The 93-year-old Ananda Vikatan group, founded by the SS Vasan, began its journey with print magazines. Though Vasan branched out into cinema, with his active involvement over 3 decades producing and directing blockbuster films such as Chandralekha, Avvaiyyar, Thiaga Bhumi, VanchiKottai Valiban, etc., Ananda Vikatan magazine was the primary focus of the group.
Indian Printer & Publisher met B Srinivasan, third-generation entrepreneur and the current managing director and managing editor of the group, who joined the family business in the early 90s. Until the early 80s, the group’s main focus was primarily Ananda Vikatan magazine, a window to the world of leisure, entertainment and engagement for Tamilians and the Tamil diaspora. The group’s second magazine, Junior Vikatan, a socio-political magazine was launched in 1983. Srinivasan pioneered the broadbasing of Vikatan group’s magazine reach by launching new print titles for various audience segments such as women, personal finance, cuisine, farm practices, spiritual, lifestyle, automobiles, etc.
According to the Indian Readership Survey 2019 (IRS 2019 Q2), Ananda Vikatan ranks amongst the top 10 publications across all formats and languages with a total readership of 34 lakhs (3.4 million). The Ananda Vikatan Group currently publishes 8 titles across various genres, including one for women (Aval Vikatan), one on socio-political issues (Junior Vikatan), and several other special interest magazines. Aval Vikatan, launched during the late 90s is now the largest women’s magazine in Tamil with a total readership of 13 lakhs (1.3 million) and the cumulative reach of Vikatan Group has registered a growth of approximately 2% from 77.9 lakhs (IRS 2019Q1) to 79.2 lakh readers (IRS 2019 Q2).
Many special interest magazines such as Pasumai Vikatan, an agro and farm practices magazine; Motor Vikatan, the only automobile magazine in Tamil; Sakthi Vikatan, a spiritual and religious cultural magazine; and Nanayam Vikatan, a personal finance & entrepreneurship magazine were launched during the early 2000s, catering to the varied interests of audiences.
Champion of causes
Junior Vikatan, launched in 1983, over the years evolved into a socio-political magazine with a strong reader base and chronicles the political trends and behind-the-scenes action in politics, governance, crime and civil society. The magazine has carved out a niche for itself as a champion of causes, be it the issue of female Infanticide, flawed governance or policing atrocities. During the mid 80s, Junior Vikatan exposed the social malaise of female infanticide where infant girls were mercilessly killed by their own families due to the abject poverty and draconic dowry system prevalent in rural societies of Tamil Nadu.
Opinion maker and conscience shaker
This issue not only shook the societal and institutional conscience of India and the world, but also forced the then state and central government and the UN to act upon it. As Junior Vikatan evolved, it became an influential opinion maker in its own right. Notably, JuVi, as it is affectionately called amongst the masses has helped shake the collective conscience of the community as well as the government and forced them to take action on the right causes.
“The respect Junior Vikatan commands amongst our readers as well as the state machinery is primarily because of its credibility and authenticity. It is not only the hallmark of JuVi, but also of the entire Vikatan Group. In fact, JuVi champions the people’s cause and we have consciously positioned JuVi as the ‘Voice of the Voiceless,’” says B Srinivasan, managing director and managing editor of the Vikatan Group.
Junior Vikatan, which was launched as a weekly is now published twice a week. Even in the era of the Internet, readers look forward to grabbing a copy of Junior Vikatan not only because of its content stickiness but it is also reasonably priced to suit the common man’s pocket. “When the content is authentic, credible, exclusive and insightful, the entire political ecosystem, from political stalwarts to enthusiasts to commoners pick up a copy for the insightful analysis and news scoops that JuVi offers. We publish a special supplement with Junior Vikatan ahead of the state or parliamentary elections called Election Junior,” Srinivasan adds.
Defamation suits and content credibility
When asked if Ananda Vikatan Group has faced any problems from the governments, especially as the group’s flagship magazines deal with socio-political issues, Srinivasan shares, “Defamation suits have been a part and parcel of our working lives. However, we have stood our ground and have never compromised on news that matters to the people out there. People trust Vikatan for its authenticity, credibility, curation and validation of content that it offers.” The group has a healthy mix of in-house journalists as well as freelance contributors who write on pressing issues of the day. However, for most of its stories, the group turns to its in-house writers and experienced journalists.
Entering the television format
During late 90s, Srinivasan diversified into television content production and started producing serials that are telecast in prime time in Sun TV. Srinivasan shares, “In the last 15-18 years, we have been the undisputed leaders as far as the Tamil prime time TV programs are concerned. This is a reflection of our strong understanding of the pulse of Tamil TV audiences. We pride ourselves in being good story-tellers.”
King of content in the digital space
After diversifying into TV content production, Srinivasan soon realized the importance of going digital. While the digital entry happened during 1997, Vikatan took the bold step of going pay in 2005, something that very few publishers had thought of back then. In 2011-12, Vikatan Televistas, the TV content production company, started uploading the TV serials (content created by Vikatan for Sun TV) on YouTube and today, it is garnering nearly 2 million views within a 24-hour cycle. Srinivasan says that now the group has started exploring the non-fiction genre on YouTube.
