The First INMA India Digital Media Study Tour

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Nearly two dozen participants from newspapers and media organizations across India and one from Bangladesh took part in the digital media study tour in New Delhi
Nearly two dozen participants from newspapers and media organizations across India and one from Bangladesh took part in the digital media study tour in New Delhi

For two days in the beginning of this week, about two dozen participants from newspapers and media organizations across India and one from Bangladesh took part in a digital media study tour in Delhi. They were welcomed inside the newsrooms and conference rooms of six media organizations in the city—a combination of the digital and new media developments of legacy news organizations and a couple of digital media start-ups.

The hosting and sharing by the media organizations, given their competitive constraints, was extraordinary. In many cases, numbers, strategies and new products were shared. The INMA group was assisted in the study tour by data analytics mentor Sandeep Amar.

The INMA study tour started off on the morning of 7 August 2018, at the Jagran Digital building in Okhla in South Delhi. This is quite different than the newspaper offices of former years. Cheerful modernity, graphics on the walls, signage proclaiming a ‘Great Place to Work’ and a mostly a younger workforce—or resources as they are known in this environment.

The theme of the Jagran Digital presentation was data-driven digital media. It’s about how the group has built this new wholly owned and independent division to establish new web properties. Led by Bharat Gupta, chief executive officer of Jagran New Media, the process is revealed – research based on the core characteristic of the group, which is its leadership position in the Hindi newspaper and media markets.

Research is followed by establishing a Needscape and this drives the content and engagement of the new digital properties that Jagran builds for under-served segments of its Hindi universe. The potential target audiences are characterized by a set of persona sketches or profiles that Jagran Digital has devised, based on demographic factors such as urban, rural, age and stage of life in an attempt to decode their likely interests and styles of engagement with the Internet and particularly the smartphone device.

For instance, Jagran’s rather surprising observation is that its smartphone youth audience is not interested in entertainment on the net or certainly doesn’t need a Jagran property to help them find entertainment. Instead, they would most likely seek web engagement in order to make ‘life decisions.’

The Needscape also needs to be localized. These criteria were demonstrated in a presentation that spoke about the development of a new website aimed at engagement with women in the 30-plus age category.

By all accounts it’s the Indian languages that will show growth in readership and web engagement in the coming years and the biggest language of them all is Hindi. The current 200 million Indians who use the Internet will grow to 600 in 2020. While English speaking or literate Internet users will grow from 175 million to 200 million, vernacular users are likely to swell to 409 million by 2020. Of these, 40% will be Hindi speaking, according to Jagran Digital.

For Jagran Digital and New Media, data will lead to a scientific basis for content planning. The idea is to drive relevance and engagement. In answer to a question by one of the Study Tour participants, the company prefers or sees advantage in content that is data driven than merely data informed.

The India Today Mediaplex

We cross the river to the Film City in Noida where we come to the India Today Mediaplex. This is the center that combines the group’s newsrooms for its daily newspaper and print magazines, its television channels and its digital websites and its newly launched cell phone channel MobileTak. Salil Kumar, chief operating officer, India Today Group Digital tells us this channel has already achieved 2.2 billion views across platforms within the first 10 months of its launch.

The entire multiplex building is like a multistory refinery built around an atrium with floors and spaces dedicated to newsrooms and editors across media. On one floor are TV studios with the latest technology, and on another, editing and control rooms full of panels and monitors driven by editing and software.

We are generously invited to see the studios including some of the new hi-tech studios that are used for creating virtual reality broadcasts. In these, the image of the newscaster who is in the studio can be dynamically combined with the footage of a background that continuously changes perspective to make it appear that the newscaster is walking in front of the parliament building.

Kumar shares the group’s strategy across platforms. This consists of immersive branding across platforms. Having content generation, production and post-production in-house enables it to look at possibilities such as dovetailing advertising in their video content.

It is quite clear from Kumar’s remarks that his group aspires to a high standard of journalism and that there is a race on to create compelling content that the reader will eventually want to pay for. An important aspect of this is the concept of an integrated content environment or eco-system in which the editorial leaders are sharing across platforms and at the same time taking ownership of their channels. “The anchors have taken ownership,” he says, “It’s their baby.”

DB Digital

We move across the street to another brand new glass building, this one belonging to the Dainik Bhaskar group. After a tour of this modern and congenial environment, Gyan Gupta, the chief executive officer of DB Digital speaks about some of the tools that the company has been developing to drive its new media growth.

Since digital media generates instant numbers, it becomes necessary to use these to segment, refine and drive it. Gupta tells the participants of the study tour about DB Digital’s investment in building some its own software tools starting three years ago. According to Gupta, large amounts of data generated by amplification platforms such as Facebook need to be processed by algorithms to predict what articles a reader is likely to read or to like.

Gupta puts this work in the historical context of data analysis, by likening it to the predictive work of actuaries who in the digital media context would now be called data scientists. He asserts that page views don’t mean much since they do not reveal sentiment or the qualitative aspects of reader engagement, which also need to be measured and analyzed.

