Aroon Purie, Chairman and Editor-in-Chief and Kalli Purie, Vice-Chairperson of the India Today Group (ITG) are elated over the leadership position for the flagship brand in IRS 2017. The focus is now on engaging with audiences, sharpening the Group’s offerings and pushing the digital agenda further
BY NEETA NAIR
From featuring an upside down Baba Ramdev on the cover to a witty presentation of China’s map in the form of a chicken, to showing a ‘sweating’ Narendra Modi facing the heat ahead of the Gujarat elections, the India Today magazine has for years grabbed the attention of the masses and intelligentsia alike. Now, as per the recently released IRS 2017, India Today is the most read magazine in the country, and it should also be grabbing the attention of advertisers. Taking the top two spots in the magazine readership charts, India Today (English) and India Today (Hindi) have a strong total readership of 79,92,000 and 71,59,000 respectively. That India Today (English) has also become the second largest English publication overall, after The Times of India, gives the India Today Group added reason to cheer.
IRS has clearly given Print a new lease of life, especially magazines which witnessed a 95% jump in readership, compared to the earlier IRS in 2014. Talking about this phenomenal growth and India Today’s contribution to it, Aroon Purie, Chairman and Editor-in-Chief of the India Today Group says, “There is a certain loyalty factor attached to magazines. Especially with the emergence of the digital world, which is filled with fake news, getting a trusted brand like India Today to give you information becomes important. It is a crucial space to fill in.”
While India Today (English) and India Today (Hindi) are on a roll, the Group has not been launching new editions in vernacular languages, and stopped its regional language editions in Malayalam, Tamil and Telugu long back. When asked about it, Kalli Purie, Vice-Chairperson, India Today Group, says, “Why just magazines, we should also be looking at dailies in vernacular languages… but at the moment, we are not anywhere close to it. We really do have the ability to create content in any language that we want. Our editorial ethos won’t be restricted by language if we feel there is a market that will work for us.” Recently, the Group rejuvenated India Today Sahitya Varshiki, an annual edition on Hindi literature. “We reinstated it because it was in line with Aaj Tak Sahitya, so we kind of combined the two. The Print edition has been a huge success. It’s a collector’s edition. This was an old idea of ours, which has come back, resurrected,” Kalli Purie explains.
Just last year, the 42-year-old India Today revamped itself, bringing in fresh talent and a brand new format which appears to have worked well for the magazine, despite initial worries about alienating habitual readers with a new look. In the words of Raj Chengappa, the Group Editorial Director (Publishing) of the India Today Group, “We tried to strike a good balance between the new and the old and today, India Today has become a fine-dining experience in the world of instant gratification or fast food.”
The group is now leveraging the leadership position in IRS 2017 for advertising, and is expected to aggressively increase its ad rates. On this, Vivek Khanna, Group CEO, India Today Group, says, “Advertisers are now asking for solutions that go beyond plain vanilla advertising. With the strong offerings we have across Print, TV and Digital, we are best placed to offer it. We have therefore started offering brand solutions to our clients.”
THE TV BIZ
The Group’s biggest money-spinner is its Hindi news television channel Aaj Tak, which has topped the Hindi news channel ratings for a year now. It has often claimed leadership position in the Hindi-speaking market, leaving behind GECs at times. However, its counterparts Tez and Dilli Aaj Tak don’t enjoy the same popularity.
Meanwhile, three years ago, the India Today Group rebranded its English news TV channel Headlines Today and named it India Today TV, after its flagship brand, aiming to transform the mother brand into a mega brand available on mobile app, web, Print and Television. But despite the brand name, India Today TV has still not managed to grab the numero uno spot in Television ratings, something that a newbie like Republic TV could pull off since inception. Commenting on the channel, Kalli Purie says, “It took us a long time to convince the India Today Print team to lend us their brand name for TV. We had to achieve that level of maturity and prove it in the newsroom; only then did they agree. There is always a voice at the back of our heads reminding us that we are an India Today brand, and so we can’t do anything just to get ratings. That doesn’t work, because it affects the long term legacy of what we created.
“We have to keep away from the temptation of going down the super sensational, super controversial route. We want the ratings, but we want it in an ethical, responsible way. I am not unhappy with India Today TV. Yes, it can do better, but I am pretty happy with the way it’s moving, we have got a lot of mind space in the real English viewer, in the real influencer. They may not be showing in the ratings yet, but you know this is a long process and eventually it will filter down,” she adds.
Having said that, India Today TV has been at No.3 position after Republic TV and Times Now, according to BARC ratings for the past two weeks, while it has pipped Times Now to grab the No. 2 spot in primetime slots for five weeks now. (Source – BARC, Market- Mega cities, Time Band – 19:00- 24:00 Weekday, TG – 22+ MAB, Market Share based on seven English news channels).
Interestingly, when India Today TV had launched, the channel had bowed out of the evening primetime game, claiming that the channel will be all-day prime time because one evening slot can’t dictate the agenda anymore. But in a 2017 marketing campaign around the launch of Arnab Goswami’s news channel, they put up hoardings alongside Republic TV campaigns, pitting Anjana Om Kashyap against Goswami, clearly playing into the evening primetime wars again.
