TOI’s ‘phyigital’ game attracts young readers to print newspaper

Combining physical and digital

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TOI
Times Housie Plus Photo: Times of India

Covid-19 induced lockdown and movement restrictions that began at the end of March in India have led to increase in popularity of eGame versions of classic games like ludo and housie. As a means to leverage this surge in popularity, India’s English newspaper, Times of India (TOI), created a unique ‘phyigital’ version of the housie called Times Housie Plus, just ahead of Dussera and Diwali.

TOI added a twist to the classic age-old game housie by reinterpreting it with digital gamification codes like live games, social badges, referral codes, a leaderboard, and pop trivia quizzes.

Writing in a blog on INMA’s website, Sumeli Chatterjee and Alexander Valladares of TOI said that Times Housie Plus piqued the interest of youth with its gamification cues and personalized messages, thus successfully recruiting new readers — many of whom were younger than 30 years of age.

How it worked

To play the game, readers needed to solve trivia questions appearing in the TOI newspaper every day for the 22 days running up to the festival, arriving at the numerical answers. These trivia questions could be linked to topical news stories, number puzzles, city trivia, or even brain teasers. These numbers needed to be entered on the readers’ unique digital Times Housie Plus ticket, which was available on the game website.

The readers needed to register with their own mobile number, which was OTP and reCaptcha validated to weed out bots. Players could claim prizes across categories like top/middle/bottom rows and full housie.

There were daily prizes and vouchers up for grabs by guessing the right answers to the questions printed in the newspaper. Basically, the more someone read the daily newspaper, the higher their chances were to win prizes. TOI readers could win home appliances or shopping vouchers to prep their homes for the festive season.

Impact statistics

According to Chatterjee and Valladares, the game successfully strengthened the daily readership of the print newspaper with 95% of registered players logging in to play the phygital game. The game registration skew was highest among young adults; almost 60% of the players were aged 30 years or younger. Almost 20% of the database were new subscribers of newspapers who shared a willingness to subscribe after registering for this game. Most importantly, the game backend provided TOI data to understand the daily reading habits that could be analyzed by age, gender, and city.

Cross-referencing the game login details and prize claim timings, Times Housie Plus gave us valuable reader analytics data, especially related to timing and frequency of newspaper readership, Chatterjee and Valladares wrote. The game also enabled newspaper advocacy by readers, and more than 15% of the players invited their friends and family through referral codes and social shares.

The game UX was personalized so TOI could send customized messages to reader cohorts to engage them more with game updates, news stories, and/or subscription offers. The game was audited by process validators to remove any biases or glitches and ensure data privacy norms were met.

“Thus, the popular game of numbers was reinterpreted with a new twist that combined the physical (print newspaper) with the digital (online gameplay) that helped TOI strengthen the youth connect of the newspaper during the festival season,” said Chatterjee and Valladares.

2023 promises an interesting ride for print in India

Indian Printer and Publisher founded in 1979 is the oldest B2B trade publication in the multi-platform and multi-channel IPPGroup. While the print and packaging industries have been resilient in the past 33 months since the pandemic lockdown of 25 March 2020, the commercial printing and newspaper industries have yet to recover their pre-Covid trajectory.

The fragmented commercial printing industry faces substantial challenges as does the newspaper industry. While digital short-run printing and the signage industry seem to be recovering a bit faster, ultimately their growth will also be moderated by the progress of the overall economy. On the other hand book printing exports are doing well but they too face several supply-chain and logistics challenges.

The price of publication papers including newsprint has been high in the past year while availability is diminished by several mills shutting down their publication paper and newsprint machines in the past four years. Indian paper mills are also exporting many types of paper and have raised prices for Indian printers. To some extent, this has helped in the recovery of the digital printing industry with its on-demand short-run and low-wastage paradigm.

Ultimately digital print and other digital channels will help print grow in a country where we are still far behind in our paper and print consumption and where digital is a leapfrog technology that will only increase the demand for print in the foreseeable future. For instance, there is no alternative to a rise in textbook consumption but this segment will only reach normality in the next financial year beginning on 1 April 2023.

Thus while the new normal is a moving target and many commercial printers look to diversification, we believe that our target audiences may shift and change. Like them, we will also have to adapt with agility to keep up with their business and technical information needs.

Our 2023 media kit is ready, and it is the right time to take stock and reconnect with your potential markets and customers. Print is the glue for the growth of liberal education, new industry, and an emerging economy. We seek your participation in what promises to be an interesting ride.

– Naresh Khanna

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