Advertising Interviews

Satyajit Sen

CEO, India | 12 Apr 2013

The readers are heading towards a zone of content and zone of information not necessarily bound by traditional vehicles. Readers are continuing to consume content, but their format is changing from access A to B. Hence, my feeling is that it is the peripheral people who had came in, who are dropping out, because the value that they were getting earlier because of some promotional activities are no longer available.

Satyajit Sen has been associated with ZenithOptimedia for the last eight years. He joined the agency as Executive Vice President and was later elevated to CEO, India in November 2009. A graduate from University of Calcutta, Sen is a media veteran with experience spanning more than 30 years.

In conversation with exchange4media's Abid Hasan, Sen speaks at length about readership issues in print, performance of regional media, impact of digital on print and more...

Q. IRS data for the last three quarters has shown an average decline in readership of regional dailies even as the revenue is witnessing growth. What is your view on this?

Regional print is faced with a situation where it is growing on the revenue side, but not on the readership side. There are multiple reasons for this degrowth; firstly, inflation is at an all time high across the hinterland. Hence, people who had moved to reading newspapers regularly in the recent past owing to increased affordability may have started lapsing again. Moreover, newspapers have been able to push in more pricing-led interventions in the past to get more readers.

Given the margin squeeze across the industry, the promotional incentives for readers might have been modified, leading to a drop in readers.

We need to explore whether this drop in readership is induced owing to reduced secondary sale of newspapers to readers and whether the same could be triggered by reduction in advertising volumes as well as subscription revenues.

In order to engage with readers, apart from the usual initiatives publishers should engage the readers with subscription initiatives as that is the key.

Q. How do you see digital as platform for consuming content? Do you think digital is eating into the print pie in recent times for consuming content?

So much information is available today on digital and people turn to digital to get frequent updates, thus there is a huge opportunity to revalidate what you do. Digital is an inevitable reference point, which gives a lot of power in decision making in everyday life today.

Consumers and consumer behaviour is changing, hence, I think it is inevitable that people will shift from print to digital in the long run and technically will eat into print’s share.

Q. Will digital hurt print publications?

I don’t think digital will hurt print publications. However, publications need to become more platform agnostic and should be able to see how their content is looking across various platforms. Publications need to see whether they are building in future capabilities so that they don’t miss out on any business opportunity. Thus, instead of worrying, the publishers should think how to make their content digital ready.

Q. Advertisements are shifting to various screens such as mobile, tablets, and post digitisation more ads are focused on certain target groups in television. How much will this affect print advertising?

Historically, TV is a more mature and large platform, and increasingly reach is critical and advertisements are variable. Therefore, there will be some metamorphosis in print. First will be by way of changes in the content and secondly, print will go micro because that is where the strength lies. Devices such as smartphones are impacting the way we consume media and this will especially impact the print players.

Q. Your take on the IRS 2012 Q4 results...

There has been some growth and degrowth, which are probably coming from the peripheral numbers. If you are a peripheral player in the print club, then there will be lots of ups and downs. Inflation is very real, and people who had taken to print media following various promotional incentives are lapsing in readership. Moreover, print readership is declining because people are accessing content on various platforms apart from print.

Q. So, where are the readers heading to?

The readers are heading towards a zone of content and zone of information not necessarily bound by traditional vehicles. Like in the case of TV, the shake-up in viewership does not necessarily mean that viewership is going down, but that there is redistribution. Readers are continuing to consume content, but their format is changing from access A to B. Hence, my feeling is that it is the peripheral people who had came in, who are dropping out, because the value that they were getting earlier because of some promotional activities are no longer available.

Q. Many a publishers are dissatisfied with the IRS data; they think that IRS is giving out a different picture altogether and insist that subscription numbers are on the rise. What is your view regarding this?

Some data is better than no data. The point is that there will always be some imperfection. It’s like school results, if you have not performed well or your result is not the way you expected it to be, of course it will show the real picture. There is divine intervention and IRS is simple market intervention. If there is a more robust and vigorous research that they can come up with, we will be happy to shift. Currently, for the lack of that, let’s keep IRS as the benchmark.

From the consumer point of view, I think what you see as decline in readership is probably a bigger issue of lack of engagement. Thus, publishers need to strive to make their content more engaging.

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