Ashwini Gangal

"Broadcast and online audiences have very different needs": Suparna Singh, CEO, NDTV Group

At Digipub World 2018, Vanita Kohli-Khandekar, contributing editor, Business Standard, interviewed Suparna Singh, CEO, NDTV Group, about NDTV Convergence, one of India's largest digital news entities.

NDTV Convergence is a digital media business that controls all NDTV websites, including Launched in 2008, NDTV Convergence is profitable; last year's revenue figure is Rs.144 crore. The team comprises around 300 people. With a web-first, television-second strategy, the digital news media brand was built on the premise that money follows good content and great user experience. The pillars of Convergence, in Suparna's words, are content, technology and UI/design.

"Broadcast and online audiences have very different needs": Suparna Singh, CEO, NDTV Group

Vanita Kohli-Khandekar

There are no plans to put the content behind a pay wall. "We don't think the market is ready for it. It won't be for a while," is Suparna's view on the matter.

Edited Excerpts

Vanita: What is NDTV Convergence without NDTV? From a traffic and revenue perspective what kind of influence does NDTV (the television part) have on NDTV Convergence?

Suparna: A good way to think of it is - is not We were clear about this from the beginning, when designing the website and its purpose - that this is not a replica of our television channel. A broadcast audience has very different needs and interests, as compared to an online audience. The headlines, display and priority on the site/app are very different from those on our television channel.

We have a completely separate team of journalists and a separate newsroom for our online properties (versus the group's television newsroom). At NDTV Convergence, our English news desk has 25 people, who write, edit, curate copy from scratch. Our TV channel is just one of our news sources; what we pick up from 24x7 (the TV news channel) very heavily is video; we pay for that content - it's an arm's length transaction. So if you were to remove that and put in another video source which we paid for, our financials would, largely, look the same.

Point is, Convergence is a standalone entity which has built up its own strengths, leveraging our mothership. In fact, in the case of say,, (it's the other way around) - the site creates its own video, which is then leveraged by the TV show.

Vanita: What gets you most engagement, stickiness... and better results on monetisation?

Suparna: ...we're the best at news online, especially politics; that's NDTV's branding, its our corner to own, and we're territorial about that. All our resources at thrown at that.

The second thing is user experience. Obviously we run a lot of ads, but we will not throw 70 ads at you when you land on our page... the 'Close' button, how quickly it pops up, how auto-play ads are designed and tested, our top scroll will not have Bollywood news no matter how engaging, we don't put prurient content - all these are things that count.

And all these things command a premium, and we have advertising deals that prove it.

Vanita: So is it fair to say news is highest in the food chain in terms of traffic and premium-ness, followed by gadgets and other verticals?

Suparna: Yes.

Vanita: What is Convergence looking like on the valuation front? There was talk about de-merging the two companies - Convergence and the TV business - so that better value is released... Is there something you can share about this?

Suparna: There isn't. We continue to hold all our options.

In terms of growth, we're managing to hit large traffic and revenue numbers, on a very large base.

We're keeping broadcast and digital together for now - it allows us to synergise the strengths of both.

Vanita: Let's look at the landscape of Indian online publishing - Tell us what works. And what's the big challenge?

Suparna: Best practices work. We often ask: 'Would I read this?', 'Would I use this?'

For instance, it's frustrating that even today there are large publishers that refuse to do things like credit other websites. The community picks up on this and sees it as antiquated and petty. When we quote somebody else's information, we give the name of that newspaper and give a hyperlink to it.

One of the challenges is - to somehow, as publishers, keep our cool in dealing with social media. It moves at such unforgiving speed. You don't always have to react to things said about you on social media; too much bandwidth is spent on that. Just focus on your content. The thing to do when your team makes a mistake, is to apologise quickly and know that people will move on.

I would like for our social media accounts to have a little bit of personality, but the problem with that is you can go too far.

Vanita: How much of your traffic is organic, versus search and social related?

Suparna: We're lucky because has such high recall that a lot of our traffic comes directly.

Yes, we've benefited from social, but for us Twitter and Facebook are not hugely important in terms of traffic. We're strong on SEO. But direct is very important for us.

Event partners - (platinum partner), Akamai and Facebook (silver partners), and Freshworks, Vidooly, comScore, Quintype, Times Internet and 24 Frames Digital (bronze partners).

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