As Bennett Coleman & Co Ltd brings the group’s language newspapers business under the ‘Bennett Languages’ banner, Ravi Dhariwal, CEO of BCCL, Shrijeet Mishra, COO, Arunabh Das Sharma, President and Rahul Kansal, Executive President, Brand Function talk of focus areas for the Times Group, potential of the vernacular market, having a robust revenue base and keeping pace with the demanding consumer.
What is Bennett Coleman & Co Ltd’s latest initiative (unifying its regional language publications under the ‘Bennett Languages’ banner) expected to achieve for BCCL? With the Group’s strong accent on profitability, ‘Bennett Languages’ is aimed at making the most of growth that is rapidly shifting to small town India, strengthening a media vertical that offers more languages than most, but is yet to conquer the market in terms of numbers.
Compared to five years ago, the percentage of SEC AB readers for the language papers has increased significantly.
The languages business is a key strategic focus area for BCCL, with the five language publications contributing 30% to the Group’s circulation. At the industry level, BCCL is the third largest languages group in terms of revenues today in India.
Language newspaper business is somewhere between 55-60% of the total market in India, while English business is the balance 40-45%.
Ad revenues from the languages business is about 20% of BCCL’s total advertising revenues.
“Our English newspapers have a good projection, but it’s largely in metros. In smaller cities, typically, it’s the language brands which take bulk of the advertising. We want to expand our business to these cities through languages so that there too we have a very robust offering for our advertisers,” says Ravi Dhariwal, Executive Director and CEO of BCCL, adding that the objective is “to be as strong in languages as we are in English.”
There are five brands under the Bennett Languages banner - NavBharat Times (Hindi), Maharashtra Times (Marathi), Vijay Karnataka (Kannada), Ei Samay (Bengali) and NavGujarat Samay (Gujarati) – but Dhariwal is certain that it won’t remain at five for long. “We expect to launch more languages but these are five that we have built up in the last four to five years, and we expect these to grow much faster than the rest of our businesses. We also expect that when we go to a town, a combination of Times of India, Economic Times and our language offering will be an irresistible option for the advertiser,” he adds.
The language business has gained strategic importance and is seen to be the No. 2 driver for growth, next only to the mother brand TOI. “It’s one of our top two strategies,” confirms Dhariwal, “Eventually it will enormously add to our profitability. We want to increase our share of the metro markets where we are already strong and be the fastest growing among language newspapers. These will contribute very significantly to overall BCCL growth and profitability.”
“About 30% of our circulation comes from languages. And we are the third largest player in advertising revenue already behind Bhaskar and Jagran, and the fastest growing in the last one year - we have grown at 20% plus in languages, Dainik Bhaskar grew by about 17% last year, Hindustan grew by 15% and Jagran at 14%,” says Shrijeet Mishra, Executive Director & COO, BCCL, explaining the traction gained from going into a market with a language newspaper as well as the English TOI – a combination that ensures higher circulation than even the No.1 language daily there.
The reader profile
BCCL brands claim there is a much larger percentage of SEC AB in their readership compared to competitors. “Navbharat Times has 72% SEC AB readership, while brands like Jagran, Bhaskar and Hindustan are in the 30s. It is the same story with Vijay Karnataka, Ei Samay, Maharashtra Times, etc. We are after the premium, more advertising relevant and the higher educated reader. That is our differentiation,” says Dhariwal.
• Navbharat Times: A Hindi daily with 72% SEC AB readers (source: IRS AIR Q4 2012). It is present in Delhi, Ghaziabad, Gurgaon, Noida, Faridabad, Lucknow & Mumbai. NBT’s online avatar, NBT.in, has been adjudged the best language news website by the Internet and Mobile Association of India for quality and speed of coverage.
• Maharashtra Times (MT): Marathi daily with fastest growth in SEC AB segments (source IRS Q4 2012.). It presents a strong No. 2 alternative along with TOI in Rest of Maharashtra to advertisers.
• Ei Samay has established itself as a strong No. 2 in Kolkata with a 2.7 lakh circulation (source: Internal sources). It saw 85% plus retention amongst readers, when it moved from its subscription offer to full cover price.
