The second INMA study tour began with a cheerful note on 18 November 2018 at The Imperial in Delhi with a brief welcome and introduction by Earl J Wilkinson, who explained the purpose, significance and general guidelines of the INMA study tour to the attendees. He explained the relevance of keeping up with the digital media to grow as a news organization in today’s time.
The participants included representatives from leading news media organizations in India, Bangladesh and Moscow. This year’s study tour had more participation from Bangladesh and included a couple of participants from Moscow. The study tour was hosted by Gyan Gupta, former chief executive officer of DB Digital and now the owner of Chamko.me.
The Indian Express
After a 30-minute ride to the office of The Indian Express in Noida, the group learned how the company exponentially multiplied its digital audience by effectively leveraging digital media – to establish a sustainable digital media business without capital burn. Anant Sharma, manager of audio, The Indian Express, explained how podcasts can be used as an extended medium of content distribution. “A podcast is online and on-demand radio,” Sharma said in simple terms.
Podcasts can target a rather focused audience segment who listen to them as a source of knowledge and not mere information. Sharma explained that podcasts require third-party applications such as Google Podcasts, Spotify, Saavn, Gaana and Apple Podcasts. The Indian Express runs more than 20 podcasts shows. Sharma explained that most podcast listeners are affluent, educated and loyal, with a lack of time who want in-depth knowledge.
Podcasts have an edge over videos because they allow multitasking, and the retention of knowledge is apparently much higher than from watching videos. The retention of ads is also claimed to be much higher in podcasts than other media formats. Podcasts can include targeted ads based on the preferred topics or consumption behavior of listeners.
According to Sharma, India is among the biggest podcast markets. The diversification to vernacular languages can give an organization an edge – The Indian Express brings out podcasts in a mix of Hindi and English. An organization can make itself heard by consistently bringing out knowledgeable and interesting podcasts.
However, the Indian Express is still figuring out ways to monetize its audio content. “Monetization of podcasts may disrupt the user experience, and hence we are still merely experimenting with,” Sharma said.
Arjun Assi, product manager of apps at the Indian Express, educated the participants on how to create apps with high ratings. Assi emphasized the need for a good UI/UX and typography in an app. It is essential to analyze the user ratings, reviews, comments, feedback and queries to create a successful app. Identifying what the user wants and enabling each user to customize the app according to their preference can immediately increase the app’s retention in a user’s smartphone. By listening to its users, the Indian Express brought down its app uninstall rate from 30% to 5% within a year.
Update your app every 15 days
An app needs to be fast and crash-free, to be updated regularly after careful data analysis to ensure it runs smoothly. Assi stated that updating an app every 15 days is ideal for news media organizations. Moreover, customization to choose the stories in the news feed and the number of notifications received in a day can enhance the user experience.
Sumit Gulati, business head of FE.com, brought forth the issue of lack of finance and finesse in vernacular language content. The Indian Express went regional with the launch of ieMalayalam, ieTamil, and ieBangla in 2017. The three regional news portals of Indian Express have a combined user base 10 million. Local journalists and editors for hyper-local news coverage is an effective form of relevant news gathering, according to Gulati.
Answering questions about the critical digital parameters for any media company, Sanjay Sindhwani, chief executive officer of digital at the Indian Express, said, “Page views alone cannot be considered as a measure of success. You need to have good user engagement and a subscription model for growth. Producing meaningful content and not perfect content is important to stay relevant in the digital space.”
The Facebook Journalism Project
After a hearty and quick lunch at the Facebook office in Gurgaon, the study tour group gained an insight into the Facebook Journalism Project. Facebook says it invests in quality journalism institutes and visits newsrooms to offer online courses and train journalists to leverage social media tools to spread the news. The social media giant also claims to partner news publishers and NGOs to fight against misinformation, promote news literacy, and fund new initiatives, share best practices and improve the exchange of information on the platform.
Susha Kaul of Facebook explained that with interactive tools and proper formatting, using correspondents in the field to provide live coverage, a news media company can increase engagement with its users. Creating engaging and bold videos, regularly publishing, communicating with users, producing high-quality content according to audience preferences, and writing search-friendly descriptions are among the best practices to follow on Facebook Watch – its intent-based video viewing platform.
Beyond creating videos to keep the audience engaged and attracting a new user base, in-stream ads can monetize them. The three types of ad breaks – pre-roll, mid-roll and image ads – can be placed automatically in a video. However, there is a specific set of rules for news media to monetize videos on Facebook. The company needs to have an existing page to publish videos to pass the Facebook monetization policies. In addition, it must have 10,000 or more followers, generate 30,000 one-minute views on three-minute videos, and the page admin must be in a supported country. There are currently more than 720 million active users on FB Watch and 140 million active users every day, who spend more than 20 minutes on average on the platform.
The process of content monetization on FB was explained in detail by Roshan Panjwani. Media companies can register their news page on FB to help FB identify pages created primarily for news content to distinguish these from other pages. FB has products and features that can be accessed by registered news pages to run a legitimate business and have accountable editorial policies.
Coming back to the HT Media office in Delhi, the slightly wear group, nevertheless, showed great interest in its integrated newsroom. Anup Gupta, managing editor, Integration, Abhesh Verma, business head, HT Digital Streams, and Rajan Bhalla, group chief marketing officer, HT Media chaperoned us around the huge new newsroom while the next morning’s daily was being readied. Spread across a massive 72,400 square foot structually altered space, the integration of HT’s print and digital operations allows the 740 employees to interact freely.
