No Indian news company has worthy enough content for a paywall: Yusuf Omar, HT

HT’s newly appointed Mobile Editor believes that presently no Indian news organization has worthy enough content for which consumers would want to pay

e4m by Saif Ahmad Khan
Published: Jul 12, 2016 7:56 AM  | 10 min read
No Indian news company has worthy enough content for a paywall: Yusuf Omar, HT

Hindustan Times’ newly appointed Mobile Editor Yusuf Omar has a big responsibility up his sleeve – his job revolves around creating the world’s largest team of mobile journalists in India. The move is set to bolster HT’s digital first policy and provide a further impetus to alternate forms of storytelling.

Omar, who holds the citizenship of three countries but is an Indian by origin, was earlier working for eNCA television channel in South Africa.

In an exclusive interview, Omar speaks about the tricky task entrusted on his shoulders, looking at journalism 2.0 and more....


You have been entrusted with the responsibility of creating 750 mobile journalists across the country. This will be the biggest team of mobile journalists in the entire world. How do you intend to go about it?

It’s an incredibly tricky task. I think the “F” word for mobile journalism is fragmentation. You can’t get a more fragmented market than India. Just in our newsroom alone we have about 75 different types of phones. We have got Nexus, Android, iOS phones so the challenge is coming up with apps and techniques that will work across the board. I don’t think the initial strategy is to roll out brand new iPhone 6 Plus’ to everybody. But rather to identify who are the good visual storytellers and then invest in that talent but essentially you want to have a footprint of 750 journalists across the country that are already going out and telling stories and we just want to empower them with more skills.

We want them to go beyond print, text stories and start telling video stories. Not just video stories but also create something in terms of GIFs, Memes and a complete understanding of how mobile audiences digest content and then coming up with creative ways to fulfil that beyond just tweets from the field. Now we are looking at journalism 2.0. The difficulty is again that some journalists are relatively old. They say that I get millions of people reading my bylines every day.

Why do I need to do a video story? And the simple answer is because if you still want to be relevant in five years time then you need to be able to tell video stories. At the moment 50% of India’s internet traffic is made up of video.

By 2020, CISCO estimates that it will be 75% so even for legacy institutions like Hindustan Times and some of the oldest print fraternities, the understanding that we need to get to video is very clear. We are never going to be able to compete with the broadcasters for the kind of infrastructure they have.

I don’t think we are going to be able to compete with digitally native websites like Quint or Scroll who are thoroughly focussing on video. What we can beat them at is being the fastest. That could be our competitive advantage. Having a great footprint of lots of storytellers who are all able to shoot, edit on their phones and upload on social media. We are trying to take away as many restrictions as possible.

Do you think the prevailing conditions are favourable towards mobile journalism? Statistics say that the internet penetration is somewhere around 15%. The data packs are very costly and many people are still using extremely slow internet connections that affect buffering speed.

Data costs will always go down. India is the second biggest internet market in the world after China and China doesn’t count because it bans so much of the video content. I effectively see India as the biggest internet market in the world. Costs will come down and video consumption is already increasing. I think we should see it as an opportunity when working in any emerging markets.

I have come from South Africa. I think one of the reasons they hired me is because I have an understanding of how to make video stories appeal to people in low data areas. It’s a challenge. It’s about making videos as short as possible. I try and think we can tell any story in a minute whether it’s a cabinet reshuffle or a piece on Kim Kardashian. It’s also about using creative devices like a GIF or a Meme. It doesn’t use much data at all but it often gets across a similar message.

Think about 360 degree footage. It is made up of six frames into a cube which then turns into a circle. If we can get rid of one of those frames and turn it into a pyramid as opposed to a cube, you lose one fifth of the data. So it’s about coming up with creative ways. Looking at the Indian market where people are, they largely communicate on WhatsApp so how do we deliver video content to them on WhatsApp? I think India is going to be the fastest growing video market in the world.

You spoke about fragmentation and the different smartphones being used in the newsroom. As a Mobile Editor, how are you going to ensure a basic level of audio and video quality because if everyone is not shooting from the same set of phones then the video and audio quality would turn out to be quite different because an iPhone’s quality differs from that of an Android?

