Consider this: A high literacy rate of about 94 per cent, and an English-reading audience of about 55 lakh. Yet, English dailies in Kerala, the state in question here, as per the Indian Readership Survey, have a reach to about three per cent only of the 12+ years audience. The condition of English magazines is slightly better, which reach out to about five per cent of the 12+ years audience.
Hoping to bridge the gap, The Times of India, in a tie-up with Mathrubhumi, hit the stands in Kerala today, with four editions – Thiruvananthapuram, Kochi, Calicut and up-country Kochi.
The Hindu too, earlier on January 29, launched its Kozhikode edition, which was being catered to by the Coimbatore edition till now.
The developments augur well for the English dailies scenario in the state, which has been predominantly Malayalam – Malayala Manorama, Mathrubhumi, Deshabhimani, Madhyamam and Kerala Kaumudi till now. The top five publications (dailies + periodicals), as per IRS Q3, in the state, all Malayalam, collectively have an AIR of 2.26 crore. While the print media size in Kerala, as according to Anil Cheriyedath, Business Director-Planning, Maxus, is about Rs 650 crore, English publications command only 10 per cent of this pie.
Swarup B R, Founder Director, Stark Communications, throws more light on how the scenario has been bad for English till now. “Of every Rs 100 spent, Rs 55 is invested in print and Rs 45 in other mediums. In the universe of print, almost 85 per cent is spent on Malayalam publications and the remaining 15 per cent on English,” he says.
That means, from every Rs 100 spent by a marketer, while a Malayalam daily gets about Rs 47, English gets roughly about Rs 8 only. As for the annual revenues, according to Swarup, Malayala Manorama garners Rs 450 crore, Mathrubhumi gets about Rs 175 crore, and Deshabhimani - Rs 10 crore.
With its launch, The Times of India would be looking to get the attention of the untapped youth segment. According to Cheriyedath, the majority of the English reading audience in the state are youth – 50 per cent are actually below the age of 30 years. “Of the current English daily readers, The New Indian Express has about 48 per cent readers below the age of 30 years and The Hindu has about 38 per cent. This could be an opportunity for The Times of India to address and capture the youth of Kerala,” he says.
Arunabh Das Sharma, Executive President (Response), The Times Group, is hoping to increase the print universe overall in Kerala. “Statistics indicate that in a state with a population of three crore, around 40 lakh people read a newspaper (English or Malayalam) every day,” he says, adding, “As India’s most literate state, Kerala has always been an avid media consumer. Keralites are known to share their opinion on all matters, and in order to do so, they make sure they have their facts right. It is veritable, the media hot-house (Kerala) has tremendous growth potential.”
The other English newspapers that cater to the state include The New Indian Express, Deccan Chronicle and The Hindu. While The New Indian Express (Kochi, Thiruvananthapuram and Calicut) and Deccan Chronicle (Kochi, Calicut, and Thriruvanathapuram) have three editions each, The Hindu, which recently launched its Kozhikode edition, takes its number to three, besides its Kochi and Thiruvananthapuram editions.
The new entrant, with an initial print run of 1.66 lakh copies – a combined figure for all four editions, would be largely competing with other English dailies in Thiruvanathapuram and Kochi. The editions would be catering 10 cities – Kochi, Thiruvananthapuram, Kozhikode, Kottayam, Pathanamthitta, Malappuram, Palakkad, Thrissur, Alappuzha and Kollam.
Keeping its cover price at Rs 4, it has not tried to get into the cover-price war, as The Hindu and The New Indian Express, both too have a cover price of Rs 4 on weekdays. As for Deccan Chronicle, it seems that it has already started feeling the heat. While it had a cover price of Rs 2.50, quite lower than competition, it reduced the cover price further to Rs 2 on January 25.
As a part of a combo offer, The Times of India, along with Mathrubhumi are being sold for Rs 6.
Vaishali Verma, Vice President, LodestarUM, Bangalore, feels that The Hindu's Kozhikode edition gives both – the publication and the advertisers “an opportunity to reach out to a smaller base of English speaking audience.” But overall she is pessimistic that it would make any sense for an advertiser from a “reach perspective” as that is catered by the “Malayalam dailies already”.
Neelkamal Sharma, COO Buying Madison Group, however begs to differ. He feels that like most other “successful media networks, which offer both width and depth of coverage”, The Hindu too with “its several editions, business and magazine offerings can reach out to a larger audience through various ground events and direct connect with the readers.”
That also means that the brand can use its network to help clients outside the state connect within. The opposite is equally true.
Meanwhile, The Times of India is looking to attract advertisements primarily from retail, followed by real estate, financial and education clients.
Competitor English dailies should welcome The Times of India's entry into the state as it will certainly help the English market grow. And that The Times of India made a debut with four editions, speaks volumes about an aggressive role the publication would be playing in the state.
The Times of India as a part of agreement, would be using The Mathrubhumi Printing and Publishing Company's existing printing facilities and marketing & distribution network to reach out to the readers.
While the tie-up is a win-win situation for both The Times of India and Mathrubhumi – the latter can drive in fresh readers and advertisers through bundled offers and leverage the English daily's certain products like Education Times and Ascent – analysts feel that it wouldn't be a cake walk for the English daily. “Kerala is not an easy market,” feels Swarup, as he says, “There is no palpable rural-urban divide. The density of population is very high and people are quite discerning. So, it makes sense to tie up with the No 2 newspaper in Kerala.”
Market it well
The Times of India can go aggressively with marketing activities from day one, rather than focusing its energies and money in setting up an infrastructure. It has taken up more than 80 hoardings and over 130 mall boards in the cities it has concerns. A month long print campaign in Mathrubhumi too is on. This would be supplemented by TV and radio campaigns thereafter.
The Hindu too on its part is getting aggressive with its 360-degree marketing activities in Kozhikode. “We have already hit the market with our new TV commercial, 'Stay Ahead with The Hindu' and all the basic promotion strategy like billboards and outdoor advertising. Radio stations are also on our target as they play a very vital role in promotions, we chose Radio Mango and Red FM for it,” says Suresh Srinivasan, Vice President, The Hindu.
The Final Word
As Kerala becomes a high octane zone for the English dailies, Swarup is sure that The Times of India will enjoy a certain amount of momentum initially, as the publication enjoys good brand equity and that people in Kerala like to test new products. He at the same time, has a word-of-caution for the brand. “But the fact remains that if content is not right, the newspaper will lose the early ground gained easily. If people here like to test new products, people here spend a lot of time actually reading their newspaper. This is very unlike North India, where a huge cross section of people just glance through the headlines and the photographs,” he states.
(Additional inputs by Abid Hasan)
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