This Kalli Purie proceeds to explain thus: “No, we were just entering it to get some mind space from the media and the agencies, and we were very successful in doing that, in a sense it was a poke. And it burst a bubble and a balloon, which is all it was trying to do. Anjana is not even on India Today TV. It was just clever guerilla marketing. I actually do believe that we have all-day prime time on our channel. After all, people are consuming news across mediums, especially on digital, right through the day.”
‘We see a real opportunity for growth’
Group CEO, India Today Group
Q] India Today (English) is Number 1 and India Today (Hindi) is Number 2 in the overall magazines space according to IRS 2017. How are you leveraging that for advertising?
We have been reinforcing the benefits of advertising in our magazines to advertisers for a while, and now we have got numbers to substantiate it too. One of the reasons why the magazine industry has been suffering to some extent is that there was no currency to benchmark it with. Now that we have one, we are extremely happy. Therefore, the work has already started, teams are out in the market talking to advertisers, talking to agencies. It’s obviously something which we want to leverage.
Q] What kind of hurdles do you see in upping revenues?
The entire industry has suffered some kind of a slowdown on account of various legislations, etc., that came about in the last few months. But that’s a thing of the past, and what we see now is really an opportunity to grow. As things settle, we will find more and more opportunities to grow with the powerful brands that we have, on Television and Print and Digital. Obviously, there is competition, but that’s there in every industry and we believe that with the brands that we have and the quality of people we have, we can take care of that. After all, we are in leadership position in most of the areas that we operate in. We are also doing extremely well in the areas where we are not the leaders, but getting close to the position gradually.
Q] What are the growth drivers for the television news industry?
Today, we are in a situation where our reach is always as much as the GECs. There are weeks when we would have beaten the GECs. So that means there are more people who are watching news channels than GECs. And if you look at the yields of GECs versus the yields of news channels, there is a huge difference. Clearly, the opportunity to grow comes from yield increase. We have four channels and a couple of them are at this moment under-leveraged, so there are opportunities around that also.
‘We are being daring, with responsibility’
Group Editorial Director (Publishing), India Today Group
Q] At a time when Print houses are busy right-sizing their operations, India Today magazine was revamped with fresh talent and a new format in 2017… how has it worked out?
A magazine must keep surprising its readers, be it the cover picture or the content inside. The front of the magazine has interesting nuggets of information today. We have added a lot more variety. We revived the states pages. Over a period of time, we found that even when our old readers read our revamped edition, they said, ‘Yeah, wow!’ The feedback we got was that it’s more readable now while retaining all the great qualities that India Today brought in - gravitas, contemporary, clarity, credibility. It is such a pleasure to see Bandeep Singh’s pictures, they are so differently shot. Similarly, Nilanjan Das’s designs keep pushing the frontiers. It’s about being daring with responsibility. Talent doesn’t flourish in an atmosphere of constriction. It is a pleasure to have someone like Aroon Purie guide you. The freedom that he gives us to operate is exemplary. He is the finest magazine publisher in the country.
Q] What kind of space do magazines play in today, as far as news is concerned? And how are the other key publications from the India Today stable doing?
Newspapers are infringing on what was the magazine’s domain because news channels have come into what the newspapers did. Also, the chaos around news has grown with Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp coming in. India is moving at such tremendous pace, and there is a bewildering socio-economic and political change. By the time the weekend arrives, you find it difficult to comprehend all. So you need a place which will tell you that out of the 500 things that happened, four or five things are really important, and if you read that, you are up to date with news. We curate those things. That’s where magazines like ours come in.
If you look at our two flagship publications - India Today and Business Today - both had a major make-over. Going by the revenue that has come in post the make-over, we are confident that we are doing something right. We also have Mail Today, the daily newspaper. It has a soft story on the cover and brings out interesting information that you don’t find elsewhere, stimulating your reading. It is a very compact, daring and buzzy tabloid. It has found a niche for itself despite the clutter of newspapers and the two gorillas sitting around in Delhi.
GAINS FROM DIGITAL
At the moment, the brand is busy strengthening its Digital footprint with AajTak.in and the MobileTak.in niche digital platforms. From seven niche mobile-first channels at the launch of the platform in October, MobileTak.in has recently added two more to the list, namely MumbaiTak and BharatTak. To increase competition between the channels, the Group has given responsibility for each to an anchor who is expected to take it to newer heights. However, it would be fair to say that the platforms have not yet caught as much advertiser attention as AajTak.in. Going by the latest comScore data, (MMX, December 2017, News & Information, Hindi News Website data) shared by the Group, AajTak.in hit the 3.6 million unique visitors mark and managed to race ahead of competitors. To showcase its might, AajTak.in is in the process of releasing a Bahubali-themed campaign.
The Digital Revenue of the Group grew by around 50% in 2017, but that doesn’t overcome the overall challenge of digital transformation that the company is facing. Aroon Purie explains, “The question is, how do you transit from Print or even TV to go to a digital process? People are going to watch TV as and when they want, on their phones or any other device. So this business of appointment viewing is going to go away. That’s why we have launched MobileTak channels. We are looking at where the audiences are consuming content. Our business now is no longer about content creation, we are actually engaging audiences. That’s the definition of what we are. And you can engage audiences not only through TV, Print and Digital but through events, and other connections. For example, you may start some exclusive clubs. Audience engagement is the key. So we need to look at engaging the audience, retaining them, developing a community around them, and then of course, how to best monetize the platform.”
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