YuktaMedia is excited to introduce the first speaker in the “Meet The Experts” series. The goal of this series is to interview leading professionals in the digital publishing industry around the globe. The goal is to learn from the experts, especially now, that the Publishing industry is hurting the most. We hope that by sharing and learning from each other’s experiences Publishers will continue to not only survive but thrive over the years to come.
Our first interview is with Sanjay Sindhwani, CEO, Indian Express Online Media. Mr. Sindhwani needs no introduction. In his illustrious career of 20+ years in Publishing, Mr. Sindhwani has had the opportunity to work and influence Publishing houses like Television Eighteen and Times Internet. He has deep knowledge and exposure to various aspects of Publishing giving him a unique vantage point to share his views on a very relevant topic – A new dawn for Publishers post COVID-19.
We are extremely grateful to Mr. Sindhwani for taking the time out of his busy schedule and participate in the this initiative of giving back to the Publishing community.
Aditya Bhelande – COVID-19 has added to the misery of already hurting Publishers. Looking back what and where did things go wrong for Publishers?
Mr. Sindhwani – I cannot comment for all publishers, but speaking about ourselves, we had initiated a lot of cost optimization measures last year, so we were in a way better prepared when the lock-down hit us. There was a big impact on revenues for almost 2 months, but post that things have started improving. The traffic on the site has seen a big surge for us and most digital publishers. The challenge is on the demand side. The lock-down and its aftermath saw certain advertising categories come to a complete halt like travel and tourism. Remember the whole summer vacation was lost. But we also saw a surge in spends from some of the other categories like education and gaming. On a net basis, the demand was lower, supply has increased, and prices have fallen. So depending on how strong or relevant your brands were to the categories that were less impacted each publisher has seen different levels of impact.
Now coming to your question, I guess if publishers were in an expansion mode or on a spending spree with new product launches, then the covid-19 would have hit them badly. Black swan events like this need quick adjustments and reaction. If one is slow, the cost impact of such events can be high and permanent.
Aditya Bhelande – With Publisher revenues dwindling, would it make sense for Publishers to invest in any technology / platform (SaaS or in-house)? If yes, which business areas / technologies would you suggest?
Mr. Sindhwani – Improving the efficiency of systems and processes, always pays off. For us improving the efficiency of our content processes, our sales processes, optimizing our content and Ad delivery, optimizing our marketing, building better user insights are some of the key areas to invest and build upon. And this makes sense for most businesses in my opinion.
Aditya Bhelande – With 3rd party cookies going away soon, what steps do you think Publishers should take so that they are ready to brace the impact on revenue and business in general?
Mr. Sindhwani – Building ones first party data is the most immediate thing to do. We have about one and half years to go, which is reasonable time to build a decent data set. Ideally if publishers can come together to build it together that would create opportunity at scale and value.
Aditya Bhelande – How should Publisher manage their audiences, related data and leverage these from a monetization perspective?
Mr. Sindhwani – Data is the new oil. Oil mining and processing is expensive. If publishers have the capabilities, they should invest in this, it will take some time to pay off. But this is about getting back into the game of owning your audience relationship and the value chain. With subscriptions and first party data publishers will get back some control over their businesses.
Aditya Bhelande – There have been some talks about Publishers forming consortium’s to take on BIG Tech. Is that that feasible? What would be the challenges and is there a way to make a consortium successful?
Mr. Sindhwani – Not that I am aware of. It’s a difficult proposition, as traditionally publishers have been competitors. But we have seen in some countries publishers are coming together to pool data, or invest in platforms or technology assets together.
Its easier for regional publishers who do not directly compete with each other or operate in different Geo’s to probably come together. Lets see if something like this happens. Right now I guess everyone is in survival mode, not many are thinking about the future.
Aditya Bhelande – How will the rise of OTT impact traditional web Publishers (News, Finance, Sports, etc.)? Is there a potentially an opportunity for web Publishers?
Mr. Sindhwani – Publishers co-existed with live TV channels. OTTs impact the live TV business more than they impact the publishing business. Yes, in the categories like News, Finance, Sports publishers have an opportunity to expand. The question is do you want to become an OTT player yourself or is your strength great content and you now produce it in a manner that you can use the OTT platforms as a distribution channel.
But the other more significant and positive change the OTTs are creating is a market for subscriptions. They prepare audiences for the fact that content has to be paid for. This itself is a huge behavior change as far as consumers are concerned. If OTTs can drive this change, publishers will find it much easier to tap into the consumer wallets as when they decide to put up pay walls.
A lot of building blocks are similar, for instance payment support for recurring (subscription) payments. When different industry groups come together to push for these fundamental building blocks to fall in place, then it works to everyone’s advantage.
Aditya Bhelande – Which revenue generation strategies should Publishers now pursue in addition to advertising revenue? And how will these strategies differ by Publisher size?
Mr. Sindhwani – Publishers will have to build multiple revenue streams. Even within advertising there are multiple ways to monetize. The next few years are going to be a tipping point for the news publishing industry and if one is not looking at a multiple options for monetization then they will find it difficult to sail through. For instance, other than advertising; syndication, content commerce, subscriptions are some of the areas most publishers are looking at. And within advertising too publishers are now looking at options like digital events, building user data for ad targeting, Ad-Lite or Ad-free experiences.
Aditya Bhelande – Do you believe that Indian Publishers today have global presence similar to say a New York Times / Economist / Guardian? What suggestions would you give to aspiring Indian Publishers to get there?
Mr. Sindhwani – Indian publishers cater at best to people from India and people interested in India. Beyond that I do not think mainstream Indian publishers are really creating content to market themselves as destination for an international audience. But there are a few niche players who are running the ops from India and managing sites that cater to a niche or a segments globally.
Aditya Bhelande – What would be your top three recommendations for Publishers as they try to get through COVID-19 and beyond?
Mr. Sindhwani – Conserve Cash, Chase Revenues and remain lean. If you survive, you will thrive.
Aditya Bhelande – Any other question / comment from your side.
Mr. Sindhwani – Economically catastrophic events like we are in the middle of right now, throw up winners for the next cycle of economic boom. Economic downturns are followed by upturns. Downturns will come and go. But a downturn force organizations to become more focused on their core competencies, call for leaner and more efficient structures, and lead to best utilization of resources and cost optimisations. And when the cycle turns, these organizations come out stronger than before.
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