Mathrubhumi’s fundamental responsibility is towards its readers: M V Shreyams Kumar

Kumar, the Joint MD Mathrubhumi, shares his thoughts on MBIFL, digitisation and revenue expectations, and why the M&E industry will survive the economic slowdown

e4m by Neethu Mohan
Updated: Dec 16, 2019 2:02 PM

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Shreyams Kumar

The economic slowdown in the country has been making headlines. Industries – from automobile to FMCG – are affected by the crisis.

According to reports, major publication houses in the country have cancelled their literature fests citing the slowdown. But even in the wake of the ongoing crisis, the Mathrubhumi Group has been gearing up for its third edition of Mathrubhumi International Festival of Letters (MBIFL), which will go on from January 30 to February 2, 2020.

Since its inception in March 1923, Mathrubhumi has been embracing change by successfully yoking tradition and technology. They have evolved from letterpress to digital, without sacrificing their core values. 

M V Shreyams Kumar, Joint Managing Director of Mathrubhumi Group speaks about MBIFL, the age of digitisation and revenue expectations, and why the M&E industry will survive the economic slowdown.

 Excerpts:

 According to reports major publication houses in India has cancelled their Literature fest citing economic slowdown keeping sponsors away as a reason. But Mathrubhumi has ventured into the third edition of MBIFL. How are you able to organise the fest and tell us about your hopes for MBIFL? 

 Though we are a late entrant, the last two editions of MBIFL were a great success. Our model is slightly different. This is not a revenue-generating event for us, but rather a cost-covering one. We don’t look MBIFL as an opportunity to make profits. We may get 20-30 clients on board with small investments. This is how we have been operating for the last two years and it has worked out quite well for us.

 Can you elaborate on how the literature fest is adding brand value to Mathrubhumi Group? What is your media plan to take MBIFL and its branding to your audience?

 Mathrubhumi has always been at the forefront when it comes to encouraging literature and freedom of speech. We have nurtured young talents. Even renowned writers of Malayalam like MT Vasudevan Nair, Kuttikrishna Marar and NV Krishan Warrier were a part of the Mathrubhumi family. Along with adding value to the brand, we are equally focused on giving back to society. At Mathrubhumi, we believe that knowledge becomes knowledge when it is shared. Through MBIFL, we listen to different opinions, voices and perspectives. 

 The event will be promoted through our own verticals. MBIFL has attained more popularity through the word of mouth. As part of enhancing the fest’s grass-root connection to engage with various audiences, we have been conducting a lecture series across 100 towns in Kerala, involving eminent thought leaders from all walks of life. A quiz on literature will be organised in 150 colleges across the entire state.

 The economic slowdown has led to slowing sales, piling inventory, plant shut down, lay-offs, etc. In this scenario, what is your assessment of the Kerala market today? How were Onam and Diwali in terms of ad revenue for the MBI group?

Instability in the global economy has indeed impacted the Indian media and entertainment industry, and there is a radical shift with new requirements emerging in the sector. There is certainly a decline in the market sentiment in Kerala as well. However, the impact is not that worrisome for us. Given that we are a 96-year-old media house, Mathrubhumi has successfully faced many economic, political and social upheavals in the past. Going forward, I am quite optimistic that the M&E industry will prosper in the future. 

 In Kerala, the ad revenue has been moderate during Onam. Diwali ad spends were mostly driven by e-commerce players, mobile phone brands, consumer deliverables and FMCG sector. 

 Do you see subscription revenues for publications increasing in the near future and how?

 Mathrubhumi has over 11 periodicals spread across various genres. Its readership has shown substantial growth in terms of ad revenue and circulation figures, as supported by the Q2 IRS findings. There is a certain level of loyalty and commitment, which the readers always have towards the magazines they subscribe. Our periodicals are aligned to the expectations and preferences of our readers. We place a lot of weight on our content and formatting style, which we continuously enhance to produce high-value brands.

 The Indian newspapers are going through tremendous technology transformation and are adopting methods and means to fight electronic and digital media. Kindly elaborate on the strategies followed by MBI daily and magazines.

KPMG predicts that over the next five years, print is expected to grow at approximately 4.2 per cent, primarily on the back of advertising revenue, which will continue to dominate the revenue pie. The industry has an eye on the digital space as new streams of monetisation become available and investment in digital assets increases.

