Points Of View: Do Alternative News Sites Have A Bright Future?

By Saumya Tewari , afaqs!, New Delhi | In Digital | November 24, 2015
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Or are they part of a bubble?

Digital has been changing the face of journalism, what with the new breed of news websites like Scroll, Catch News, Quartz, Quint, and The Wire, becoming popular. Sites such as these are like 'multimedia newspapers'; they cover a range of topics and also carry opinion pieces. Growing internet penetration and the need to sample news on-the-go has fetched these alternative news sites their fair share of readers.... and loyalists even.

But, getting good ad rates continues to be a challenge. How financially viable are these sites? Do alternative news sites have a bright future in this market? We spoke to a few industry experts to find out.

Edited Excerpts:

Samir Patil, publisher, Scroll

Samir Patil

I am not sure what 'alternative' means in this context. There is a new platform - the phone - that has emerged, which is as different from others as say print was from TV. The reach of the mobile platform now is on the same scale as other established media, so this new reality will throw up new companies and reshape old ones. Some of that maybe about niche sites, but broader new platforms will emerge as well.

Two opportunities attracted us - we felt there was room for a more analytical approach to news and entertainment, coupled with smart phone adoption, in the last three years, which made it possible to reach an audience of 125-150 million truly connected to the web. This was not the case a few years back.

We do not believe the app-only strategy is right for content business. We do think apps are crucial for they offer users far more in terms of alerts, personalisation, and speed. Ours is a mobile-first but not an app-only strategy.

Sidharth Bhatia, founding editor, The Wire

Sidharth Bhatia

I have great respect for sites like ScoopWhoop and Buzzfeed, simply because they are innovative. They may not be old style news, but things are changing. Maybe in the future news will be presented in different ways. Buzzfeed does break stories and is not all frivolous and jokey, though I have to say that even with that approach, it succeeds in making some really sharp points. It has got away by saying things traditional media would balk at. To my mind that is a good thing on the whole.

The ad industry is still a bit skeptical and waiting to see how these sites turn out. And, there are no reliable metrics of readership, demographic profiles, and therefore, bang for the ad buck. Nor will readers pay for content, given that they get so much for free. So, everyone is trying to find that Holy Grail.

Sukumar Ranganathan, editor, Mint, HT Media

Sukumar Ranganathan

New media is about offering readers and viewers utilities, such as aggregation, curation, interactivity and visualisation, that traditional media does not usually offer. It is about leveraging technology tools that facilitate discovery, engagement and amplification to build an audience, and then delivering this audience to advertisers. It is about speed and using the nature of the medium to weigh in on significant issues... by these measures, Mint is already a new media entity. Our journey towards this started in 2011-12 when we became an integrated newsroom.

Companies like HT Media, which have large marketing teams and existing relationships with advertisers, are better placed to monetise the output of their newsrooms, provided they do the right things. For instance, over the past few months, we have seen some big names offering advertisers solutions that marry print, digital and events.

The continuing relevance of print to advertisers, combined with the fact that the medium is not going to die in the short-term - (although its share of overall advertising revenue will continue to shrink) - means newsrooms such as those run by HT Media will remain well-funded and are able to invest in resources, both technology and people, required to succeed in the new media business.

What we are seeing in the Indian media environment now are instances of virality and valuation masking issues related to viability.

B G Mahesh, founder and managing director, OneIndia

B G Mahesh

For any good product there is always good value. So if your portal has a good reader base with good page views and engagement, you can get good ad rates. But yes, competition has increased, so one has to be really good to get the good rates.

In the US, newspapers are struggling; in India it is not the case. But, the ad market from print will slowly but surely shift to the digital space. Big corporate houses could buy small newspapers, but I doubt the big brands in print will be acquired by individuals in India.

Alternate news sites in India will be driven by what has succeeded in the West. The moment something succeeds in the US, someone here will want to try it out. But, these days, US ventures themselves want to try out their Indian edition on their own.

With inputs from Ashee Sharma

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