Anirban Roy Choudhury
Points of View

What do the IRS numbers mean for regional publications?

Here's what Varghese Chandy of Malayala Manorama, Shreyams Kumar of Mathrubhumi, Lokmat's Karan Darda, and B Srinivasan of the Vikatan group had to say...

According to the Media Research Users Council's (MRUC) Indian Readership Survey (IRS) data, as of Q1-2019, there are 42.5 crore newspaper readers in India. The survey found that of that base, 18.6 crore read Hindi dailies, 3.1 crore read English dailies and 21.1 crore read regional newspapers.

The FICCI-EY report 'A billion screen opportunity' finds that in 2018, there were 1,80,000 advertisers and 2,30,000 brands on print. Of these, 1,70,000 brands did not advertise on television or radio. A total of 38 per cent of the total ad volumes were put on regional newspapers while Hindi and English publications contributed over 37 and 25 per cent of newspaper advertising volumes respectively, in 2018. The advertising spends on print in 2018 stood at Rs 21,710 crore and EY estimates it to grow to Rs 23,840 crore by 2021.

Clearly, much like Television and Digital, regional players are playing a significant role in growing the overall industry. Keeping the IRS numbers at the backdrop, we asked experts to share their observations, what they believe these numbers signify for the regional dailies, the challenges, and opportunities. Also, how important they believe the timely release of IRS data is.

Here is what Varghese Chandy, vice president, marketing Malayala Manorama, Shreyams Kumar, joint managing director, Mathrubhumi, Karan Darda, executive director, Lokmat and B Srinivasan, managing director, Vikatan group had to say:

Edited Excerpts:

Varghese Chandy, vice president, marketing Malayala Manorama

What do the IRS numbers mean for regional publications?

Varghese Chandy

There has been reasonable growth for most of the publications, particularly the regional language publications. The narrative that is going around that print is dying and is about to stop is wrong as IRS numbers show that the readership of regional language newspapers are actually growing.

Malayala Manorama is one of the few newspapers that have grown in circulation even in ABC and that has reflected in readership growth. The IRS shows we have had a readership growth of close to 15 lakhs and the current figure is around 1.75 crore. That is a huge growth in total readership and we have seen growth even in average issue readership, so the growth story continues. Malayala Manorama is the largest read newspaper in Kerala and the next six newspapers put together, do not have the same numbers as we do.

Whatever problems existed have been addressed, now we are hoping that the IRS numbers will be released quarter after quarter, as planned. When you have daily data coming out of BARC India and ratings of the programmes are analysed, it is important that the readership data is published as frequently as possible. A regular publication of the readership data will help publishers identify and fix problems if any. In terms of advertisers, the data will help them to plan better too.

Shreyams Kumar, joint managing director, Mathrubhumi

What do the IRS numbers mean for regional publications?

Shreyams Kumar

The readership of regional publications is increasing if you look at the national average. The IRS 2019 has once again shown growth in regional languages, especially in Kerala. That means advertisers will increasingly be looking at opportunities in regional dailies due to their ability to generate hyper-local news content that creates a direct connect with the target population on various market dynamics and media consumption habits.

2018 was a tough year as we dealt with unprecedented floods during Onam, the largest advertising spending month for Kerala. This year the Readership is showing a steady increase. The current financial year is expected to be much better in terms of circulation and revenue.

The print industry had been facing the issue of reliability and credibility of IRS surveys which were done in the past. With the new system and methodology in place and the active industry participation for completion of IRS 2017, we expect the IRS surveys every quarter. Continuity is important as far as the industry is considered.

Karan Darda, executive director, Lokmat Group

What do the IRS numbers mean for regional publications?

Karan Darda

For those who have predicted print to be irrelevant and going to die, the latest results have shown print is here to stay and is going to stay and grow. If we look at the overall numbers from IRS data of 2017 and 2019, the rise of vernacular newspapers continue to lead the print growth story.

The IRS 2019-Q1 is a very positive story for the print industry overall. Lokmat has seen more than a 9 per cent increase in its total readership across the group. The group now has a total readership of over 2.36 crore readers and ranks sixth in India. In fact, in markets like Pune, where we had established leadership in IRS 2017, we have seen even higher growth in readership to the tune of close to 11 per cent. Similarly, Kolhapur and Mumbai have been markets where we have witnessed growth close to 13 and 14 per cent, respectively. We will try and improve our circulation by going deeper into the hinterland while further strengthening our leadership in Pune.

The IRS system methodology has been fairly robust and the same has been accepted by the industry as a whole. The industry has a long-term view on making the sample sizes bigger over a long-term basis and that will further reduce the margin on any errors. I think MRUC and the Tech-Com are committed to doing that over the long term and that should make the data and ensuing reports even more robust.

B Srinivasan, managing director, Vikatan group

What do the IRS numbers mean for regional publications?

B Srinivasan

IRS has re-invigorated the Print industry, per se. The general notion is that the print industry is heading towards its sunset, however, IRS 2019-Q1 numbers prove otherwise. The print industry has not only grown substantially compared to IRS 2017, but it also provides compelling data points for advertisers and brands. It provides engagement, diversity and reach metrics for associated brands. The power of print has been re-established by IRS 2019-Q1.

According to IRS 2019-Q1, the Vikatan group today reaches over 7.8 million readers with our flagship magazine - Ananda Vikatan - with a total readership of 3.4 million. It is followed by Aval Vikatan which has 1.3 million (Total Readership). Our Flagship magazine has grown by 26 per cent since IRS 2017.

Our Niche or Special Interest magazines such as Pasumai Vikatan (Agriculture), Chutti Vikatan (Children), Sakthi Vikatan (Spiritual), and Nanayam Vikatan (Finance) have shown double-digit growth over IRS 2017 and NCCS AB audiences/readers are more than 50 per cent respectively. However, these magazines are essentially interest spaces/communities and we need to grow these audience segments by catering to the various needs and taste buds to reflect a 'Million Readers Reach' individually for these brands. That is the way forward.

IRS is a large exercise and used to be mired with challenges and controversies in a previous era. From IRS 2017 onwards, the methodology and metrics have become more rigorous, acceptable and transparent to both advertisers and publishers. I am sure, conducting the IRS is an expensive proposition and there are associated challenges in organising such an elaborate exercise. Having said this, the MRUC has done a fantastic job of putting together an excellent and rigorous mechanism. However, at the same time, maintaining timelines and frequency is essential and critical for IRS to become an industry standard similar to what the BARC ratings have done to the TV Rating Industry.

Have news to share? Write to us