You are absolutely right. I think the first thing we have to understand is that the online environment of YouTube and Facebook has never been more forgiving of badly lit, poor audio and shaky content. I could arguably say that shaky handheld stuff is in at the moment more than putting on a tripod and keeping it neat so I don’t think the audience cares as much as we think they do.

I think they increasingly care about things that look organic and real. In terms of maintaining quality, there are two types of quality. There is a technical quality of the video and audio and there is quality of what you are actually putting out. Is it factually accurate? Is it authentic journalism? I am of the opinion that as much as possible we should get stories out quickly and take the Sky News philosophy. If it’s wrong it’s wrong but for how long?

We will correct it and your audience will be a part of rectifying problems. I am not worried about the fragmentation of different devices and I think that will balance out. I see a scenario where everybody inevitably moves on to high end smartphones once we identify who are the visual storytellers. 

In the last 12 months there has been an explosion of online videos in India. News organizations are trying to rehash wire videos and giving them a kind of treatment that they can be consumed online. Others are going in for original content creation. Some organizations are doing both. But the one similarity is that videos are of shorter duration and clickable value. We are not seeing many Vice-style documentaries. Do you think there is space for long form videos especially at a time when everyone keeps saying that the attention span of consumers is falling drastically?

I absolutely think that there is space for long form journalism but that doesn’t mean there is space for television journalism online. If you are going to do long form, you will have to look at the likes of Vice who still keep the length of their videos to about ten minutes. They have a very edgy, off the wall kind of way where they follow the presenter who is on a travel journey and telling a story. It’s very personality driven. They have strong personalities on camera.

I don’t think Indian news organizations have a lot of strong personalities on the digital front. We don’t have an Arnab Goswami equivalent who is focussing on Facebook and I think it is quite good to go at the moment. I think there are a lot of exciting things happening in India. If you look at Quint doing their explainer stuff or even if you look at AIB. I still look at that under the broader satirical news space.

People are playing a lot and they are not scared to try new things. But fundamentally the majority of news organizations are making the same mistake. They are trying to create television for online and it’s not working. The idea of an anchor delivering the news doesn’t work on Facebook. People don’t want talking heads. They want something far more dynamic.

We are not taking enough time to understand each platform. And you talked about clickable and shareable content. That’s another shortfall we see in the Indian market. We are spending the entire daily meeting discussing the editorial but very little discussion about how we are going to share it. What engagement we have in place? What comments do we want to create? How do we keep it evergreen? But the answer to your question would obviously be that there is a space for long form videos online.

When we are talking about the Indian news market we are actually dealing with huge numbers. For instance many of our newspapers have a circulation of more than 3 million copies a day. The websites are driving just as much traffic as a New York Times or a BBC. But the profits on digital aren’t that huge. Will that restrict creativity in the long run?

No! Finding creative ways to make online more profitable is critical in India. I think we are still doing a lot of banner ads and gutter ads. We are doing three second pre-rolls before our videos. All these are digital strategies that have been seen to be ineffective.

We need to increasingly look towards content marketing and native adverts to fill that void. Of course that means doing stories that are sponsored by some people. As long as it is clearly announced and your editorial and sponsored content can be differentiated, I don’t see a problem with that. That to me seems like the most viable business model. Another one of course is subscription. If you can get your content to be of high enough quality that differentiates from the rest, you can start charging people for it.

I personally don’t believe any Indian news company has worthy enough content to motivate for a paywall. But get your stories good enough and people would pay for it in the same way that we paid for satellite television when we had access to free television.

Despite its “Digital First” policy, Hindustan Times is recognized as a print organization. The newspaper is the flagship product. Many of the employees may see themselves as writers. How challenging is to convince such people to think visual and embrace multimedia in general and mobile journalism in particular?

