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Shriram Adukoorie

Director | 12 Jun 2003

A participative collective voice of the industry is a must. It's time online media players come together to voice their concerns, share ideas and focus on ways to better consumers' online experience.

Shriram Adukoorie heads the MSN Network in India, Singapore and Malaysia and oversees functions including network programming, business development, sales and marketing. He has spent 3 years with MSN in Asia and is part of the MSN Asia leadership team. In his over 6 years relationship with Microsoft, he has been involved in exploring new technology areas like WebTV, Mobile devices and platforms, ISP platforms and solutions, ASP services and Hosted applications etc. Prior to joining Microsoft, Shriram was managing telecom solutions sales at Wipro Ltd. He holds a bachelor of engineering degree in Electronics and Communication Engineering from Andhra University, Visakhapatnam.

In a an exclusive chat with Akshay Bhatnagar of exchange4media, Adukoorie asserts that MSN is quite serious about their Indian portal claiming some very good response from the advertisers community. He is quite bullish about the future of online advertising in India in the times to come.

Q. How has been the journey of msn.co.in so far?

MSN India started in September 2000, with Bill Gates launching the operations. The journey, so far, has been extremely interesting and exciting, filled with challenges and learning's at every step. Today MSN India has over 8 million users and has a 60% reach according to a study conducted by AC Nielsen. We have over 60 advertisers including companies like Britannia, ING Vysya, ICICI, Coca-Cola, Intel, Seagram's, Cherry Blossom, Citibank, and Cox & Kings etc. In the last two years, our revenue has grown by more than 100%. A key factor, which has enabled MSN India to stay ahead of competition, has been our ability to understand consumer needs and translate the same into effective Internet solutions.

Q. What has been the reaction of msn.co.in's parent company on the Indian operations? Is it true that msn.co.in was looking for buyers?

MSN India has seen good growth in terms of users as well as revenue. At the time of the launch, we had 5 Lac users. Today, we have more than 8 million users. The parent company is happy with the growth that MSN India is achieving. We will continue to invest in the country in terms of manpower, programming and marketing resources.

Q. Even though Internet has expanded to a great extent but why the revenues have not started flowing in?

As far as the advertising revenues on the Internet are concerned, we see a huge upside on it. While the total advertising market is about $2 billion, the Internet advertising market is worth $10 million. We see this growing to $100 million in five years time. The revenues of MSN India are showing a very healthy growth and we remain confident of taking a substantial share of this pie.

Q. What have been the recent trends in online advertising?

As I said earlier, the online advertising is growing rapidly. Some of the largest and most innovative names in advertising are getting on the Internet. The advertisers have begun to see online advertising as an effective tool for direct response as well as branding. However, the biggest bottlenecks that we see in growth of online advertising include: First, a lack of credible third party source for measuring reach and ranking of different portals. And in the absence of clear numbers, it becomes difficult for the clients to allocate budgets to portals. Secondly, as per figures given by Internet Service Providers Association of India (ISPAI), the growth in terms of Internet connections has slowed down in financial year 2002. However, given the changes in the country's telecom infrastructure, we see a rapid growth in subscriber base over the next few years.

Q. Talking of MSN, which of your properties are more popular in India?

Right from the start, we had said that communications, entertainment and sports would be the main drivers of Internet traffic in the country. We built our entire offering based on this assumption and have been extremely successful in this endeavor. Our entertainment channel is the number one channel today. We have partnered with content providers like NDTV and Hindustan Times to offer our users, updated, quality news and information throughout the day. MSN India also offers popular web-services like Hotmail and Messenger. If you look at the users of MSN India, 71% fall between the age group of 18-34 years. A significant percentage of these people live in urban India.

Q. Have you done any ad innovations on msn.co.in?

Definitely! Apart from regular banner ads, we provide various options to our consumers like Web Courier, Featured offers, Messenger banners and Sponsorship of channels and sections. The applications like the Hutch MSN Cricketer also work as effective online branding tools carrying adequate space for advertisements between overs during a match. One of our latest offerings is Hotmail Blast. This is a unique way to reach surfers in a clutter-free environment. The basic premise is that Hotmail reaches a large portion of the Internet population of India. These users are early adapters and also have the SEC categorization advertisers are looking for. Through Hotmail Blast, an advertiser can have all of them looking only at his ad for three whole days since this will be the only ad across the pages: 250x250 on the Home page, 468x60 on the inbox, and 250x250 on the sent mail confirmation page!

