Digital has already become Mainstream: Manish Maheshwari, CEO, Network18 Digital
Helming one of Indiaâ€™s largest media conglomerates as its digital and mobile strategist is no mean feat. However, having served stints in the Silicon Valley and in some of the biggest e-commerce companies in India, Manish Maheshwari, CEO, Network 18 Digital is just the right fit for this challenging role.
Tasked with expanding key properties like Moneycontrol, Firstpost, News18.com, Cricketnext into robust digital entities, Maheshwari has helped evolve the conglomerate into a future ready entity which is all set to meet the demands of the changing times.
In an interview with exchange4media, Maheshwari spoke about the journey of this transformation, his vision for Network18 Digital and the future, scope and trends that will define digital journalism. Excerpts:
1. In your view, how has the digital landscape in India evolved over the last few years?
Compared to two or three years back, we can see that more advertising spends are moving to digital. From the user perspective, digital had become the mainstream medium at least couple of years back and Jio only made it stronger. Now people in hinterlands are glued to their mobile devices. From a user growth and user engagement perspective, digital has already become mainstream.
Also, more and more advertising is going to digital and media agencies now have digital as a critical component. Even clients are looking at digital exposure. So we see a very good outlook and we are very optimistic about this growth.
2. With mobile emerging as a disruptive platform for audience engagement, how are you fine tuning your mobile first approach?
What we have noticed is that even in digital people are moving from desktop to mobile. In the last one year more and more of our traffic is coming from mobile. While we produce content that is digital first, we also create content thatâ€™s specifically mobile first. And the peculiar thing about mobile phones is that itâ€™s always on the go and people can consume content in snack-able packets. Our strategy has been to ensure that not only do we produce digital first content but mobile first content too However the biggest problem with mobile is that monetization is not as good as desktop.
3. How tough is it to create sticky content? And how do you deal with the issue of speed and credibility?
At the end of the day we are storytellers. People listen to our stories because we are authentic, truthful, accurate, reliable and timely. That is why people come to us and connect with us. Now how you tell a story is a function of a platform, audience type and nature of the story. With people consuming news on the go with the growth of mobile platforms there is a definite change in the way the story is being told.
We stand for quality journalism and we stand for credibility. While speed is important but it should not come at the cost of credibility as that is ultimately what come to us for. If you want to read something quickly then there are a lot of social media channels available. We go out of our way to ensure that there is quality and credibility in what we do.
4. Since traditional media is doing phenomenally well in India, were do you see this traditional vs digital equation settling in the near future?
India is a vast country and we are talking about 1.3 billion people. Out of this only 300 million have internet connectivity. So a large population will keep on relying on newspapers and TV. Given this situation, I think traditional and digital will exist for several more years.
5. Are you looking at online subscription revenues, do you plan to introduce a paywall in the near future?
While we are studying the concept but we are not going to do anything immediately. We are currently looking at how other players in the country are doing it and then we will take a call based on that.
6. How are digital players in news genre using AI and big data?
I think India has to still catch up when it comes to the use of AI and Big data. We are currently leveraging a lot of data about our audiences to find out who are coming to our platforms and that is allowing us to do better content recommendations.
The other thing we do is to ensure that the ads people see are relevant to their interests and given background. Advertising recommendations are becoming more data driven and we have a strong analytics team which does that. So I would say that our big focus is on data and data driven decision making.
7. Is analytics driving editorial in contemporary times?
We are actually doing a lot of that. The good thing about digital is that everything is measurable. We also track all our data and share it with the editorial teams and they take it into account in deciding which stories to write.
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