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Programmatic, display ads, native will shore up digital media revenues: Raghav Bahl

The Quintillion Media MD feels that while programmatic can piggy back on good content, display ads and native advertorials need selling

Shanta Saikia | Delhi | March 24, 2015

(Left)-Christopher-Slaughter-and-Raghav-Bahl-(Right) (Left) Christopher Slaughter and Raghav Bahl (Right)

For Raghav Bahl, MD, Quintillion Media, who started the company after exiting Network18, media entrepreneurship is nothing new. In conversation with Christopher Slaughter, CEO, CASBAA, at the CASBAA India Forum 2015 in Delhi on March 23, Bahl raised some important points on ‘Digital Edge in Media Entrepreneurship’.

Quintillion – how it began

Bahl said that when he exited Network18 nine months back, he was very clear that he wanted to be in a field that he knew. “We understand media, we understand communicating via audio-video. The only thing was where and how. We dove into the whole burgeoning field of digital content,” he added. The search for a name for the new venture ended when Bahl came across the word ‘Quintillion’ in an issue of ‘The Economist’ that he was reading on a flight. When he looked up the word, the meaning was 10 to the power 18.

Creating content for a digital generation

“When I started Quintillion and started working on The Quint, I did not know what UIUX (User Interface User Experience) meant. That’s how digitally illiterate one was, but since then a few things have become clear,” said Bahl. According to him, content which is large format entertainment or community viewing content like an India-Pakistan cricket match will continue to be consumed more on television or on any static screen. “Everything else will be on the mobile screen. Almost 100 per cent news and information releted content will be on mobile screen in the next 4-5 years. Even information updates, geographically relevant content, restaurants will be on mobile and hand held devices,” he noted.

He added that when it came to large format entertainment and big community viewing events, linear television would stay relevant, everywhere else linear television would have to adapt and send its content out to the mobile screen. The challenge for content creators on digital is that the attention span is very short. Bahl pointed out, “All research data that we have seen is that when we put out a video, at about 45 seconds the viewer switched off. You have 45 seconds to tell your story, unlike television, where a programme goes on for 25-30 minutes.”

Short form content has sparked off a trend

Even as attention spans shorten, Bahl is firm that television is not becoming irrelevant. He said, “I just feel that they have to change the way television creates content. And in the time that they will take to change, newer people will come in and occupy some spaces. So, whenever such a disruption happens, you will find that some legacy players have made a successful transition and, therefore, they have market share.”

He further said that there would be disruptors who would come in and occupy some of the slots where the legacy players had not been able to make that transition. “We have earlier seen this in television, where a lot of media groups have made the transition, but there are some media groups that have even today not made that transition to television; and that is the same thing that will happen to digital. Newer players like Buzzfeed and Boxx have disrupted the medium and have created market shares for themselves,” he added.

Disappearance of media silos

According to Bahl, one of the most significant learnings of the last nine months has been that the great power of the screen is the marriage between print and television, it is seamless between the two. “So, the world as we knew it – that this is print and this is TV – has disappeared. Text copy is as relevant, video is as relevant, text and video are as relevant, it is all seamless,” he noted.

Speaking about The Quint, Bahl said that it was the company’s first consumer-facing brand that had been launched in the area that they knew the best, which is news and information. “But in the digital world, information is somewhat broadly defined, because you get into areas like satire, quirky content, which is information – Buzzfeed has done it very well – but it’s bonded with entertainment. So, I think we are in that space – news + entertainment,” he added.

Content consumption

Bahl pointed out that today, content was being consumed through social sharing. “A lot of people have even gone to the extent of saying that the home page is dead,” he said, adding, “I don’t subscribe to that dire situation; I think the home page is still relevant because a lot of people still come through the desktop devices, but increasingly, consumption is happening through social sharing.” He noted that the audiences were coming in laterally; they were landing on the story page and not the home page. “When they land on the story page and have read the content, the question is how to keep them on the site, so we give links to other stories; that’s where all the other programmatic stuff comes in.”

Measurement and real time data

According to Bahl, television is a blind world. “You have some ratings that come up, which everyone splices their own way; everybody is No. 1. You really don’t know who is watching you and for how long. In the digital world, it’s the exact opposite; you know on a second to second basis how many people have seen your content, how many people have clicked through it, how much time they have spent on it. It’s a totally different world from newspapers and television where you are second guessing the data,” he pointed out.

Revenue streams in digital

The Quintillion Media MD felt that two or three revenue lines were becoming very clear in the world of digital, one was programmatic, where real time ad search was happening. He explained, “If your content is good, it pretty much sells itself. Programmatic is easy to sell, I have to make great content distributed and programmatic comes on its own.”

“The selling happens in the two other areas,” he said. One is the display ads. Bahl felt that people had written off display ads prematurely. “Display started off very high in the desktop era, but once the mobile took over, people have written it off. I believe that newer forms of display ads will emerge,” he affirmed.

The fastest growing, according to him, was Native, which is the good old print advertorial. Print by virtue of the fact that it wasn’t online media, happened once a day and it wasn’t even geographic. “But in digital, you can splice it down to any sector that you want. Therefore, native advertorial on digital medium has evolved much more that plain advertorial. So, this is very nicely produced content and it is also credible content, it’s not a simple plug. So you create content that is in the nature of advertising, but you give useful information to a targeted segment,” Bahl said.

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