Ashwini Gangal
Media

“Must know what readers are consuming outside your site”: Vikatan's Srinivasan

A 93 year old Tamil magazine that now creates content for TV and digital, Vikatan Group is a media brand worth getting to know. Nicknamed ‘the Birbal' of the magazine world, after the all-knowing, witty, historical character from the Moghul era, Vikatan Group was founded by media veteran SS Vasan in 1928; the group’s first magazine brand was Ananda Vikatan.

At the recently concluded web publishing conference Digipub World, B Srinivasan, managing director of the Chennai-based Vikatan Group, that employs over 300 people, spoke about the “productisation of his archives”. Most of the information was disseminated in the form of a detailed presentation (one slide is displayed below). “Content is important but marketing is everything,” he said about the team’s digital efforts.

Vikatan has been present online for 22 years now; Vikatan.com was launched in 1997 as a free site which published content from all the magazines from the group. The online content went partially pay in 2005-06. Presently, it is a freemium model.

Watch the full session here

Between 2005 and 2014, most of the group's digital revenues were subscription led. However, 2016 onwards, when the NRI audience – a large part of Vikatan’s reader pool – dwindled and Jio gave mobile consumption a fillip, subscriptions took a hit. Interestingly, single issue purchases have been going up since, and efforts to convert these buyers into subscribers are underway.

Between 2014 and 2019, the team transformed its editorial department; the traditional magazine and print orientation was given a digital, video and mobile bent. “It’s important to know what your readers are consuming outside your site,” said Srinivasan, in this context.

B Srinivasan, MD, Vikatan Group
B Srinivasan, MD, Vikatan Group
Digipub World 2019

Online, the group has been growing 35 per cent year-on-year, over the last five years, Srinivasan revealed during the course of his presentation. This year, of the total ad revenue on digital, 15 per cent is through native -video and text- but “our news is not for sale” - native content is clearly marked as sponsored, he said.

Over the last two decades, the group has been producing serials for Sun TV and other channels. The team started creating non-fiction videos in 2016 – these were, essentially, "video equivalents of the magazine content". The group's videos have about 200 million views on YouTube a month. Of this traction, 25 per cent is for non-fiction content.

Currently, Srinivasan and team are in the process of digitising the archives, which have over nine decades of content in them. He sees this seemingly daunting task as an opportunity to create multiple “products”, such as videos of photos with voice-overs, presentations, podcasts, etc.

Vikatan, over the past ten months, has created a content marketplace called Appappo, a platform where people can buy content. It is basically a marketplace for curated content that currently serves articles in Tamil, but plans to do so in English, Telugu, Kannada, Malayalam and Hindi soon.

B Srinivasan with Vanita Kohli-Khandekar
B Srinivasan with Vanita Kohli-Khandekar
Digipub World 2019

After his presentation about the digital journey and aspirations of the Vikatan Group, a large part of which is led by video, voice and Indic language storytelling, Vanita Kohli-Khandekar, contributing editor, Business Standard, interviewed him briefly.

She asked him whether there are drawbacks to having a 93 year old legacy. Answered Srinivasan, “Typically, editors come from the perspective of 'knowing it'. Five years back, editors were not looking at digital as a medium of growth. Digital-only content was frowned upon…”

And how did he tackle this issue? “Simple,” said Srinivasan, “we had a digital team and a print team. The digital team knew nothing about content, but knew something about digital. The print team knew nothing about digital, but were masters of content. I decided to do away with the digital team and kept only those who understand content. They had to then give digital content, first - make it or break it, I told them.”

In the context of doing so, what was “that one big turning point”, and the big insight therein? “We've always been paranoid, always felt we're losing relevance. In 2014, online traffic was stagnating; but the world around us was growing. Video was just making an entry, but my editors were unwilling to think about this medium. I called for a townhall and (spoke to the team about being) relevant. If we didn't move in the right direction, we'd be lagging behind. I told them, 'I don't want the organisation to win at your cost'. I wanted them to be part of the journey...” answered Srinivasan.

“Must know what readers are consuming outside your site”: Vikatan's Srinivasan