publishing . Written by Naresh Khanna

Technology is an important lever for creating unique solutions Ashish Pherwani leader of the Media Practice at Ernst & Young in India speaking at the 11th Annual INMA South Asia conference in Delhi on 10 August 2017.

At the recent INMA South Asia conference in New Delhi, Ashish Pherwani, who leads the media consulting practice of Ernst & Young in India, attempted to decode the puzzle of the new media organization of the future. In a context where Indian media revenues are projected to grow at 11% and news media at 7.1% till 2021, he said that currently, for every dollar gained in digital revenue, seven dollars are lost by print. Nevertheless, he seemed sanguine that digital media, with its opportunity for personalization, will eventually increase news revenues to a level that will match or exceed its losses in print. Revenues from sources other than traditional display advertising are already coming in.

Width of offerings
Showing a comparative list of media organizations, Pherwani said that the large number of Internet properties of the Bennett-Coleman group results in 7.4 billion user minutes each month in comparison to the second highest, which is far below 2 billion minutes. Commenting on the opportunity to provide multiple channels for every type of service, he said, “Serve not just the news but whatever readers need and want on a daily basis.”

The greater the width of offerings with more brands and communities aimed at readers, the more likely is the increase in news consumption. By being there across devices and formats, the user's new habit can be optimized. “A community wants to hear what its leaders have to say . . . . At the same time, one must avoid duplication within the organization and get content generated only once on a common news engine. Web applications such as Fresco for input from stringers can bring down the cost of news generation,” prescribed Pherwani.

The Pherwani recipe for news monetization has efficiencies for every area of the organization implying some hard editorial policy changes together with better leveraging of technology. If one follows the BBC model, mainstream news organizations need to make less of their own news. “Curate 80% and make the 20% of content that makes you different and contains your perspective,” he said.

Technology for content, research and ad sales
“Many organization have separate teams that re-invent the same news for their own format. More stringers and freelancers can be used,” and in what may come as a surprise to many publishers, Pherwani added that the expense on bureaus can be reduced. Ironically, his belief in technology—in artificial intelligence and bots and a single news engine for multiple formats—is what publishers are finding the most difficult to absorb and digest.

Print publishers seem to like or prefer certain types technology—better and faster heavy metal presses and the traditional ad sales software and ERP that fills ad real estate inventory—but when it comes to customer dashboards, customer interaction and multi-format engines, they are still a bit non-plussed. However, one of the industry experts at the conference pointed out that both the technology and the publishers are maturing—one can soon expect better absorption of automated and multi-layer research, and multi-purpose editorial and ad production engines.

Pherwani noted that research shows that consumption patterns for entertainment and escapism are also changing with an increase in individual consumption. “We used to believe in group escapism, which is changing. As personal [single user] consumption of media will rise from 20% in 2014 to 50% in 2020, content has to move from the lowest common denominator that reaches several people at once, to better or more differentiated content. At the same time, unmet content needs that can satisfy individuals with a variety of tastes need to be produced at economical costs.”

Surveys apparently indicate that 75% of readers prefer text for news in comparison to video. “While this may be true, advertisers and channel partners prefer video,” said Pherwani while pointing out that one way to meet this challenge could be the use of more native advertising.

INMA 2b2

One of Pherwani's favorite slides showing the relative number of branded channels belonging to major Indian news organizations shown at the 11th Annual INMA South Asia Conference.

For ad sales, one signpost leading out of the maze indicates a handheld tech-based workflow that can reduce the sales cycle. Tools such as a customer dashboard can reflect trends relevant to a particular advertiser or segment. Using online robots and taking reader samples and surveys are essential while knowledge of the share of wallet is the true measure of success of the sales team.

Pherwani believes technology can significantly cut costs across the news supply chain. Apart from automation of the editorial process across channels and communities, it can be used to improve the content and in the near future, even render automated translation at an acceptable level.

Collaboration, partnership and franchising
On the other side, technology can bring complete automation of ad publishing and reading of consumption patterns. As well as being an advocate of artificial intelligence and process robots, Pherwani prescribes a healthy mix of collaborations and partnerships in delivery of content and even in selling advertising by franchising ad sales.

To an extent, the collaboration of three newspaper groups for ad sales initiated before the 2014 elections is an example of this. In the collaboration that continues, The ABP Group, Kasturi & Sons and HT Media combined the print inventory for six newspapers—Hindustan Times, Hindustan, Anand Bazaar Patrika, The Telegraph, and The Hindu, both in Hindi and Tamil.

A comprehensive coverage of the INMA South Asia Conference will appear in the September print issue of Indian Printer and Publisher to be distributed widely at the Wan-IFRA India conference in Chennai. The September issue will also feature our 7th Annual 50 Fastest Growing Newspapers of India report.

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