We spoke to Raj Jain of the Times of India, Rajan Bhalla of Hindustan Times and Dhruba Mukherjee of ABP.
The Media Research Users Council (MRUC) released the updated version of the Indian Readership Survey (IRS) that includes the Hindustan Times and Hindustan numbers. The updated IRS report estimated the total number of newspaper readers to have gone up by 1.8 crores, of which 90 lakh come from rural India while the rest constitute the urban populace. A significant change in the updated report versus the earlier one released last month is that Hindustan took the No. 2 position on the list of most-read dailies while Hindustan Times bagged the second position among the English dailies with the highest total readership.
For English newspapers, the penetration, as compared to the 2017 IRS, went up from 2.7 per cent to 2.9 per cent. The total readership also went up by 30, 00,000 (0.3 crores). In fact, when it comes to average issue readership (AIR), Hindi dailies saw a decline of 0.1 per cent, while regional dailies saw a dip of 0.4. English dailies managed to retain their 1.2 per cent AIR.
Print, as an industry, has come under pressure in recent times from the regional expansion of television news and the advent of digital media. In that context, we asked industry experts – Raj Jain of Times of India, Rajan Bhalla of Hindustan Times and Dhruba Mukherjee of ABP – how critical a timely release of the IRS report is. We also asked them to share their observations on the overall IRS numbers and what it means for the industry and their respective English dailies.
Raj Jain, CEO, Bennett Coleman
The IRS is a barometer of consumer interest in the print category. Advertising rates are a function of this currency and sooner or later, the impact of this data is felt on the commercial rates as well. English print has been, by and large, less elastic to the ups and downs of these ratings largely because they are able to reach the most influential consumers very effectively and this is a priceless asset for most savvy marketers.
Convergence is the eventual reality. Print and Digital coexist today and are consumed equally voraciously. Hopefully, in the near future, we will be able to find ways of measuring news consumption by brand, agnostic of the medium through which it is consumed.
Our strongest markets continue to be Mumbai, Delhi NCR and Bangalore. However, we are leaders in many more centres across the country. In Chennai, for Q1 IRS, we have already beaten the traditional leader, The Hindu, to second place. In Kolkata and Hyderabad, we offer stiff competition and are getting stronger by the year. In fact, with this round of IRS, we have become the largest read English daily in West Bengal. We intend to ensure that we become undisputed leaders in these cities as well.
Rajan Bhalla, chief business officer and group CMO, HT Media
Newspaper readership is habit-driven and does not fluctuate widely at a daily or even a weekly level. In that context, the currently planned reporting cycle of the quarterly is adequate. The increasing frequency of reporting won’t add any incremental value. On the other hand, advertisers can gain a lot by actively leveraging the geographic and product-level insights from the IRS study. These can be used for targeted campaigns to deliver sharper brand and business results.
The recently published data augurs well for the print industry with growth in readership across English, Hindi and Regional dailies. Clearly, the printed word continues to enjoy the highest trust reflected in increasing readership of newspapers. It continues to be a medium of high relevance and reach (nearly 425 million) for advertisers. In certain markets like Bihar, Print is even ahead of TV (C&S). Furthermore, the IRS results reaffirm the strong engagement of millennials with newspapers who continue to be the largest demographic segment in the reader base.
English dailies have grown at 14 per cent, which is very good and HT has grown equally well. HT continues to be the clear No. 1 in India’s two largest metros combined, i.e. Delhi NCR + Mumbai and hence, an important reach vehicle for advertisers. We also continue to retain our dominant position in Punjab. In addition, our Hindi publication – Hindustan - continues to grow with a total readership of 5.47 crores making it India’s second most-read daily. It continues to dominate Bihar and strengthen its No. 2 position in UP.
Dhruba Mukherjee, EVP Dailies, ABP Group
In the past, with all the controversies around IRS, there was no currency around in the industry. There was no readership data for a period of four to five years. Then, when the data was released, there was some controversy around it. I think there is a general apathy with the readership numbers, per se, which does not help Print as an industry. In the last two years, we have seen it coming out regularly and now the intent is to have a quarterly release which I think is very important for two reasons - one: it keeps print top-of-mind. Once it starts coming out on a quarterly basis, you start looking at the data and the trends more consistently than you would otherwise. Two: there will be a consistency which builds credibility around the data.
Overall, the numbers have been very good for the print Industry. When you normally compare and contrast, the general perception is that people are not reading print media, so this IRS is an eye-opener saying Print is still vibrant and maybe we do not see double-digit growth, but it is growing. These numbers reinforce the idea that Print, along with other mediums, particularly digital media, will coexist and will probably play a contributory role to each other. This is the way we see it.
English is facing more challenges within Print. The overall disruption that we see from Television and Digital is affecting it the most because the urban-centric audience generally reads English newspapers. That is the audience exposed to media disruptions far more than Tier II towns and rural audiences.
The Telegraph is no exception to these challenges; our growth has been far less than our regional newspaper - Anandabazar Patrika - just like it would be in the case of Hindustan Times and Hindustan. Thankfully, it is not showing a decline yet as the numbers show there has been a growth in English readership and as far as the Telegraph is concerned, it continues to be the No. 1 newspaper in Calcutta.
It is important to be in a dominant position in the city from which we operate and the fact that we are means it has been a good IRS for the Telegraph. Also, it gives us hope to say that even though English is not showing a decline, there may be scope for it to grow and maybe growth will come from the Tier II towns now.