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Network18 Digital’s Puneet Singhvi on customised mobile ads, growth drivers & leadership consolidation

Brand collaboration is an area that is currently under experimentation.

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MUMBAI: The general elections is the best time for news channels and the past four-five months have been a big gain for news broadcasters. A few months ago, Network18 group elevated Puneet Singhvi as president- digital and corporate strategy. Network18 Digital also set an all-new benchmark in election results coverage with 56.2 million users on Network18 Digital’s websites on 23 May (the result day of general election 2019).

In an interaction with Indiantelevision.com, Singhvi spoke on the strategies to drive growth across the digital platform of Network18. Apart from the regular display advertising on the sites, Singhvi also wants to focus on adding customised solutions for mobile advertising, driving audiences on digital platform and extend some of its brand beyond online. Seeing the growth on various digital vertical Singhvi also revealed that this year the focus would be more on consolidation and obtaining a stable leadership position on the digital front.

How are you strategising the growth of Network18’s digital platform?

Over the last couple of years, we had a fairly strong momentum growth or build - Money Control, News18- English and regional languages, CNBC and CricketNext. In the last three to five months, we have built a strong tech backbone and invested in building a fairly robust technology stack behind all of these sites. We also focused on doing editorial in an innovative way in terms of the way we do stories, analysis, infographics, data analytics and data presentation across the network and we get ourselves aggressively around some of the big event coverage and it makes a network-wide initiative rather than doing it in silo. All of these have contributed well. On the sales side, we have streamlined the verticals a little bit; we combined certain sales team to finally end up with 3G verticals of sales. That helped us to get a deeper reach in the market and now we can also deliver our audience on a much bigger scale. On the branded content side or IP side, we have seen a little bit of success with the kind of work the team has done in terms of revenue traction and also in terms of recognition for the quality of work and creativity that we have done. All these combined have given us that momentum and we are able to capitalise on a lot of opportunities that are there on the internet.

Which digital vertical has been the growth driver for Network18?

We see robust growth across the platform. Moneycontrol continues to be our flagship and our business vertical is very big. We are growing fairly aggressively on English news and News18 languages are the verticals where the growth is fastest and highest but that is because advertising on the regional language internet has been on the lower base compared to English internet and that is the factor to consider when we look at the overall growth. We are the largest multi-language news publisher in the country and that has helped us ride that wave more aggressively than people who are there in one or two languages. So that’s the kind of reach that we are able to drive through our language verticals and on-air coverage that is provided through our television network that we have across 20 states. That helps us with the overall growth there. English News and CricketNext combined continue to do well. So does the business news vertical which is showing a consistent year-on-year growth trend. In the business news vertical, we are already talking about the diversification of revenue, so we launched Moneycontrol Pro, which is a subscription-based version of Moneycontrol where we have exclusive insights, data analytics etc. That is something which has done very well; we are the largest financial news tool and market news subscription service in the country now.

What are the challenges you come across on the digital platform?

The core display business, which has been the bread and butter for digital, is starting to slow down. So it is very important for the publisher and players within the ecosystem to adapt to one - whole programmatic buying or advertising tact and second is we have to constantly think of branded content and creating IPs that can be recurring annual revenue. So those are the two or three risk mitigation areas. All of the publishers work in the 15 per cent market which is outside of Google and Facebook, so it’s really important to be creative. What helps the fact is we are the firmly-established number two engaging network in the country that gives us the scale and position on the table to have a chat with the advertisers.

How do you see responses coming in from advertisers on the digital platform?

Digital is now 17 per cent of the total advertising market and it’s just a matter of time that it comes in the top two or three medium of advertising. There have been advertisers who are pioneers in digital advertising and there have been a fair bit of new advertisers that are getting added. There are certain segments which can continue to be more traditional but that’s just a matter of time before they start testing out things on digital and then hopefully convert into more regular advertising over the period of time. It also depends on the kind of solutions that we give and the kind of reach metric we can provide and also the kind of target audience that we are able to deliver to these advertisers. But I think that evolution has happened fairly well on the English internet side of it and it will also happen to the rest of the brands.

Who are the major advertisers on the platform?

Traditionally BSFI and auto have been big advertisers but given the circumstances that the auto industry is going through, they have their own challenges. E-commerce is another big advertiser, FMCG is fairly large, tech and IT service is quite big and broking companies are also advertisers for us. These are the four-five sectors that are significant.

Brief us on the monetisation methods that you look at for digital?

Basically, all across the board are as simple as selling the banners, display advertising, sponsorship, selling space through programmatic, selling performance advertising, key event sponsorship and creating IPs for digital and getting sponsorship around that. Pretty much every revenue stream that is out there, we go across the board with them. Probably what we do least is performance-based advertising because we believe our audience here is premium and we want to be able to drive returns that one should be getting from those kinds of audiences.

Brand collaborations are of two kinds- one is- creating customised content and running it across our network, which is the part of regular advertising portfolio that we have and another collaboration that we have is around the IPs that we create. For example, Vanity Dairies had got partners from the cosmetic side. There is a fairly vast opportunity of collaboration there if we are able to drive interesting ideas. Our success had been tough for what we did for Flipkart Fashion. We created the storyboard and a series of videos for them around what the fashion fundas are for various people. It did significantly well for them. That kind of collaboration is at a completely different level where we start utilising our studio capabilities too on conceptualising and creating an interesting reach for them. Obviously, this kind of project drives disproportionately higher revenue compared to the project of standard advertising but they require a significant amount of work as well.

As you mentioned earlier about subscription-based version of Money Control i.e is called as Money Control Pro. Will you also switch to the subscription model for Network18’s other brands as well?

We are constantly evaluating the opportunities for alternate revenue streams and one of the more established streams on digital is subscription. So for our brand also it is under the helm of possibility. But as I keep saying, the core is the kind of value proposition that we are able to drive which is interesting enough and has enough traction for the users to pay us month on month and keep paying us over the period of time to subscribe and renew those services. As and when we evolve and create those capabilities given our verticals and when we are able to create those USP we will continue evaluating values around subscription. We are very enthused by the kind of responses that we got for Money Control and that is the interesting space to explore within the larger network.

News 18 is currently available in 12 languages; will you add any other languages this year as well?

We might look at one or two additional languages but this year the focus is really on consolidating and establishing significant or a stable leadership position across the board because on the back of that one is able to drive revenue. For us, that would be the really big focus to grow. The kind of responses that we have seen in the last three to five months has been very good. We are the top three players, if not the number one player in almost all the languages that we are present in, which is the significant achievement because in those cases we are up against most of the traditional print brands and most of that we have done in the last two years. So we want to drive that momentum and consolidate it further. Obviously, we will look at adding more languages which are not in the portfolio but this year our focus would be more on consolidation.

What will be your roadmap for driving growth and revenue on digital?

Apart from doing display in a more interactive and interesting way, adding customised solutions for mobile advertising would be one focus area. Second focus would be more on driving audience on the digital platform. We are also looking at extending some of our brands beyond online either it could be a knowledge series or events or ground IPs, something like what we have done very successfully with Tech and Auto Awards. So all of these combined could be the growth drivers for the next couple of years.

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