Saurabh Parmar
Guest Article

Indie Newscasters: What’s in it for the advertising and PR industries?

Ravish Kumar crossed 3 million YouTube subscribers. This is indicative of much bigger things for the advertising & PR industry.

In marketing and business, we love trends - where we are trying to understand small/mid-sized, but key movements and predict what will happen next.

But sometimes, a massive change takes place, which we know about, but its significance doesn't hit us then. It could be something as terrible as Hitler winning elections with overwhelming support in democratic Germany, or the first time people bought something via Google.

A similar thing happened in India, a week back. Ravish Kumar, a veteran NDTV journalist, quit his job and launched his YouTube channel.

That’s news, we all know about it.

What many of us didn't realise is that he has already hit three million-plus subscribers, without any paid advertising, and for a (supposedly) boring category like news. Kumar has become one of the fastest-growing YouTube personalities in India.

While one can, and should, discuss what it means for Indian politics and democracy, I wanted to focus on it from a business perspective.

News media personalities breaking out and becoming media outlets themselves - an analysis

1. Kumar’s growth is big, because it’s organic. News is assumed to be a serious business, but his growth shows that people are open to serious content too.

2. For context, NDTV India (Hindi) has 15 million subscribers and NDTV, the English channel, has 12 million. So, Kumar has already reached 20% of his previous employer's numbers in a week. It took NDTV 13-14 years to reach that number.

3. Kumar is not the first one to do it. Before him came Barkha Dutt, Faye D'Souza and Samdish. They quit their respective jobs and started their channels. The result:

Dutt’s Mojo Story: 0.86 million subscribers

D’Souza: 0.22 million subscribers

Samdish: 0.8 and 0.1 million subscribers across two channels

4. This is not limited to just former news professionals. For every Dutt, there is a Mohak Mangal and Dhruv Rathee, who are even more popular than celebrity news media professionals.

Mangal: 1.77 million subscribers

Rathee: 9.41 million subscribers

This is a clear indication of the power of individual brands in the news media business. And, how the Internet has proved to be a great leveler. Now this change in the media landscape makes me excited, and from the looks of it, doesn’t augur well for traditional media outlets.

I am quite sure traditional media is not going anywhere. It will also evolve. But these changes could mean big things in our world of marketing, media and PR. 

The opportunity for marketing and PR, when news media personalities break out and start becoming media outlets

1. Deeper engagements

Ad and brand sponsorships are becoming undifferentiated in a crowded media landscape. Brands have the opportunity to form more meaningful sponsorships if journalists like Kumar or creators like Samdish are involved. Viewers will be more honestly connected to the brand, given that many of these will be brand sponsorships and not just ads.

2. More choice 

This is not going to end with Kumar. It's, perhaps, just the beginning, given his rapid growth. Expect more media professionals to come online, alone or in collaboration with someone. Expect more of this to happen in the business space. Advertising will become far more distributed across channels, but more engaged across some.

3. Audience quality and high-value influencers 

Have you ever run an ad across a business paper? Even the weekly special edition? Even with that, you are bound to get a significant section of less relevant leads. Digital publishing platforms also rose as a response to that, but now, with individuals becoming platforms themselves, the opportunity to tap a niche (market) will be so much bigger. 

Eric Newcomer, a prominent business journalist in Silicon Valley, left Bloomberg and started his own business two years back. He charges $199 for an annual subscription. Most of his audience include venture capitalists and startup founders. I can imagine a premium credit card or an AI-driven fitness platform (ultramarathon?) salivating at the prospect of marketing to such a niche audience.

Also, with an audience of 4.2 lakh subscribers and 2,200 paid ones at $199 a pop, that's a really sweet deal for the publisher himself and ensures that the quality doesn't decline and, thus, the audience.

4. Forget volume, think value 

One of the most relevant metrics for media planners and PR has been the reach. That's going to change. The key thing here is, not to chase numbers, but depth. Both the nature of the content - editorial and analytical versus  24x7 news - to the nature of the platform, will make it more about depth. (Some exceptional ones, like Kumar, will also reach.)

5. Evolution of adtech

Newsletter and podcast inserts are popular ad mediums in the west. In fact, Morning Brew, a news media platform, grew so much that it was acquired for $75 million (and it has grown massively since). Currently, podcast ads are sold in India and most of Asia manually, the way media was sold earlier. But sooner or later, adtech will come up with solutions for dynamic ad placements in these content forms too. Spotify ads have already been launched in Singapore and are scheduled to launch in India soon. 

And, why would a Kumar or Dutt only curtail themselves to video. Audio is next. 

(Disclaimer: I have consulted for a business like this, and also run a reasonably popular business podcast and faced the same challenges.)

6. Beyond standard formats 

Innovation is one of the most overused terms in the marketing ecosystem. But there can’t be a better time to innovate than when the platform or the distribution channels themselves change. Can we go beyond and truly be a part of the content in a meaningful way? Individual media professionals will focus less on 24x7 news and more on editorial. There is an opportunity for advertising to be more participative.

7. Other developments and impact 

If you are like me, your news feed would be filled with ChatGPT (this article is written by a real human). Apart from AI, voice and podcasts are becoming popular, and the cookieless world will soon be a reality. Now is the time for new ad formats. And, new stakeholders will make it more interesting.

8. Ethics and boycott

Samish took a stance about the kind of media/ads he wanted. More independent journalists will do that. But that's a good thing because on the flip side, if I want to show a progressive ad, I won't risk a mainstream platform and face a boycott, and will focus on channels like this.

 9. PR

Individuals will be more selective, in terms of what they talk about (to maintain edit integrity) and will have a deeper connection with PR. That's a huge opportunity for PR agencies to evolve and go beyond the 'send to list' strategy many currently follow. Following stories and building meaningful relationships based on a journalist's specialisation, will be more common once media becomes more divided and eventually specialised.

Finally, news media themselves 

For India’s primary media channels, digital has been about publishing their content on YouTube and a (not-so-great) website. I can assure you that in the next month or two, every prominent news channel will have a discussion on ‘how to look at digital in a bigger way’. Because the thing to note here is that while Kumar’s numbers have grown from nothing to three million, NDTV will simultaneously lose viewers and subscribers. And, viewership is how the business runs.

All in all, Kumar and other media professionals quitting their jobs and starting on their own, brings a host of opportunities. It is up to us to grab them.

(The author, Saurabh Parmar, is fractional CMO and strategist)

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