Digital-first content and mobile video
In today’s dynamically evolving digital era, Vikatan Group produces a lot of ‘digital-first’ content as well as audio and video content. The group’s fiction content, which is aired on Sun TV, drives its YouTube content consumption. However, in the last three years, the Jio effect has made a huge impact on Vikatan’s YouTube consumption. According to Srinivasan, approximately 500-600 million viewers consume Ananda Vikatan’s non-fiction content every year.
“This number is growing substantially year-on-year. While we are not yet on the OTT platform, the viewership we receive on both YouTube and Facebook is exceptional. The team that we had set up to create audio-visuals has more than broken even; now it has actually started making money for us. Basically, we are using this team to create content for our advertisers. We are pitching to various clients where we approach them asking ‘You have a product; would you like us to do a product demo or would you like us to do a complete walkthrough on your website?’
“There are Internet clients that we ask if they want us to do a complete step-by-step on how to install their app or get their registration done. In other words, create a user journey on their apps by creating videos around it. Not only would we create content for our clients but also help connect them to our audiences and even use our media to further amplify the needs of our clients. Video is really where we believe where we are heading towards, especially mobile video,” says Srinivasan.
The group has pulled off a couple of magazines recently, which Srinivasan likes to term as ‘rightsizing.’ “We have recently done a bit of rightsizing where we have taken a step back on two print magazines, our literature and health magazines, while two other titles on children and bridal design were converted as an Infobook series and B2B trade publication, respectively. We will continue with their online versions but we are not able to continue with them as print products,” discloses Srinivasan.
As per Srinivasan, print is important but it is no longer a necessary and sufficient medium to be able to engage with audiences the way the group used to do in the past. “Ananda Vikatan as a group has actually been able to make the transition from being print-first to being customer-first and experience-first,” he says. Going ahead, Srinivasan is looking at becoming a content factory from just being a magazine media company. For example, Sakti Vikatan, the group’s spiritual magazine with its intrinsic knowledge about temples and spirituality, has started taking readers on curated spiritual tours where the group’s editors and experts accompany the readers in an effort to provide a holistic experience.
“This has become an area where we believe we will start focusing very deeply. Similar to our spiritual tours, we have experimented with a set of historical tours, which are backed up by deep research, historical insights and authenticity. Essentially, we are creating curated experiences based on our magazine genres and such innovations deepen our engagement with our readers,” shares Srinivasan.
Entering the OTT content space
Currently, Srinivasan is in talks with at least 3-4 OTT platforms to create content for them based on either some of the stories that the group already has running in its magazines or creating fresh content using its writers and creative team. “We are confident of making a strong mark in the OTT space as content creators because we have production capacity, we have content understanding, we have audience understanding and insights, and we have a deep connection with the creative fraternity. Essentially, we have the kind of elements that it takes to make the content where it deserves to go,” Srinivasan says.
Srinivasan to speak at the FIPP World Media Congress
An active board member of FIPP, Srinivasan will be participating at FIPP World Media Congress, Las Vegas from 12-14 November this year. “Being part of the FIPP is an eye-opener to understand how publishers all over the world are actually facing up to the crisis that generally manifests the printing and publishing industry, especially magazines, how they are coping and finding new ways of solving problems,” says Srinivasan.
For the past five years, Srinivasan is a regular at the Digital Innovator’s Summit, Berlin, which he says has given him many insights for future-proofing Vikatan Group. Much of this is already getting translated into some kind of work at Vikatan, where as an organization Vikatan is readying itself for creating content across various media platforms.
In the last four years, the group has been able to create videos of a certain quality within a reasonable turnaround time and at very low costs. Any content that the group generates, if it is video-worthy, Srinivasan ensures that a video is also created. He further uses parts of the video to promote the content in print and digital, and subsequently, use that buzz to create a viewership for the video when it goes up eventually.
“Today content is king but distribution is still God. So, sending the message out is as important as creating great content. In the past, there used to be immediate recall as there were not so many distractions. Thanks to the mobile distraction, people’s attention span has become extremely restricted. In order to reach out to them, one should be able to communicate within a reasonable period of time what the audience is looking for in a product. This is exactly what we are trying to put in place. This video content strategy, the marketing as well as the outsourcing of stories are some of the topics I will be presenting at FIPP World Media Congress this year,” concludes Srinivasan.
FIPP World Media Congress
FIPP World Media Congress, taking place from 12 to 14 November 2019, will have delegates from 35 countries including Africa, Asia, Australia, Europe and North and South America and representing some of the most iconic media businesses in the world.
The speaker program starts at 12:30 p.m. on 12 November, running through to 6 p.m. with a single keynote channel. The sessions will continue at 9 a.m. on 13 November which will be divided into three speaker channels, ending the day at 6 p.m. Finally, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on 14 November, the congress will whisk around the world to look at several elements making up magazine media. From the USA to South Africa, Argentina and Brazil, from India to Chinese Taipei, and from Japan to Germany and the UK.
Apart from Srinivasan of Ananda Vikatan, the speakers at the congress will include Kate Lewis of Hearst Magazines, Mike Federle of Forbes Media, Ting Cai of Microsoft, Tim Hudson of Immediate Media Co, Julia Raphaely of Associated Media Publishing, D.W. Pine of TIME, Teruyuki Kitabatake of Manga Magazines, Paula Mageste, independent editor and publisher, David Israel of Playboy.