Livemint’s revamp takes us a step closer to subscription model: Rajiv Bansal

Speaking exclusively to e4m, Bansal, CEO, HT Digital Streams & Chief Digital Officer, HT Media talks about how they have moved from an editorially driven line-up to a personalisation driven line-up

e4m by Neeta Nair
Updated: Jan 24, 2019 8:52 AM
Rajiv Bansal

We all woke up to a revamped version of the Livemint website earlier this week. Speaking exclusively to exchange4media Rajiv Bansal, CEO, HT Digital Streams and Chief Digital Officer, HT Media talks about how this is the first time that a news website has used personalisation to drive deeper engagement, setting a standard for how interfaces are created in the news industry.

Livemint has always been one of HT’s most read websites, why then did you feel the need to revamp it?

We had a fundamental brief, driven by deep consumer research and analytics that ultimately consumption of news on the internet is going to be driven by personalisation. Now, over the course of last year we have built the best editorial team on the planet and had the best content but the interface wasn’t really suited to personalisation. So we spent a good amount of time, almost an entire year to build the data infrastructure for it, along with the user experience around it. It required a high level of technical competence and user experience competence which is very difficult to achieve on the mobile web. In fact there were many who told us that while personalisation sounds good, it will never work in the news media industry. But we pulled it off.

So what are the changes the user will see on Livemint?

There are four parts to this, let’s start from the homepage. Our newsrooms produce 1000 pieces of content in a day. But we didn’t want a user to scroll down 500 times to get to the news story that they are actually interested in. So, this is why our home page is actually now completely personalised. We move from essentially an editorially driven line-up to a personalisation driven line-up, the more information we gather about a user, the better we can serve his choicest of news to him/her. Then there is a ‘Latest’ section through which we wanted to address the need of the users who have a fear of missing out. It offers well written summaries on news authenticated by our experienced news team across domains, the most recent piece of news will be on top and it isn’t as per relevance. We have around 70 million to 80 million monthly active users on our websites and so our third section is ‘Trending’ which will include the popular reads, depending on whatever is being consumed in your location more. And the last part is called ‘My Reads’ Many a times people who read news in the morning just have enough time to glance through it, by afternoon you want to engage a bit more deeply with news as you by then have more time but the task is how to go back and find that particular article. What we are doing is keep track of all the things that a reader consumes throughout the day. So, he can easily go back to the updated version of the story that he was somewhat interested in. This combination of interfaces is something that only exists in HT today. 

In that case, is a revamp on the cards for the websites of Hindustan Times and Hindustan too?

We expect to roll this out across all our platforms over the next few months. After Mint, it would be HT and then the rest of our local language platforms. And it’s going to set the standard for how interfaces are created in the news industry. If you land on our interface from any place Google, Facebook, etc. we track that you are interested in the story and when you land on our interface, we give you related news not only based on that particular story which is what all news websites do, but that based on all of your past consumption. On the very first day that we relaunched the website, i.e. on January 20, despite all the unavoidable technical issues, we managed to double our engagement. We expect it to go to 10x. 

Also, are you laying the groundwork for introducing the subscription model for news available on your websites through this step?

Yes, we are readying ourselves for subscription. Now that we have got the right interface for consumption, the next step would be to build our funnels and start targeting users who are engaging with us in a certain deep way. It will happen in the next few weeks. We expect to take subscription not only to our business audiences, but across all of our audiences whether it’s Mint, HT, Hindustan, and our local language products. It will be a phased approach though.

HT Digital Streams has started walking on the road to profitability in the last six months, what is the next goal?

Since last year, we have quadrupled our programmatic ads revenue. We are at an industry leading pace in terms of our display revenue. Over the last two years we have really exploded our branded content business, so all portions of our business are really firing. Similarly our dependence on Facebook articles is down to zero, our dependence on other partners and partner revenue which used to be very high when I joined this business is also now down to minimum. So, at this point our trajectory and our long term future is in our own hands rather than that being dependent on the whims of one particular partner. While we are incredibly focused on profitability and scale, we will not do the kind of things to our business and to our consumer experience that’s going to impact our trajectory in the long term.

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