They are not as resistant as you would think. We surveyed the entire newsroom and the vast majority comprising of some 85% said that they want to acquire mobile journalism skills. They want to start telling stories through videos online. There hasn’t been a sharp resistance. It’s quite easy. It’s the first time in history that you can almost quantify the influence that a journalist has by the amount of likes they have on their Facebook page, the amount of Twitter followers they have, Instagram and these kinds of things. If you can convince a journalist that acquiring mobile journalism skills will beef up their own brand online then the proposition becomes very easy. People are all about egos and if you are creating more content around their stories, name or brand, they are all into it. So it’s really a personal journey of each journalist to better themselves. Hindustan Times as an organization is trying to lift their game.

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India leading in terms of businesses having embraced messaging: Zuckerberg

The Meta CEO was attending the company's Annual Conversations in Mumbai virtually where a slew of new features for WhatsApp were announced

By e4m Staff | Sep 20, 2023 2:11 PM   |   2 min read


“India is a country that's at the forefront of a lot of what we're going to talk about today,” said Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg in his virtual address during the Meta’s Annual Conversations in Mumbai on Wednesday.

Zuckerberg also lauded India and Indians for “leading the world in terms of how people and businesses have embraced messaging as the better way to get things done.”

The Meta CEO also spoke about the new innovations on WhatsApp. “We’ve continued to innovate with our messaging formats, our group chats and broadcast channels. And it's the same focus that we're bringing to how we support businesses, creating simple to use and easy to scale tools so they can connect with their customers in meaningful ways,” he said.

Zuckerberg also expounded on the various ways in which WhatsApp supports businesses, such as creating customized experiences, etc. During the event, Meta announced brand new features for WhatsApp Business, such as UPI integration. The company also announced the expansion of Meta Verified to businesses on Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp. 

“Now, as you know, we’ve launched our own payment solution in Brazil and in Singapore, and today I am excited to announce that we are bringing this service to India. With payments in India, we’re going to support other payment methods as well, including all UPI apps. This is going to make it even easier for people to pay Indian businesses within a WhatsApp chat using whatever method they prefer,” he said in his address. 

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Elon Musk to charge 'small' fee for X (Twitter) subscription

The Twitter owner said that the move may help weed out bot accounts

By e4m Staff | Sep 20, 2023 1:20 PM   |   1 min read

Elon Musk

X (formerly Twitter) users may soon have to pay subscription fees to use the platform, according to Elon Musk. The magnate has hinted that he could soon enforce a paywall around the business to get rid of bot accounts, which has become a throne on his side: “We are moving to having a small monthly payment for use of systems.”

Musk made the disclosure when he was in a meeting with Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu who visited Tesla Motors in California. Currently, the platform charges users for accessing premium features of X such as checkmarks for verified accounts.

By enforcing subscriptions, bot account users may get discouraged from creating new accounts.

Musk has not mentioned how much the new paid service may cost or what special features can the users avail of.

In the meeting with Netanyahu, Musk also addressed the issues of antisemitism prevalent on the plaform.

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OTT won't be regulated as telecom service: DoT

DoT said that the current definition of telecom services under the Telegraph Act is good enough and that there’s no need to add OTT in the new bill

By e4m Staff | Sep 19, 2023 8:28 AM   |   2 min read


The Department of Telecommunications (DoT) has reportedly said that OTT (over-the-top) players won’t come under the purview of the definition of  telecommunication services in the Telecom Bill.

According to news reports, DoT said that the current definition of telecom services under the Telegraph Act is good enough and that there’s no need to add OTT in the new bill.

The government won’t be enabling a revenue-sharing model between the OTTs and the telecom-sharing providers.

The report also quoted a government official who said that there’s no revenue-sharing mechanism in the works.

Telecos have been demanding a share of the revenue earned by OTT players who have been using the former’s network for carriage of their apps.

In their defence, the telecom companies contend that the streaming apps have been offering heavy services and generating disproportionately high traffic, pushing them to upgrade their network capacity.

The new Telecom Bill is set to replace the Telegraph Act, which defines “telegraph” as “any appliance, instrument, material or apparatus used

or capable of use for transmission or reception of signs, signals, writing, images and sounds or intelligence of any nature by wire, visual or other electro-magnetic emissions, Radio waves or Hertzian waves, galvanic, electric or magnetic means.”

