afaqs!

Metro Now dons weekly garb, to go out free with HT, TOI

By Dhaleta Surender Kumar , afaqs!, New Delhi | In Media Publishing | January 23, 2009
Metro Now, the tabloid launched jointly by Hindustan Times and The Times of India, published its last edition on January 22. It will now move into a new avatar as a free weekly

Metro & #BANNER1 & # Now published its last edition on January 22.

Metro Now was launched in February 2007 by Metropolitan Media Co., a 50:50 joint venture company of HT Media Ltd and Bennett, Coleman & Co. Ltd (BCCL). The tabloid was a symbol of the newly grown friendship between the two rival media houses, which publish Hindustan Times and The Times of India, respectively.

But the two media houses are not killing off the symbol of their amity just as yet. They plan to relaunch Metro Now as a weekly from January 24. It will be distributed free along with The Times of India and Hindustan Times every Saturday in Gurgaon.

The Gurgaon edition will be followed by a Noida edition in the next few weeks. While the Gurgaon edition will have a print run of one lakh copies, the Noida edition will have a print run of 65,000 copies. Both Gurgaon and Noida fall in the national capital region.

When Sidhant Khosla, chief executive officer, Metropolitan Media Co., was quizzed by afaqs! about the reasons for this strategic decision, he offered his rationale without revealing much about the reasons for the closure of Metro Now in its current daily form.

Khosla says, "We studied the Western markets very closely. We learnt that local newspapers are quite successful in those markets. In India, the local market remains untapped. So, we saw potential there and decided to turn Metro Now into a weekly."

He adds, "It also offers advertisers a much tighter segmentation."

However, afaqs! has learnt from a BCCL insider that not everything was smooth sailing between the two partners. Another source told afaqs! that Times Response, which was responsible for Metro Now's ad sales, did not accord it due priority.

Metro Now was launched with the aim of combating Mail Today, the compact daily from the India Today Group, but it did not put up any real fight. Mail Today is considered to be a more serious read than Metro Now and has definitely caught the fancy of young readers.

Industry observers feel that Metro Now was not the right product for the Delhi market. A senior media observer says, "There were already many supplements coming with the main dailies, which substituted for tabloids. So, in fact, there wasn't a great need for the product."

There was also the expectation that the popularity of the Delhi Metro train network would boost tabloid readership in the city, as is the case in Mumbai. That, too, did not happen.

Another senior media observer, Premjeet Sodhi, chief planning officer, Lintas Media Group, says, "Metro Now was always an add-on product for advertisers, along with TOI. So, Metro Now probably faced a challenge to its sustainability as a business."

Sodhi also feels that "there isn't a thriving market for a weekly newspaper in Delhi. Therefore, it seems difficult to imagine it being converted into a weekly because that is a more lucrative proposition. It's a purely business decision, the bases of which are the state of ad revenues and business costs."

Metropolitan Media Co. now plans to roll out "more hyperlocal editions" of the weekly in the coming months. These will cater to different regions in Delhi and suburbs such as Faridabad and Ghaziabad as well.

As part of its transformation, the 40-page daily will become a 16-page weekly. The number of pages could go up "depending on the ad revenue", says Khosla. In terms of content, he says, the flavour "will still be that of a tabloid, but the news will be more local now". The target audience for the weekly Metro Now remains SEC A and SEC B households in the ratio of 70:30.