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Publishers with the best digital ecosystem will win, says Suresh Vijayaraghavan of the Hindu Group

Vijayaraghavan, CTO, the Hindu Group, talks about how AI/ML has a huge potential to transform the publishing industry. Discussing how the company has incorporated CMS and DMPs for better analytics, he says it soon will shift to contextual advertising so as to prepare for the cookies-less world

Suresh Vijayaraghavan

For the Hindu Group, their technology-led growth strategy is grounded in the premise that content is the king and user experience is the queen.

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BestMediaInfo caught up with Suresh Vijayaraghavan, CTO, Hindu Group, to understand how the publisher has initiated its tech and innovative roadmap and what sort of tools and solutions are helping it to accelerate the approach.

Sustaining a newsroom in a digital future requires a carefully planned and well-executed strategy driven by a deep understanding of readers and the evolving digital ecosystem.

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As a publisher, Vijayaraghavan believes that this transformation must happen across three core pillars—people, process and technology.

“Apart from being a content provider, we understand that we provide a service and an experience to our readers.  Our strategy is grounded in the premise that content is the king and user experience is the queen. Building a strong, modern technology foundation to enable creation of media-neutral content is the key,” he said.

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To deliver a superior news experience to its users, it is constantly strengthening its ability to publish stories on a 24x7 basis with a digital-first approach.

It is also focusing on depth and variety of content while constantly trying to deepen its understanding of what its readers are thinking and feeling at every point in the user journey, so that it can tailor the experiences offered.

He said that from a technology perspective, it is implementing a superior CMS platform that helps in content creation and deliver content on any channel of choice for the subscriber.

“We are investing in modern subscription management and audience profiling systems. We are prioritising a data management platform that enables analytics, which subsequently helps in subscription and in creating content that engages the reader more,” he said.

Publishers today are utilising automation, artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) to enhance reader experience and engagement.

Vijayaraghavan said this has a huge potential to transform the publishing industry in deeply understanding the readers for the success of the digital business.

By profiling reader’s behaviour, ML engines can help identify articles that are relevant to the reader. At the same time, AI can also help with content aggregation and identify articles related to the ones that are being read. This provides much-needed context for the customer who is facing information overload and strengthens the customer-publisher relationship by adding value.

“We are looking to adopt augmented AI technologies that are always working in the background and in real-time, to continuously learn and enhance user engagement. Using conversational AI for a voice-activated search on our website is one application that we are interested in,” he said.

He said compared to text-based search, conversational input will provide more clues needed to understand the context of the search. The results can be more accurate and drive more engagement. If this is applied to archived content, it can help it with a monetisation model, facilitating the creation of a new revenue stream. When suitably aided with data gathered from subscribers’ reading behaviour, conversational AI can help customers discover more content to their liking from its library.

Also, AI-leveraged bots and voice assistants can be used to help subscribers on the path to purchase. If linked to reader-profiling engines, it can be used to promote new products or bundles. It can also be used to build self-service subscription management.

But wouldn’t this be a costlier affair for the publisher? Isn’t news/content delivery getting more complex and costlier compared to delivery models of traditional mediums, which are far more sorted?

Answering this, he said how readers from various age groups will consume news today is completely different compared to just a few years ago. A deeper understanding of the evolving digital ecosystem and its impact on the business is critical.

“In this strategic gameplay, the organisation that has the best digital ecosystem will win,” he said.

“Let’s take a step back and consider the example of how photography has evolved. Across generations, the fundamental desire to capture a moment in our life and share with others and perhaps revisit it in the future has not changed. But how we and our previous generations did it and how the digital-natives view photography and how generations to come could view, has changed completely. Today, a photo or video can be captured, edited with tools within the mobile phone and shared in the social media with friends and family — all within a short time. We can even archive it on cloud storage automatically. Similarly, looking at the way readers are consuming news, publishers are rewiring their DNA to cater to this hyper-dynamic environment.”

The publisher is leveraging Oracle Cloud Infrastructure (OCI) for Digital Asset Management (DAM) and Content Management Solutions (digital, content and print) applications.

And as part of its digital transformation strategy, it is consolidating its IT infrastructure on the cloud. The core elements in this include DAM and CMS that supports both print and online editions of the group.

“Using the cloud, we are able to concentrate on our core competency, which is content creation and publishing. Oracle, who is our strategic technology partner and preferred cloud provider, will handle the underlying IT infrastructure management part,” he said.

Oracle’s secure, second-generation cloud infrastructure (OCI) has helped it achieve elasticity and easy scalability, predictability of costs, high availability and superior cloud economics and it doesn’t engage with multiple cloud providers.

By moving to OCI, he said, they expect cost savings in the range of 25% over the next few years, when compared to their previous IT setup. “According to initial estimates, our technical teams have realised much better application performance using OCI: of 1.5x to 2x improvement in certain cases. This helped us with a faster turnaround time for complex processes. What’s more important is that, by using OCI, we have now gained a quicker runway for innovation.  Our partnership with OCI will enhance our capabilities and improve our digital agility to launch new, intuitive services even faster to our readers, and constantly deliver a delightful experience to them.”

Apart from that, Google’s decision to phase out third-party cookies has left the future of many publishers uncertain. Tracking cookies have long been a useful but imperfect way to target online users. While the future of alternative solutions to the third-party cookie is still unclear, many see a tremendous opportunity for an addressable open internet.

According to the Hindu Group, it is a blessing in disguise for the publishing industry.

Vijayaraghavan said that without (third-party) cookies, the only way to reach an audience would be via a publisher and engage them through compelling content.

And for this, it is focusing on gathering first-party data (opted-in data) and concentrating on building relationships with its existing customers. 

“We are looking to shift to contextual advertising, where ads are shown based on the content being read. We are focused on building a cross-platform analytics tool to identify the right time to promote different content, offers, and products/services. All this will ensure our customers get the experience they desire,” he said.

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