The move to remove OTT from the Telecom Bill is reportedly expected to be tabled in the winter session of the Parliament.

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Ad Nauseum: Are AI algorithms hurting ad performance?

Increasing use of AI-generated content & data can decrease production of original content, while simultaneously increasing the volume of deductive and AI-generated content, say experts

By Shantanu David | Sep 19, 2023 8:27 AM   |   6 min read


As we navigate the oft murky depths of the internet and digital media, sailing from content to information, and weaving between news and retail; that is when it happens.

Ad nauseum, whether it’s the act of repeating something to the point of aversion or the effect of seeing the same ad for air fryers for days after having innocuously Googled ‘healthy French Fries’ that one time, seems to be occurring more frequently. And you can blame it, as you can most things according to certain talking heads these days, on the advent of Artificial Intelligence.

“AI plays a big role in digital ads, making things smoother and better. But there's a worry that AI might make ads too similar because it only uses similar data,” observes Sanjeev Jasani, COO, Cheil India.

And that’s only what’s happening at the metaphorical shop front. Things behind the counter have the potential to get a lot messier. And that’s even as more advertisers, publishers, and media merchants pivot towards the inarguable efficacy and application of AI technologies.

Ghosts in the machine

Agreeing with the universal sentiment that AI is the next big thing, Shashidhar Sharma, Country Head – Programmatic, GroupM Nexus, says the utilization of AI and its inherent ability to analyze extensive data sets for extracting insights has led to a multitude of practical applications, and increased revenue generation, and thereby has a consequential impact.

“However, the possibility of the data sets themselves being biased does exist. An increasing use of AI-generated content and data has the potential to decrease the production of original content, while simultaneously increasing the volume of deductive and AI-generated content. Subsequently, this heightens the risk of content loops, which impacts advertising and programmatic vastly as we advertise pertinent content trying to reach out to relevant users. If content loops or echo chambers become predominant, users will progressively shift away from them and seek out original content that provides up-to-date and contextually accurate information.”

Siddhant Mazumdar, Head, Mediabrands Content Studio – India, says that Artificial Intelligence unquestionably has the potential to generate echo chambers across various applications. “With the proliferation of AI-generated content, there's a concern that AI may end up primarily curating content created by other AI systems, sidelining human involvement. This scenario presents a somewhat dystopian perspective. As AI content becomes indistinguishable from human-created content, it becomes increasingly challenging to ascertain its source.”

Indeed, consumers today have been exposed to different forms of echo chambers for a while now. It’s not (just) that people in your digital surroundings think like you and agree with your views on so many things, excellent as you may view them to be.

“Social media platforms, for instance, employ AI algorithms that repetitively serve content or products based on users' preferences, limiting exposure to diverse viewpoints. This phenomenon can also occur in conversational chatbot experiences, where strong biases or one-sided information may dominate, offering limited exposure to counter viewpoints,” says Mazumdar.

“Similarly, if data bias creeps into the way we use algorithms within digital advertising, the subsequent insights will be impacted. The risk is high, but the solution is also a continuous process that should start immediately. AI/ML should be approached with the understanding of what insights to use, which trigger points we optimize for, and what target user persona we are aiming for. If we lose vision as stated above, we do run the risk of deductive data sets being repetitively used, reducing the efficiency drastically,” says Sharma.

The Exorcists

Jasani says to fix this we need to use different types of data and AI that shows different ideas. “This way, ads can be more interesting and work better. Advertisers and publishers should prioritize responsible AI usage. Regular data audits, transparency in algorithms, and continuous monitoring are key. Human oversight is essential to ensure that AI-driven ads resonate with the intended audience while respecting ethical and cultural boundaries,” he says.

In Sharma’s opinion, publishers should explore the potential of AI capabilities for fine tuning the content rather than creating it from scratch. “I would emphasize on the significance of original content which has never been more crucial and should be given due attention. The usage of original content with AI supporting the mechanism by throwing in research insights would be my recommendation.”

