'The challenge content marketing will face is to reach consumers and gain their trust'

On Day 2 of e4m Content Jam, panellists discussed ways to improve content monetization

e4m by exchange4media Staff
Updated: Nov 27, 2020 4:32 PM  | 7 min read
Content Jam

With the pandemic causing significant disruption in all walks of life, publishing was acutely hit when the lockdown was implemented in March.

Keeping that in mind, e4m Content Jam commenced the proceedings on day two with a panel of publishing leaders and how they intend to make inroads during 2021.

Held on November 26 at 2:50 pm, the session witnessed participation of Deepit Purkayastha, Co-Founder and Chief Strategy Officer, Inshorts; Himanshu Gautam, Business Head, Amarujala.com; Pradeep Gairola, VP & Business Head - Digital, The Hindu Group; Puneet Gupt, COO, Times Internet; Salil Kumar, CEO, Digital, India Today Group; and Sanjay Trehan, Digital Consultant and Former MSN India Head. 

The dialogue was chaired by Ankit Oberoi, CEO, AdPushup, who began the session with his observations on the rapidly-changing environment of publishing with so many new innovations, initiatives and insights like subscriptions or paywalls gracing the market, and an icebreaker question—what would happen if their ad revenue tripled today? 

He threw open the webinar to the panellists who introduced themselves and spoke of investing their imaginary revenue in content, data, and personalization. Some like Puneet Gupt quipped about calling their Collections Head whereas Salil Kumar would look at incentives being doled out to his team.  Sanjay, being an independent consultant, said that he will invest in books and music and give himself a treat. 

Oberoi spoke about the trends on digital platforms such as the massive surge in traffic or time spent which were recorded this year however eCPM (effective cost per mile)have not been great.

In that context, he pondered over an effective monetization policy for 2021.  

Puneet Gupt said that the traffic surge was due to an event. “Some of it will stay but all of it will not stay. The idea is to create a value proposition for our consumer so that they keep coming without a global event of this kind.” 

Gupt said this year was full of ups and downs as the year brought traffic which through programmatic route would have yielded something but it also brought a negative keyword list in which COVID-19 was there and COVID was bringing nearly 50 per cent of the traffic. 

“I will focus on KYT (Knowing Your Tech). The buyer with whom you had a relationship with has become an algorithm, you better figure out how you are able to sell. Every impression is being bought. Insights into the tech part will be crucial for business next year as programmatic continues to grow,” Gupt stated. 

Moving on to Pradeep Gairola, he said that business was pretty bad overall given that it is a print-dominant company but that they were fortunate because digital business experienced an “exceptional year”. 

“We are growing at 50 per cent compared to last year and this is largely because of reader revenue. So in last two years, since February 2019, the company decided to put up a subscription paywall and we had all the reasons to believe that it will not work. With COVID, for others, it did not help monetization but it ended up propelling the process for us. This year, subscription revenue is going to surpass advertising revenue as more than 50 per cent of revenue will be from the subscription. It helped us grow substantially,” 

He affirmed that the advertising business requires a scale and the group has only 40 million monthly users on which building a sustainable organization is not possible. He declared that the idea is to go fully digital by March 31, 2023. 

“One of the steps was to merge sales teams of print and direct to create a solutions team. It did not work in the beginning but it was a learning curve. We saw a 100 per cent growth in that business and we will see a 200 per cent growth by the year end. Programmatic saw a decline in the yield but it was offset by direct sales business which will ensure growth in advertising revenue. Reader revenue will grow as well,” said Gairola. 

He said that the group does not do celebrity personal lives and astrology which is the editorial policy which bring a lot of traffic. 

“Our 2021 journey will be based on our 2020 journey where our focus will be on reader and changing our advertising mix. The data will be a huge opportunity,” Pradeep said. 

Salil said that a lot of it is going to be audience monetization. “What we are basically noticing is an advertiser wanting to tell a story. Their aim is how you weave their story into your content and how you create content which is specific to their needs. It is a mix of audio, video and text.” 

“Today if you notice most of the FANG organizations are living on the audience. It is like ‘I know their preferences, I know their needs, I have their database where somebody has gone and bought mutual funds or interacted with them. Those are the opportunities,” said Kumar. 

He said that audience engagement will be key to monetization in addition to creating more content. He said that the shift in digital is inevitable and a lot of money is moving to digital and the pandemic has been a catalyst for it. 

“It has taken us 5-7 years ahead of our normal progression. I am sceptical about subscription paywalls as I don’t see it happening for us in the next 1-2 years,” averred Kumar. 

Oberoi commended the panellists for bringing long-term thinking on the table which reflects their leadership. But he grumbled about the lack of lateral thinking in the publishing industry as there is no urgency to adopt best practices of other industries. 

He posed about the strategic misalignments that currently ail the industry to which Deepit said that it is about inventory. “If the same inventory, same audience is available across all platforms so the leverage is with the buyer to drive down the price. What makes a difference if you can get retained audience segmented across user bases, tracking that retention will always be an innovation-driven exercise and not an expansion-driven exercise.” 

Purkayastha added that there will always be new models to get a different kind of audience hooked for a different kind of time period. “How do we make sure that start-up and media ecosystem can work together is really important and it will create a lot of value for both ecosystems.” 

Himanshu Gautam said that it is important to Know Your Customer as well. It will make a lot of difference according to him. 

“We have been blindfolded by advertising and the rush of getting as many as visitors as possible to your site. The Comscore driven thing where you have millions of visitors coming to your site but they are not your customers. Those are not signed-up users. Once we have logged in and we know them, what are their tastes and preferences, I would love to an emailer for them,” he declared. 

He said that it will not be an emailer in which the editor will decide the ten articles but a thousand emailers tailored to meet their preferences catering to specific groups. 

In conclusion, Sanjay said that he can glean five buzzwords out of the whole conversation which are data, technology, data personalization, optimization, and community. 

“If you look at this, the insights you can mine out of data and personalize your advertising and content and optimize your tech stack to be able to have a meaningful conversation with your community and if you do it in an innovative manner, you are done. These are the things which will be key levers of monetization in the coming year,” said an excited Trehan. 

To a question from the audience on content marketing, Trehan said that there are two divergent trends—the proliferation of content marketing, and the credibility and trust being diluted. 

He said that the proliferation was a result of voluminous content being produced and growth in audience. “The challenge content marketing will face is to reach consumers and gain their trust. Trust is why the subscription is going to grow because in a world experiencing multiplicity of weeds, you are not going to be able to sift the kernel from the shaft.”

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