 Having said this, digital and print are not contrary to each other; they could grow by leveraging each other’s strengths. Journalism in the digital age involves the art of communicating a story that stands the scrutiny of reason, engages emotions and has aesthetic appeal irrespective of the medium, ensuring consumer immersion. 

 To navigate the digital maze, we have invested in modernisation in a timely manner. We have introduced automation in our newsrooms, scheduling and the like, to save on people operationally leading to increased efficiency. We have also equipped fresh practitioners of media in the latest ways to focus on creative narration, an amalgamation of cutting edge technology and the primordial human urge to listen to well-told stories. 

Are you planning to venture into OTT platform? 

  None at present

Moving forward, what are your expectations in terms of revenue and readership growth for Mathrubhumi group?

 One of the most identifiable factors of our mother brand is our unflagging commitment to journalistic etiquette. We have three constituents -- readers, advertisers, and employees and distributors. Organisationally, we have always believed that our fundamental responsibility is towards our readers.

 In the long run, this will translate into higher subscription numbers, which in turn will bring in advertisers. Mathrubhumi evolved in the crucible of the Indian independence movement and our founders championed social causes. We still hold fast to the same immutable ideals and are wedded to the eternal principles of truth, equality and liberty.  

It has been a muted year for the media industry as a whole with the economy slowing down. What is your take on the sentiment and when do you see things turning around?

 Indeed, these are difficult times for the media. This is not the first time the industry is undergoing a slowdown. We have faced such turmoil in the past too, but in the long run, it will bounce back and the sector will see growth despite the RBI cutting India’s GDP forecast from 7.4 per cent to 5 per cent since April. Moving on, the M&E industry must invest in the future and be willing to look dispassionately at the changes that will be required in both mindset and approach. 

Are national brands giving regional publications the correct value or do you believe you are under indexed?

 Well, for a regional player like Mathrubhumi, the major advertising revenue share comes from regional advertising. We see more of national advertisements during festive seasons like Onam and Vishu. Local advertisers respect and value the high degree of editorial credibility and integrity of our different verticals, all of which are patronised by them in varying measures. Having said that, regional players are also getting impetus from a lot of retail, lifestyle and e-commerce giants entering Tier II and Tier III markets due to the rising consumption in these markets. 

What is the synergy you draw from digital within Mathrubhumi?

 We draw more than 1.2 crore unique users every month to our in-house digital platforms. Our external platforms engage around 30 lakh active users monthly. We constantly aim to better these numbers by delivering better content every day. This is the strength we draw from these numbers. A synergy that keeps our focus on quality content is always good.  

Looking ahead, what will be the growth driver? How do you see Mathrubhumi Group evolving?

 The future holds exciting prospects from a news and information consumption standpoint. The positive news is that people will consume more media and at the same time, there will be more content generation.

 As mentioned earlier, print is expected to grow at approximately 4.2 per cent primarily on advertising revenue, which is touted to dominate the revenue pie. The industry will also focus more on the digital space now that new streams of monetising are emerging along with the increase in investments in digital assets.

 A stand-alone approach for either print or other media such as radio, television or digital is not viable. So, the challenge is to offer integrated solutions to potential new age advertisers. We, as an umbrella brand, offer customised integrated solutions to our advertisers and are trying out new streams of monetisation available to us.  

 There will be a change in the sales pitch towards performance, linking physical space sales with digital inventory, activations (physical and digital), interactive concepts and digital couponing, among other things.

 There is a need to evangelise the package that we bring to the table, stressing on the benefits and strengths. We are contributing to media synergy with our experiments with AI journalism, templatisation, and reporters and stringers of the mother brand. We are already strategising on utilising our content across media and curating the news mix and features. 

Looking back, what are you most proud of? Any regrets?

 I have corporate pride in seeing Mathrubhumi successfully straddling tradition and technology, and embracing change from 1923 to our age of disruption. We have evolved from letterpress to frontier technological advances without sacrificing core values bequeathed by our founders, who fought for Indian independence and pioneered social reforms.

 Four years shy of turning a hundred, with presence across all verticals, Print (newspaper and magazines), Books, Television, Radio, Digital (including MoJo - Mobile Journalism), Outdoor and Events, we have played a seminal role in shaping Malayalam language, literature, aesthetics and modernity.

 The MBIFL, which is into its 3rd edition in 2020, hosts the best and brightest with debates and discussions on concepts, and ideas and thoughts in an exercise of soft power.

 As the celebrated French singer, Edith Piaf famously warbled: “Je ne regrette rien”, (I don’t regret anything).

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