In a Digipub World session moderated by Diksha Madhok, digital director at ThePrint.in, a panel of experts discussed the complicated tango that content and technology do today.
Nikhil Pahwa, founder, MediaNama
Media is the business of trust and scale. The difference between print and online is... the internet has allowed for free distribution that we have control over. But whether it is search or social, what's happened is - they've (Google, Facebook) created a layer of distribution on top... and they're controlling consumption. You're in a situation where you're no longer in control of what the reader is consuming because an algorithm is deciding that... The other option is subscription.
It's important for independent publishers to build their own communities. The business of scale is where (publishers) are competing with the likes of Facebook and Google, because they're eating up most -almost 85 per cent- of the advertising in the world. For the 15 per cent that's left, you can either play with these platforms or build your own community and not depend on them. Technology has enabled us to build a community but there's also a situation where someone else is asking us to host our community on their platform... they're saying your audience is their audience.
So has technology enabled reach or disabled reach? The disabling mechanism has come in because publishers now have to pay to reach the people who want to read their stuff. There's a middle ground... but how do you survive that middle ground?
The largest news and media consumption platform in this country today is WhatsApp. And you have no control over the audience there. How do you deal with that situation?
Rajiv Bansal, CEO (digital) and chief digital officer, HT Media
Technology produces opportunities for us to engage with our consumers and video is one of them. Video, a rich, immersive medium, is a new storytelling medium for us. Video is almost ideal for news. The way news is distributed is undergoing a huge transformation right now - we're moving from a captive audience comprising subscribers who would stay for a very long time to consumers who have a lot more free access to news. That's where communities like Facebook have become important. That's why today we take our news product to users in ways we never imaged. We're an industry in transition.
Sandeep Amar, CEO, iTV Digital (former CEO, The Indian Express Digital)
About 10-15 years back infrastructure was the 'big thing'; now we have cloud. If you're a 'feed product' (content that appears in news feed online), there's a technical perspective to the content. Distribution, unfortunately, is completely in the hands of Google, Facebook and some of the aggregators... news today is not an immediate need; it's a latent need. From a tech perspective, publishers have some love returning for building their own CMSes. From a user perspective, majority Indians will experience the internet on mobile and in vernacular languages.
People trust searching for any and every topic on Google... today, 50 per cent of the UVs of any successful news site must be coming from Google. And search is going to move to voice. Talent discovery is more important today than talent, in our business.
Publishers are not getting direct traffic... direct traffic is going down. The app strategy has failed for publishers.
Sukirti Gupta, founder and CEO, Jagran New Media/MMI Online
It's important to produce a wealth of information. We're very hyper-local. The big thing for us is personalisation and deep learning. The second thing is search - how do you find the information? Right now the input methods are very promising, but locating the right content is very difficult. When we start talking about second tier India, there will be a 'consumption shift' towards video. People are as attracted to the written word as they were before, but video is where there's huge opportunity.
You need to segment your audiences - when it comes to our loyal audience base on our platform, the reach, time spent and pages per visit are far better... but if we want to amass large numbers and reach out to our fringe bases, that's when (other) distribution platforms tend to really aid us.
Tara Bartley, senior manager, global industry strategy, Akamai Technologies
(Dwindling) traffic is all the more reason to ensure that users' experience (of a news site) is superb. We do believe in measurement and in optimising images based on what device you're using. We're also looking at video and how people react to bad video. And that's where we're bringing value to folks who're going directly to sites and consuming content there, including a lot of big publishers. And we're seeing results.