SaaS startup ConsCent aims to be a one-stop solution for media houses, OTT players
Content companies have traditionally relied on advertising to keep subscription rates low. But the times, they are a-changin'!
The pandemic strained advertising budgets, which, along with the change in consumers’ increased desire for quick, on-demand gratification, has led content firms across the world to reconsider their user-led revenue models.
Enter New Delhi-based SaaS startup, which helps facilitate a ‘direct-to-consumer’ flow for media, gaming and streaming platforms so they can maximise revenue through a decentralised network of paying customers.
Founded in April 2020 by former journalists Sunny Sen and Sounak Mitra, ConsCent creates smart and effective revenue opportunities for news, content, and OTT companies, through intelligent paywalling solutions, analytics, engagement and retention tools, and personalised recommendations.
Sunny says ConsCent is derived from four words. “Conscious to pay, Consent to pay, Content, and Cent (a fraction of a dollar). The idea was to have a mix of emotions, willingness, and revenue generation in the name.”
He adds that the startup was founded in the midst of the first pandemic lockdown in April 2020.
“This is when digital content consumption surged and we started with a simple idea: to make premium content (behind paywalls) more accessible, whether it was news, OTT, or podcasts, while enabling a higher number of paying users for content providers through micropayments/pay per content.”
Since then, content producers have realised that subscription plans are the way ahead, but most consumers prefer to stick to one or two subscriptions.
This is where micropayments - small financial transactions that can be done for a particular service, a piece of digital content, or an application download - grabbed the spotlight. They allowed consumers to buy just one or two articles instead of the entire subscription.
Sunny, who has worked with leading media brands like Business Today, The Hindustan Times, The Economic Times, Businessworld, The Financial Express, and Network18, says if good content has to thrive, millions of people have to pay a tiny amount for the content they consume.
“At scale, this becomes a huge value proposition for the publishers,” he says.
ConsCent aims to create a medium ground between either subscribing for an extended period of time or having no access at all. The idea is to make premium content available to a far broader spectrum of people who are not prepared to subscribe right away but would gladly pay for an article or two.
To decrease payment friction and enhance conversion, the startup also offers a universal login and an interoperable payments solution, so consumers don’t have to log in and create accounts on every site where they consume premium content.
In 17 months since launch, ConsCent has grown to become a market leader in content monetisation, working with close to 50 media and OTT brands in India, including India Today Group, Outlook Group, Jagran Group led by Jagran Prakashan Ltd, and Amar Ujala, among others.
Over the past few months, it has expanded its solutions to include behavioural and predictive analytics, personalised targeting, and retention solutions to enable better conversions and conversations between users and content companies.
The founder says ConsCent is the "only solution in the world" that provides a publisher with all tools needed to manage a reader's entire lifespan.
From a single dashboard, a publisher can learn, analyse, predict, and act on data to ensure 360-degree reader engagement and maximise revenue.
“We are a full-stack 'micropayment to subscriptions' and 'acquisition to retention' solution provider, and all our solutions, integrations, and partnerships are designed to cater to the varied needs of content and media companies,” says Sunny, who worked very closely on Moneycontrol Pro, India’s largest subscription-based publication, while at Network18.
He says that the universal login and payment feature that works across all platforms “reduces payment friction by up to 75%”.
Sunny adds that the startup, which introduced the pay-per-content method for digital content payment, remains the only player in the world that offers the entire payment stack, from micropayments to subscriptions.
He mentions other unique features: audience segmentation and content suggestion tools, content recommendation platforms with multiple subscription landing pages (MSLP) features. These aim to help target audience segments and realise higher conversions.
ConsCent presently has a team of 35+ members.
Sunny, the CEO, is primarily in charge of raising funding and handling ConsCent's investor relations. He heads the product, design, sales, and marketing departments.
Sounak, the COO, is in charge of the IT staff and his primary duties include leading the company's technological integrations and guaranteeing seamless delivery of new product features with quality. He also heads HR, finance, and other operations.
Sounak earlier worked with leading media houses like the Network18 Group, Times of India, Mint, Business Standard, Telegraph, and Financial Times Group. At Network18, he worked with Sunny on the launch of Moneycontrol Pro.
Business model and revenue
Over the last year, over 50 Indian publications have implemented paywalls on their premium content, with 35 of them being ConsCent partners. This figure is expected to rise to over 200 in the next two to three years, further fragmenting the subscription market.
ConsCent will be working with 50 partners by the end of the July-September 2022 quarter, and claims to be the “No. 1 reader-focused content monetisation platform in India”.
“Today, five out of the top 10 media groups in the country are ConsCent partners. We also manage the largest paid user network for news content in the country, with more than six lakh paying users across our partner universe,” Sunny says.
The startup works on a revenue-sharing model. It charges anywhere between 5-15% on subscriptions, and 20-30% on micropayments to its partners. It does not charge anything for integrations and other features it provides through the dashboard.
Funding and the way ahead
In July this year, the content monetisation platform raised a total of Rs 13.26 crore (about $1.75 million) in a bridge round led by Inflection Point Ventures.
Speaking about market outlook, Sunny says “There are multiple ways of looking at it. One is just seeing the shift from physical to digital. In India, physical subscriptions plus news-stand sales of newspapers and magazines are at about Rs 8,100 crore. About 25-30% will be converted to digital in the next two to three years, which makes it a Rs 2,025-2,430 crore industry.”
He adds that the second way is to look at conversion numbers in the digital space.
“There are 500 million digital news consumers in India. Only 1.5 million have paid for news so far. That’s just 0.3% of the total base. Paying for news is a relatively new phenomenon in India, and there is huge headroom for growth in the market. It’s like the situation where ecommerce was in 2009-10.”
According to Reuters Institute, in 20 countries where surveys were done in 2021, 17% of respondents (including 28% in Nordic countries, 21% in the US, and 17% in the Netherlands) said that they had paid for news, up from 12% in 2016.
With the same conversion numbers, in India, about 80-85 million people will pay for news in the next few years.
ConsCent is looking at expanding its operations beyond India while deepening its penetration in the Indian subcontinent. It also plans to launch over 15 new products and features over the next 12 months in the areas of payments, engagement and retention, and design.
“We are also developing a new AI/ML-based personalisation engine to ensure the highest level of content affinity for each content consumer,” Sunny says.
Speaking about the competition, Sunny says there are no local competitors. “However, FewCents, Piano.io and Evolok are some of our key competitors globally.”