With stand-up meeting tables, the expansive newsroom enables the print and digital teams to work seamlessly with each other. The merging of operations resulted in higher productivity and a culture shift for the company.
The integrated and high-tech newsroom at HT enables journalists to produce stories in real-time. These stories are published on the web immediately while being fine-tuned for the print edition later in the evening. Productivity rose from 390-400 stories to more than 600 stories a day. Moreover, Gupta shared some insights on how HT grew its active user base and digital revenue through the digital transformation strategy.
The second day of the study tour
The second day of the INMA study tour kicked off with a visit to the Times Internet office in Gurgaon. Vivek Jain, chief strategy officer, Times Prime, couldn’t be physically present, but nonetheless shared his presentation through a video call. He outlined global newspaper trends, including substantial investment in subscription-based models and loyalty programs. Given that print is shifting to digital, without ad revenue translating as effectively, there is a need for news businesses to diversify their product offering, he said. Emphasizing the value consciousness traits of the Indian audience, Jain introduced the Times Prime bundled offerings.
Times Prime is the digital membership service for content and offers from Times Internet. The bundle contains offers and benefits from different brands provided together as a periodic membership plan. A single subscription can give access to the benefits from several platforms. Times Internet saw a surge of Times Prime membership to 100,000 in the initial three months without marketing the product, according to Jain.
Another product, ET Prime, is a members-only premium digital-content platform from the group’s Economic Times financial paper. Targeted at premium readers, the stories offered by ET Prime are based on facts and contain infographics. Somewhere around 1,200 to 2,000 words, the stories on various topics cover more than 15 industries.
With marketing budgets slimming, news businesses need to invest in product management, quality content, user research and data analysis. Times Internet suggests four steps to transition from an ad-based to a subscription-based economy – creating a business model that has reader-based revenue source and quality journalism, realigning technology and business in the process, developing new focus areas to include data analysis and user research, and changing the organizational structure and upgrading human resources and skills. However, to sustain prices and revenue growth in the transformation period is a challenge that remains.
Kabeer Sharma described the company’s Indiatimes Lifestyle Network (ILN), in lifestyle segment, which includes MensXP, iDiva, and What’s Hot. ILN helps brands connect with the young audience. With ‘experiences,’ branded content, editorial sponsorships, events and strategic partnerships, ILN marries business objectives to data-driven advertising solutions across distinguished brands.
After the informative and exciting session at Times Internet, the INMA study tour headed to the Google office, where it took in a dose of Google’s efforts and tools to help journalists grow in the digital space. Launched in March 2019 in North America, the Google News Initiative is an effort by it to work with the news industry to support journalism in the digital age. In 2018, Google trained nearly 300,000 journalists in person and online around the world on digital tools for quality journalism.
Geetika Rustagi, Google News Labs teaching fellow, spoke about the work in India and gave an overview of Google tools, including search refinements, Google Trends, and Flourish for newsrooms. Through its products for web publishing, partnerships with publishers to create joint solutions and programs, Google provides training to fight against misinformation. Google News Initiative has trained over 13,000 journalists and media students worldwide and has 241 trainers. In India, apart from in-person training, Google provides free fact-checking training, online, in English, Hindi and Bengali.
The GNI network for fact-checking and verification is a 5-day training given to journalists to become in-house fact-checkers. GNI offers webinars to keep the trainers updated with the latest updates in trends and tools. Pratyush Ranjan, senior editor of Jagran New Media, a participant of the study tour, is among one of the GNI fact-checkers in India.
Furthermore, Rustagi shared refinement tools for enhanced Google search. The refinements are openly available to all, and can be accessed at tinyurl.com/googlesearchmods. She wrapped up her session by giving the group a brief on Google Trends to find the trending topics, keywords and real-time searches by people from anywhere at any point in time. Lastly, she spoke about Flourish, Google’s automated infographics creation tool.
The last stop for the second INMA study tour, StoryXpress, is a cloud-based video platform for businesses. The services offered include video creation, personalization, hosting and analytics at scale to boost marketing and sales. Founded in 2017 by two IIT Hyderabad graduates, Chinmay Jindal, chief technology officer, and Ankit Mishra, chief executive officer, StoryXpress is a video automation platform.
With the growing video consumption, more and more businesses are looking to invest in videos. Short-form videos are becoming a popular medium of content consumption, for instance, Instagram stories. eCommerce is leveraging videos to promote products, enhance UX and to stay ahead of the curve.
StoryXpress provides personalized automated videos for brands to increase their outreach further and faster. For newsrooms, the company offers automatic video creating tool from articles, auto-generated video highlights and personalized video newsletters. It also provides consultation to its clients in terms of figuring out the best way to create and share videos. In addition, StoryXpress enables news businesses to distribute videos across channels.
The Second INMA India study tour concluded successfully on the evening of 19 November 2019 at The Imperial. Among the favorite sessions from the study tour, most affirmed that the session on podcasts by the Indian Express presented a fresh and impressive approach towards digital content distribution. HT Media’s digital strategy and Times Internet’s digital success inspired the participants to take home a positive and experimental mindset towards the digital transformation.