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Lockdown will boost online content consumption the same way demonetisation helped e-wallets, says HT Digital's Abhesh Verma

In a conversation with BestMediaInfo.com, the CEO of HT Digital Streams say the pandemic has caused a paradox of sorts for publishers as online consumption has shot up but monetisation has gone down. He says the industry might have taken a short-term hit, but it will benefit in the long run as online consumption is likely to be high

Abhesh Verma

HT Digital Streams, which runs the popular news sites Hindustantimes.com, livemint.com and Livehindustan.com, has seen a 50% or more jump in traffic across platforms. The traffic, however, isn't being monetised the way, the company would have liked to.

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"Revenues are taking a hit everywhere. All businesses are closed, so revenue-wise we are not seeing an uptick," Abhesh Verma, CEO of HT Digital Streams, told BestMediaInfo.com.

Verma said that in the long run, high online news consumption would be a habit for people and in the long run, the company platforms would have an increased loyal user base.

He spoke about various aspects of the business and the overall impact of Covid-19 on industry revenues.

Excerpts:

What sort of an uptick have you seen in the digital news consumption over the last month?

Digital has been on an upswing. We have seen tremendous growth in terms of usage. Whether it is time spent, engagement, videos watched or content sharing, everything has gone up. In terms of consumption and visits, our group sites have seen good growth.

Has there been a 50-60% growth in traffic?

It all depends on when it peaks and on the story and on who is breaking it. Some places we see an average growth of 50-60%.

However, some days, we also see 200-300% growth. As people are at home now, they're mostly consuming digital.

Have you been able to monetise this increase in traffic?

Revenues are taking a hit everywhere. All businesses are closed, so revenue-wise we are not seeing an uptick.

If there is no business, the advertiser will not advertise. The only way this increased traffic is going to help us is that we now have more eyeballs; we are seeing people come on board and stay. We have sticky and engaging users.

Monetisation wise, it hasn't helped much. However, we hope people continue to stay. Our intent is also habit formation; we know 21 days are good enough to cultivate a habit. So this 40-plus day lockdown will cultivate the habits among the consumer. For example, people will get used to ordering online, getting deliveries, classes are being held online and in fact, cars are now being sold online. The same way consumption of online content will be a habit. The same way demonetisation helped e-wallets; similarly, this lockdown will help the overall online consumption. It will benefit in the long run.

The advertiser has slowed down spends. Has it affected the programmatic advertising rates as well?

Eventually, the advertiser is the same at the bottom line. Since the supply is high right now with 50-60% growth at platforms and advertisers are less, advertising has become cheaper. The CPM rates on Google have been affected by almost 50%.

How difficult is it to manage news operations when the entire system has moved to work from home?

Currently, 97% of our operations are online. Our newspapers are being published the way they were before the lockdown. Our digital is running at full strength. We already had digital operations ready at the backend, all our VPNs went live with the announcement of lockdown and all the cloud services were up and all the laptops were updated with broadband and WiFi. Our hours have actually gone longer. We are putting in 15-16 hours each day and at different times. Weekends don’t feel like weekends because we are working.

In terms of opportunity, for an entrepreneur, this is the opportunity of his life. Yes, it’s a sad situation. But new business model formations are going to happen. However, nobody can predict the future. The only thing that people can see is the uptick.

Charts don’t lie and you are seeing an uptick in the digital consumption of OTT players, media platforms, home deliveries, digital concerts, sanitisation, home deliveries, insurance. Homeworkers were never insured before. Many companies have introduced health insurance for home workers. Hence, changes in business models are happening. The person who can predict and get value out of it will come out as a winner.

Info@BestMediaInfo.com

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