Mazumdar adds that subject matter experts with neutrality in mind can supervise or guide AI content creation, ensuring it remains grounded in human sensibilities. “Looking ahead, AI platforms should ideally provide tools that allow users to control the extent of AI involvement in the processing, empowering everyone to have greater control over the outcome. This balance between AI and human oversight will be vital in maintaining the impact and human touch of ads.”

Sharma also says that advertisers should have checks and balances in place to ensure user persona mapping is done accurately so that biased or inaccurate insights do not impact the overall strategy.

So while echoes are definitely growing in the void that is digital media, there is still a chance to curb that while we still have our hands on the remote.


Mitesh Kothari, Co-founder and Chief Creative Officer, White Rivers Media sums it up, saying, “AI is a mixed bag in today's ad world. On one hand, it helps us pinpoint our target audience, refine our advertising campaigns, and enhance efficiency through machine-learning techniques. On the other hand, it can also steer you into an echo chamber of comparable concepts.”

“Remember, in this data-driven age, staying on top of your datasets and keeping a finger on the pulse of consumer sentiment is crucial. Use AI to craft ads that speak directly to your audience, striking that perfect balance between its advantages and pitfalls.”


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Urge & request media to stop speculating: Koo Founders

'We are committed to our dream of taking Koo to the world and beating the best with Indian tech,' said the founders.

By e4m Staff | Sep 18, 2023 12:25 PM   |   2 min read


After the reports that the homegrown micro-blogging platform, Koo, is actively seeking a partnership with a party possessing robust distribution capabilities, the founders have now issued a statement urging media to stop speculating.

The statement highlights that 2023 has been one of the toughest years for the startup ecosystem around the world. Funding has come to a standstill and only near breakeven or early stage startups are lucky to raise funds, that too at low valuations / heavy markdowns.

“While our stable state plan was to scale more before generating revenue, Koo too was caught in this unfortunately sour market timing and had to switch gears from a growth trajectory to a revenue generating engine. With just 6 months more on our trajectory, we would have beaten Twitter in India” read the statement.

The founders of Koo believe that from growing rapidly to cutting down on growth and proving unit economics, within 6 months of revenue experimentation, Koo took a 180 degree turn and proved that this is a real business. 

“While the market is unfavourable, we as founders are committed to our dream, of taking Koo to the world and beating the best, with Indian tech. We believe that India needs to have a seat at the table that's currently only reserved for global tech giants.”

“The next phase for Koo is to build scale and that will happen with either funding or through a strategic partnership with someone who already has scale. With the current reality of a slow investor market, the best way forward is to partner with someone who has the distribution strength to give Koo a massive user impetus and help it grow. With a platform that's scale ready, Koo can outshine competitors with the right push on growth. While we talk to the right partners to build this out, we urge and request our well wishers and friends in the media to stop speculating and be patient till we have something concrete to announce. All we can tell you is that, with all these changes, Koo will be much stronger as an organization and will make all of us proud,” it further read

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Deccan Herald & Prajavani join hands with Quintype’s AI digital experience platform

Quintype’s digital experience platform empowers the editorial team with custom workflows, bi-directional print-to-digital syndication and innovative storytelling formats

By e4m Staff | Sep 18, 2023 10:58 AM   |   2 min read


Quintype has announced its collaboration with The Printers Mysore of Deccan Herald and Prajavani. This partnership has facilitated The Printers Mysore in doubling its active user base and maintaining stable website traffic.

The Printers Mysore aims to harness the power of its influential media brands to enhance its digital media presence for the next-generation news consumers.

In this journey, Quintype, with its AI-powered newsroom growth platform and deep digital publishing expertise, stood out as the ideal partner for The Printers Mysore's progressive digital approach.

This strategic collaboration has enabled Deccan Herald and Prajavani to bolster its digital-first newsroom approach. They adopted Quintype's flagship News CMS platform, hosted on AWS, which comes fully equipped with all essential editorial features and the added benefit of seamless bi-directional print-to-digital syndication. Remarkably, over 2 million stories were migrated to Quintype’s platform without any dip in website traffic. Furthermore, most of their URLs now achieve a "Good" rating in Google's Core Web Vitals assessment.