In addition, MSN India has made-to-order packages, where we implement a multiple media plan for the sponsor - a plan that delivers to the target audience the desired results. We believe in offering customers, cutting-edge Internet technology that is powerful yet easy to use. We are committed to continuous investments in research that will drive the industry and help our advertisers be more effective online.

Q. Which have been the recent success stories of brand promotions on msn.co.in?

To give you an example, Britannia, wanted to reach out to the technological savvy youth. They decided to associate with the launch of MSN Explorer. The campaign was extremely successful and they achieved over 22 million co-branded banners on MSN India. 2.3 Lac co-branded CD-ROMs of MSN Explorer were delivered to Internet users through cyber cafés and leading trade magazines.

Similarly, Seagram was looking to be associated with movies with the music to build its brand. The company had developed the product's marketing platform around entertainment, through the Royal Stag Mega Movies and Royal Stag Mega Music campaigns and was targeting the young contemporary, urban male. MSN India being one of the most popular destinations for entertainment seekers was able to leverage on this strength and help Seagram devise an effective campaign. By partnering with MSN, Seagram held various online contests, promoting Hollywood movies and world-renowned music artistes.

As a long term MSN partner, Seagram also brings the 'Seagram's Royal Stag Mega Zone' to MSN users. This site features theme-based contests, promotions and special offers that aim to create excitement around new movie and music releases.

Q. How do the advertisers react initially when you approach them for advertising?

The advertiser today is in the process of learning about this new medium and more often than not, our job is more of an evangelist and a teacher. Most objections range from who uses the Net, to concerns of it being only a metro phenomenon. The simplest and the best approach are to be truthful about our belief in the medium and communicate the same to the advertiser. At the end of the day, Internet is the most effective and accountable medium today and a great way to have a bang for the advertisers' bucks for certain products and services.

Q. Don't you think a combined effort from major brands on the similar lines as IAB or INS can really help in expanding the market?

Yes, a participative collective voice of the industry is a must. It's time online media players come together to voice their concerns, share ideas and focus on ways to better consumers' online experience.

Q. What difference do you see in the Indian and international Internet markets especially when compared with USA, Europe or say China?

These are advanced markets with very good infrastructure and Internet penetration. India is fast catching up and soon will be at par with these countries. Also in terms of the kind of exposure to the medium, Indians are now beginning to experience how the Internet can impact their lives tremendously. The cultural differences also play an important role. In India, we see movies, music and sports being the key factors driving users online.

Q. Do you think are we delivering a good online product to the Net users?

Absolutely! MSN India is committed to delivering superior online products and services using the best of technology. These products and service are aimed at enhancing consumer lifestyles. The recent Hutch MSN Cricketer is one such product. It was designed to be non-intrusive, downloadable desktop application, allowing users to receive ball-by-ball scores, match highlights, match recaps, view animations, participate in contests etc. The product was immensely popular with over 2 Lac downloads in just three months of it being launched.

Q. What makes msn different from other horizontal portals in India?

India is a dynamic market. The key to success in this market is a clear understanding of consumer needs and requirements. When we started in 2000, we realized that in addition to communication, entertainment and sports would be the main drivers of Internet traffic. Though the stakes were high, we based our entire site on these beliefs and this has proven to be an extremely lucrative decision.

On the content front, we partner with over 60 best of the breed content providers, to keep our users informed of news and trends as they evolve. In terms of technology, MSN is superior - choosing, innovating, and developing technologies that work to enhance online experience for consumers.

To sum it up, MSN is driven by the mission to 'make the web more useful everyday'. As proof of our success, we are, today, the preferred destination for Internet users in the country with over 8 million unique users.

Q. Most of the major portals have begun a shift towards paid subscription based services. In your opinion what kind of services can be sold to the Net users through this route?

The goal of all subscription services is to provide value-added services that consumers want to supplement their online experience. The consumers need to be able to see a clear value add when it comes to subscription-based services. Whether it is additional storage space for email or the ability to play premium games, to pay bills online etc., we need to be able to substantiate a significant value add, else consumers will not opt for it.

Q. How do you plan to take MSN forward in India?

MSN India is geared to transform lifestyles of online users. Our strength has been the ability to understand the consumer needs well. Our strategy is drawn from these requirements and we will continue to invest in extensive research to better understand the dynamic needs of our consumers.

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