Aggregators lack quality, premier news destinations have a brighter future in the long run, says Sriram Hebbar of Times Internet

In a conversation with, Hebbar says low quality news published by aggregators is leading to distrust among readers. He shares the growth plan of NBT online, the monetisation strategy and why both digital and print would coexist in future

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Aggregators lack quality, premier news destinations have a brighter future in the long run, says Sriram Hebbar of Times Internet

Sriram Hebbar

Sriram Hebbar, Vice President - Languages, Times Internet, is of the view that digital isn’t eating into print’s ad share and both the mediums have their own differentiated relevance for advertisers.

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In a conversation with, he said, "Print and digital users have different consumer behaviour. Print as an industry has been in existence for decades and it is not easy to wean away these users from print to digital.”

He also said that advertisers do not come to digital because it is cheap, adding that advertisers were willing to pay a premium to advertise on premium digital news platforms. He said that the industry size is enough to allow play for both the ad-funded and the reader-funded model of news.

During the conversation, he also touched upon issues such as brand safety on digital, the overall monetisation opportunities, need for credible content, the rise of branded content and why news aggregators such as Daily Hunt are losing the readers’ trust.


How is NBT Online differentiating itself from several other players in the market and what is that giving you an edge over the others?

News has become a commodity and with more and more players entering the market, everybody is in a hurry to break the news, unfortunately this is leading to an increase in low quality content.

NBT focuses on fact-checked breaking news, and this has allowed our users to trust the news that appears on the publication. We follow the breaking story with analysis-based articles, which gives the users a 360-degree coverage of the event, while also making sure that we keep our personal opinions and biases away.

Our editorial team has rich experience in domestic as well as international affairs and hence we are able to quench the thirst of the users who are seeking an Indian perspective to international events.

Our focus on our user’s requirement of ‘news near me’ has led us to setting up a network of journalists across the country, who focus on events around tier II and tier III towns.  The first-time internet users from smaller towns are loving the content we offer. We also try to make sure that most of our articles have videos, infographics or other forms of embeds, which satisfies the users’ hunger for information as it happens.

What is your strategy to compete with aggregators such as Dailyhunt? They do not own the content and hence they do not own any responsibility, while they eat into your revenue. Why are publishers allowing aggregators to cannibalise their readership and revenues?

Owing to their business model, aggregators have to work with a large number of small websites that don’t give importance to the quality or the factual sanctity of their content. When these articles appear on aggregators, it leads to distrust among end-readers.

Original content destinations have a brighter future in the long run, and premier news and information destinations like NBT make sure that the highest priority is given to the quality of content.

How are content creators and aggregators valued by the advertisers in general? After all, they pay the same CPM rates to every platform. Isn’t it the self-invited problem by publishers which eventually undervalues their original content?

Firstly, the notion that all publishers have the same CPM rates is unfounded, as you would not pay the same price to a high performing established channel vis-a-vis an emerging platform, and advertisers have different strategies for different platforms.

For example, when it comes to buying inventory via CPM, they try to equate platforms' basic user reach and engagement that the platform drives along with understanding the loyal user base for each platform. This is where original content creators have a leg up on aggregators because brands from Times Internet are household names and enjoy habituated consumption and user loyalty.

Aggregators enjoy benefits as well based on their model. However, one of their key driving factors is getting the right partners on board and if they do not have the right sources in place, their platforms are destined to fail.

With the advent of brand solutions, there has been an upswing from advertisers to partner with original content creators and publishers and play off the contextual relevance that these content destinations enjoy as more brands are looking to seamlessly integrate within editorial content.

Also, with demand for Indic content on the rise, our Indic portals will be the first to enjoy benefits of providing such branded solutions in multiple languages.

On the basis of the argument that the readers of digital are more or less the same people who migrated from print over the period of time, the advertisers are reaching their consumers at 1/100th of cost in comparison to print. Do you see this situation improving and how?

Print and digital users have different consumer behaviour. Print as an industry has been in existence for decades and it is not easy to wean away these users from print to digital.

Digital as a medium today attracts the youth as it can give you an interactive experience through text, videos, audio and visual media on your personal device at the time and place of their choice.  Digital can satisfy the “information hunger” of the users seamlessly.

Advertising on original digital content destinations does not come cheap and advertisers do not mind paying the right value to reach the user at the right moment.

While Hindi e-papers and a few premium content in English have gone behind paywall, would it be possible for NBT Online or other regional publications from your stable to make the consumer pay for the content?

Times Group has launched a Hindi subscription product by the name NBT Gold. We believe that there is a play for both the ad-funded and the reader-funded business models.

Is brand safety a big concern for brands when they come to advertise on mass platforms like you and how do you address their concerns?

Brand safety is one of the key factors for brands when it comes to advertising, every brand is trying to form a connection with their consumers, and an advertisement being shown against inappropriate/sensitive content leads to the same consumers either disassociating with the brand or partaking in public criticism and in most cases both happen.

As a publisher who is duty-bound to deliver the news, no matter how sensitive, we have a robust setup in-place with regard to classification and monetisation of content. We break our content into different verticals and depending on the requirement from the brand, we target the type of content the brand wishes to be seen around.

We also have certain measures in place to stop advertisements on specific sensitive topics. This whole process of brand safety is iterative and as a publisher, we keep trying to take on-board feedback from clients and further refine our process.

What is NBT Online’s vision for this year and upcoming ones?

Traditionally, NBT Online has had a user base that is predominantly from Delhi/NCR.  This financial year, our aim is to make NBT Online reach every nook and corner of Hindi-speaking states across India. Today we have significant traffic coming from across all the Hindi-speaking states and a healthy mix of tier I, II and III towns.

Videos are a key part of our strategy and we have had a very high success rate in increasing the consumption of videos on our sites, and NBT has always been ahead of the times and NBT will continue to create new opportunities for the digital audiences and our advertisers. 

How do you see branded content opportunities for NBT Online?

Branded content opportunities are on the rise across genres, especially on original digital content platforms like NBT. The demand is very high for advertorials and massive product launches across genres.

In the last year, NBT has focused on content across genres like lifestyle, technology, automobile, health, beauty, education, jobs, etc.  We are now the default destination for users who are interested in consuming this content and therefore it becomes attractive to advertisers as they are able to target their brands to a large audience of like-minded people.

There have been many video and influencer-led campaigns on NBT in the past year, which clearly shows that branded content opportunities have come of age.

Times Internet Sriram Hebbar