“Our aim was to enhance our tech stack to offer our readers unparalleled experiences with a great design that is Clean, Crisp and Contemporary. The new platform aligned perfectly with our editorial team's criteria, including efficient workflow management. The entire Quintype team, from tech to product to support, was physically present in our office during the go-live of the new Prajavani and Deccan Herald websites. They closely worked with our team throughout the process, ensuring a smooth transition,” said Sitaraman Shankar, CEO of The Printers Mysore and Editor of Deccan Herald.

"We're thrilled to team up with The Printers Mysore, a media titan in India boasting nearly 9 million print readers and an impressive over 100 million monthly pageviews," expressed Chirdeep Shetty, CEO at Quintype. “Our DXP platform is designed to aid publishers in reducing website downtime and amplifying traffic. It's a robust tool for efficient content generation and omnichannel distribution powered by a state-of-the-art tech stack."

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Video personalization will soon be a necessity for brands: Suvrat Bhooshan,

Stanford alumnus Suvrat Bhooshan, the founder of, spoke to e4m about commercialising the personalized video tech and how it impacts businesses across the board

By Shantanu David | Sep 18, 2023 8:57 AM   |   4 min read


A Generative Adversarial Network (GAN) is a Machine Learning (ML) model, which generates multimedia and in which two neural networks compete with each other by using deep learning methods to become more accurate in their predictions. A more simplistic way of looking at it is that the best AI in a system wins. And that’s what seems to be doing in its particular space.

Started by Stanford alumnus Suvrat Bhooshan in March 2021 and headquartered in the OG Silicon Valley, is a personalized video platform that allows brands to send customers hyper-personalized video messages from celebrities, brand ambassadors and other people you’re likely to pay attention to. It’s like the Shahrukh Khan Cadbury ad, but on steroids, and talking to you, dear reader, directly.

“When someone addresses you by name directly, you’re more likely to pay attention (up to five times as much), and we’ve found that when this happens in ads, consumers are immediately hooked and watch through the whole ad and are more likely to remember both the brand and the product,” shares Bhooshan.

Having previously worked at the AI research labs at Meta (then Facebook), Bhooshan started at a critical moment, when Generative AI was just starting to dominate headlines and business plans.  “We were very lucky to be approached by Sequoia. They funded us when we were still in an idea state, it was just me and an idea and we spent all of 2021 building on the core technology behind what we wanted, and we started commercializing this technology in 2022,” says Bhooshan, who moved back to India in December 2020. has since also undergone another round of funding.

“We got early traction in the marketing space and everybody from Swiggy, Zomato, MPL, Samsung, Bajaj, to a lot of others started using us. We are at the stage where we essentially have monopolized the entire Indian market ranging from Unilever, Pepsi, and Coca-Cola. All the large consumer giants and verticals in India and the top three players are in our pipeline at this point. I think it's only a moment of time, where literally any brand that you can think of in India will be using us for a video personalization space,” Bhooshan asserted.

Use cases include when consumers visit an electronics store, for instance, and are served by a customer executive, the next day they’ll get a video message from say, Virat Kohli reminding them of their store visit and their interaction with said executive and asking if they need any more help to finalise that purchase decision and whom to contact and so on.

“Real money gaming used to be quite big for us as well, but as the regulations changed we are reevaluating the whole business outcome. Ecommerce, D2C are other big ones Real Estate in the US is very big for us, and healthcare and real estate in India are quite big for us as well,” he says, adding, “So anywhere you have a consumer marketing funnel, and you have budgets to get in celebrities as brand ambassadors. These mostly tend to be leading smartphone brands, leading automobile brands and leading consumer verticals.”

With the upcoming festive season, has quite a lot of big projects in the bag, stretching from Pujo and Diwali up to Christmas and New Year’s, with clients ranging from liquor brands to beauty product labels. Bhooshan noted that practically every vertical is coming into the personalized video fold.

“Brands realize they can’t afford to be left behind when all their competitors are doing it. The conversion rate of these ads is up to 10 times the generic ones, and the follow-up videos can help consumers return to their abandoned carts and resume purchase journeys. As an investment, it’s more than worth it. It’ll soon be a necessity,” Bhooshan concluded.

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