• NavGujarat Samay: The newest language brand from BCCL, launched in January 2014. In less than six months, NavGujarat (as it is called by readers in Ahmedabad), has crossed 2 lakh copies in circulation.
Put together, TOI & NavGujarat Samay offer access to more than 2.5 lakh premium, modern households in Ahmedabad.
Its supplements – NavGujarat ET Wealth targeted to the business community, NavGujarat Femina for women & Boddhivriksh, are popular.
• Vijay Karnataka (VK): With 10 editions and 34 sub-editions, VK has a strong connect and reader loyalties across Karnataka. It is the No. 1 newspaper in Bangalore with 7.37 lac readers in city.
BCCL has been using technology transfer from large cities to small cities to successfully bring about innovation in new markets. “We are able to not just enable an advertiser to get better value out of the advertising, but the most important thing is that a reader is surprised and is able to take notice. For example, when we launched in Nagpur, which is called the orange city, we launched our paper with an orange fragrance. People say paper is a static medium, it is not - what is static is your mind. Today, we achieve interactivity through different mediums and the Alive app is a very interesting way of doing it,” observes Mishra.
Revenues from language
BCCL is looking to gain revenues from advertisers who can now reach out to several language audiences at the same time along with TOI. “We already have a fairly robust business which is growing rapidly. Though we are not necessarily trying to go out and sell packages, let’s say a Kolkata advertiser whose product is sold only in that city earlier could buy just TOI/ET - now the same advertiser can also reach out to the Bengali audience. Most importantly, a lot of these have dual readership and that is where we really score,” says Arunabh Das Sharma, Executive Director & President, BCCL, who heads the revenue function of the Group.
The kind of advertisers for language newspapers and which categories are dominant varies from market to market. “Typically, retail brands look at the market carefully, FMCG is a national advertiser which looks at both English and languages, Automobile looks at both English and languages. Retail, education, healthcare, real estate – these look at languages and English together but for us, these are all local businesses. Then there are national advertisers like Automobile, FMCG and Telecom who are available everywhere and therefore for them, looking at the top languages and the top markets along with English is very important,” shares Das Sharma.
But do hyper-local editions of the mother brand cannibalize language newspapers’ revenues? “I don’t believe that we are cannibalizing at all,” says Das Sharma, adding that the overall strategy is to have a very strong local footprint aggregated to a very strong national footprint. Some advertisers buy nationally and look at deeper penetration while local advertisers do their share of business in that locality or city or state as print continues to be the largest medium in India, still bigger than TV. The exponential growth of digital too does not seem to affect advertising revenues in print - digital is about 6% of the total market while print is at 40-42% of the market.
BCCL’s language business is a separate business vertical, with a brand management team headed by Vice-President Kaustuv Chatterjee. There is a lot of synergy derived across language editions, in terms of content-sharing. However, this synergy is only among the language brands, while other Group publications such as the Mirrors, TOI and ET editions compete with one another.
“The language brands don’t compete with one another simply because a person who reads Gujarati is not likely to read Bengali or Marathi,” adds Kansal, reiterating that a separate entity called Bennett Languages is to let the world know BCCL’s seriousness about growing its language business.
Meanwhile, we don’t find a single language brand from the Bennett Languages bouquet mentioned in the IRS data released in January this year, with the exception of Navbharat Times (No. 9 among Hindi dailies). But then, the very methodology of IRS data management is under question, and the industry awaits a solution to that.
“IRS was set up with all the right intentions. It had a robust and good methodology, however, somewhere during the execution of the research, in the fieldwork particularly, something did not go right. As a result, some of the results that it has thrown up –
I don’t want to single out any newspaper, but one or two papers do seem to have this amazing performance whereby readers per copy of that particular paper are many times the numbers shown by any other paper. It defies behaviour of common logic and because of these aberrations; the whole IRS is coming to a question mark. IRS is right in withholding results. If you want a great product, you have to make sure that it is of pristine quality. Somewhere, IRS 4 has been dented, its credibility has been questioned by many people, by almost all the large publications and it needs to sort out its execution,” says Dhariwal.