Saying that many of the available technologies did not work for Hindi, he said, “We had to create this technology on our own. Important criteria were to predict how content will work and which story will get more traction.” Other goals might be to retain the user on the site and even predict what is the next story that he or she is likely to go to next. At the same time, the technology may also predict what kind of an ad a particular type of reader or even an individual reader will click on.

DB Digital’s Hindi-ized artificial intelligence and machine learning backed tools including WisdomNXT should lead from prediction, to recommendations and eventually personalization. Gupta suggests, “Going forward data will play a huge role and every publishing house should have a digital strategy.”

Day two and Times Internet

The second day of the INMA Digital Media Study Tour starts at the Times Internet building again in Film City, Noida. Puneet Gupta, the chief operating officer – Digital News of Times Internet and Rajesh Kalra, chief editor of Times Internet brief the INMA study tour participants on the groups’ digital activities that began on budget day in 1999.

Across its numerous digital properties, Times Internet currently has 300 million monthly users and it has recently added another 270 million users with its acquisition of the video app MX player. Gupta says that while video is huge, it is short video that is growing fast. The younger generation is creating content at a high pace and with data cost coming down, everyone is creating video to share.

This is a prelude to Gupta and Kalra explaining why Times Internet is now building tools and apps to become an aggregator. A concern that is shared by many news media organizations is that Facebook and Google take away the major share of media ad revenues. At the same time, media organizations are often at the receiving end of their changing algorithms.

Facebook’s recent withdrawal from news and renewed focus on community has hit news organizations both in terms of revenues and amplification. Times Internet has invested in a new app called Newspoint that brings information and engagement beyond just news. It has an omnibus target audience comprising mainly millennials and since it is looking at 50% of its audience from the six Indian metros, the aspiration is to reach and engage the premium Indian vernacular language audience.

Times Internet has also started preloading its apps on the smart phones of various OEMs. The Newpoint app and the partner program associated with it hope to work as an aggregator or ‘flywheel’ for other Indian new sites. Gupta says the challenge is, “How can we create value for them. Perhaps we can be the source of introduction to an end-user . . . Indian publishers have begun to converge, the challenges we face are similar—the threat is that a small algorithm change by Facebook can shut us down.”

He goes on to describe the suite of products that the company is developing, “The next 200 million smartphone users are not alike. Growing through OEM and browser relationships, can we be the first gateway to these next 200 million users?”

The Quint

The next stop is The Quint—a four-year-old news digital media only start-up with channels in English and Hindi and a business joint-venture with Bloomberg. There is also a quirky fun youth channel and Webqoof, a fact-checking channel.

The key insights that the study tour gains at The Quint are that although it has some revenues it is essentially still a work in progress that has invested in creativity and diversity. With an average age of 27, the content creators and processors are expected to multi-task.

Experimentation at The Quint is aimed at the smartphone format. Video and audio generated to a large extent on cell phones but also on professional equipment, the publishing or webcasting process is aimed at high quality and engagement of the millennial audience. There is a high level of buzz in the open plan content and processing space.

Ritu Kapoor, chief executive officer and co-founder of The Quint tells us that when the company started nobody was doing video for the small screen. “At the time, because the audience was young we had to find a new way of writing stories, to write stories like a blogger perhaps.”

A key asset that has been built is Quint Labs, seen as an experimentation and innovation group within the organization. While the organization as a whole is still looking at creativity and building audiences for eventual monetization, Quint Labs has come up with some innovative advertising promotion ideas. There are of course still some pressures and constraints that compel business discipline. As an instance of this balance between creativity and discipline Kapoor says, “The pressure on Quint Labs is to come up with the next big thing.”

Inshorts

The last stops on the INMA Digital Media Study Tour are the offices of a digital media startup and application known as Inshorts. Deepit Purkayastha shows us the English and Hindi content processing spaces, which are also shared by the analysts and tech developers.

Purkayastha describes the development of the app that provides a quick flip-through of stories in 60 words on a smartphone. The idea is that if a reader wants more depth or detail, the link is provided to the longer format source and that source is more than likely to be one of the media organizations that Inshorts is partnering. Although invested in by Tiger Global and also by the founders of eCommerce company Flipkart, Inshorts is already profitable.

Purkayastha further turns our visit into a kind of seminar where he presents several documents on technology and media forecasting while asking the participants from the various media organizations taking part on their views as to what is next. He shares some of the new ideas that his company is working on, including wearables that may work particularly well with compact content.

Another very intriguing idea coming from the future technology trends research that Purkayastha suggests is that of using blockchain technology for media. The idea is that a crypto token is issued per visit to each story, which has a value and can also be traded and en-cashed.

Whenever a story is read or a video is watched, accountable revenue is generated for the publisher on a neutral server, although he cautions that one should still expect some overheads and even biases. However, the prospects are certainly interesting, “If the trust is outsourced to a third-party reasonably neutral blockchain server, there is the possibility of disrupting the Google and Facebook model of amplification.”