There is something peculiar about India's large media companies. I believe they should be more outward looking to take the lead in becoming the world's primary news source not just for India but the entire Subcontinent as well. To accomplish this, they have some serious catching up to do.
India is home to the third largest number of internet users in the world. A vast majority of them access internet on handheld devices and have never logged in through a computer. It is my sincere belief that we can do much more than what we are currently doing and Indian media business can take a turn for the better.
Here are a few things that leave large gaping holes in terms of opportunities and things that media houses can do better.
They are not tech focused companies
First of all, they do not operate like tech companies. Their websites are buggy and so are the apps. Let's consider the example of ‘Firstpost’, a web-only brand from the house of Network 18 group. While they have arguably one of the best UI on web, mobile is something they seriously need to figure out. As a user puts it, "App ignored by the developers. The news isn't loading from the last 4 days. Being a news app, its only function is to show news. If it can't do its basic function and that too for 4 days, it speaks a lot about the care taken by its developers. Update (27.04.14)- Latest update of the app has made it unstable. Keeps crashing. Bug not fixed yet."
‘The Hindu’ didn't have an Android app until some time back and nor did ‘Mint’. These marquee Indian media companies came to mobile way after Newshunt had already overtaken Flipboard in number of users! It has taken some seriously large amount of time for them to wake up to the future and act on it.
No incentive to take users online from offline
Most large media houses have other offline or TV channels that bring a sizable chunk of revenue for them. Average revenue per user in other mediums is way higher than what they can make online. They have an incentive to keep users hooked to their other channels of delivering content. None of these companies are ready to disrupt themselves and hence an opportunity for bold entrepreneurs to disrupt them.
Content and news is a commodity. The quality of content and biases associated with this delivery has resulted in user dissatisfaction. It is a great opportunity for entrepreneurs to tap into.
While it is true that not enough brand dollars are moving to digital, the shift is going forward at better and better pace. The nexus of media houses and ad agencies can be disrupted to bring big brand dollars online.
Social Media is a mystery to them
One of India's largest newspaper, ’The Hindu’, has only one main account on twitter and facebook and a few local news accounts. All the news in different categories is shared with the same handle that tweets close to 35-45 tweets a day with many of them coming late in the night! Earlier, ‘The Hindu's’ twitter handle used to tweet every story twice. I personally ranted a couple of times about this but to no avail. Finally, I had to unfollow the account. There has to be a better way to do this.
Similarly on their facebook page, they shared 45 news stories a day with quite a few of them generating less than 20 interactions (‘The Hindu’ has close to 2.7M followers on facebook!). Sometimes, two completely different posts have the same featured image on facebook, confusing followers on the platform. While there has been so much talk about how you need to change headlines in order to get social media audience interested and get clicks (Tech Meme hires editors who just write headlines!), none of the large media companies in India seem to be doing that.
The UX leaves a lot to be desired
There are a total of 22 scripts for advertisements running on ‘TOI’ homepage. It might seem a little too much for anyone but by industry standards, it’s not an astronomically high number. ‘NYT’ runs similar number of scripts on their page but this is how their home page looks like.
As you can see in the picture above, on the ‘TOI’ home page, most of these ads are above the fold that expands automatically. A user has to make an active effort to find the content from the ads! It is seriously confusing for a new user to spot and consume news with those really tiny fonts from ads. At first look, the fonts on headline in ‘TOI’ look inadequately small, but they are same as on ‘NYT’ (font size:13). But reading and browsing through headlines and synopsis is way easier and thus I would be more inclined to click on a story and read it, but not so much on ‘TOI’.
Lack of investor appetite
India is home to world's third largest internet population. Most of these users access internet to access content and news. But, investor interest in content business is dismal. We have seen only two large funds making active investments in content business, namely Accel and Seedfund. However, not to blame the investors, the online content business in India has a lot of structural problems to overcome and there is no model that works all over the world. We recently saw the ‘Entrepreneur’ magazine shutdown, which had launched with so much hoopla a few years back! But if we don't see investments in this sector, India will never have its own version of Buzzfeed or Upworthy!
Glimmer of hope!
Well, all is not lost. There are a few new and fresh media companies that are web/mobile exclusive and are challenging the status quo. Asia's largest English sports news company is Bangalore-based Sportskeeda! Similarly, we have the likes of Newsinshorts that are trying to mould the structure of news delivery for younger mobile generations.Sites likes Scoopwhoop and Storypick are trying to crack social media virality and with interesting social content. Here at Yourstory we are trying to bring together closely knit communities and are doing some exceptional work for them (pat on the back).
Companies aiming to grab a mindshare of specific demographies are also on the rise. Miss Malini or MensXP have done great work but have a long road to travel ahead of them.