Where Does The Buck Start For Digital Media?

Experts across categories deliberate on their monetisation models and unanimously agree on the room for improvement

It is truly an exciting time for digital publishers and online content creators to milk the many benefits that the digital ecosystem is offering. With nearly 4.66 billion active internet users worldwide in 2021, and 624.0 million internet users in India alone, there has been an increased dependence on varied online services in recent years. 

This ever-growing online audience has, in fact, raised competition between content players, compelling them to learn the new rules of the game and make money at the same time.

A recent virtual webinar series, called ‘Media Moguls’, presented by BW Businessworld & Amazon Web Services, hosted some of the savviest digital publishers, that are focusing on today and building future financial success.

On sharing Eros Now’s monetisation journey, its CEO, Ali Hussein, feels that the larger challenge is when we put pressure on the OTT business. “Remember that this business is just 2-3 years old. It is still at a nascent stage. When we look at the subscription model, whether short or long-form content, disruption is happening at a faster pace as compared to the typical satellite or cinema business. 

There needs to be maturity adoption and stability of business from a customer standpoint, as we are still in the midst of hand-holding large-screen viewing and the monetisation cycle.”

Eros Now has maintained itself to be a subscription-driven player that offers premium content to the masses. For Hussein, the softer aspect is looking at high-end quality products at an affordable price. For him, optimal monetisation is still some distance to go. He further adds how certain maturity has crept into the subscription and advertising side of the business in the past 18 months. “In a general sense, our business was more measurable but obviously on a slower pick-up cycle than it would have been otherwise.”

Giving us a perspective on how monetisation has fared for a print player digitally, L.V. Navaneeth, CEO, The Hindu Group is happy with the growth but hopes for better numbers, “We started a few years ago with our epaper through a subscription model and now all our digital products are fairly serious and committed. We are seeing traction with a good mix of advertising and subscription revenues. Subscription, of course, started at a lower base but is growing exponentially now. It contributes to little below 50% of our digital revenues.”

Print media has often been marred by credibility issues that perhaps pause online users from signing up for paid content. However, Navaneeth believes that it is true for all media and not unique to print. “You can't build a business around an indifferent audience. In terms of engagement, we need to move beyond our news assets. If we engage well, they will be willing to pay. Most users pay if they see value in the offering.”

Zubin Dubash COO – Digital, Shemaroo Entertainment further delves into monetisation in the OTT space. Giving us a sense of the appetite, he mentions that there are nearly 50 OTT players in the market, out of which 13 players launched in the past year are all regional. “Hindi and cream HSM belt are fiercely competitive right now, with everyone participating in it. In terms of revenues, we were a $1.4 billion revenue market in subscription this year. By 2026, we will be $2 billion as it looks like.”

Dubash looks at the cost aspect via a 3Cs model- Customer acquisition, Content & CDN. For him, content costs are deeper investments that continue every month. “If you have great content, you need to get customers on board and then the CDN- when content and consumers are happy and consumed. This is when CDN gets nicely juiced out.”

AWS, in this content, has been a preferred tech enabler for most of the digital media players. Highlighting her experience with brands for their usage of tech and monetisation in the APAC region, Shweta Jain, APAC Head of Business Development for Media and Entertainment, AWS, witnesses variation in revenue models in the OTT space, where players are keen to experiment. Here, cloud service is helping these experiments at zero or low cost. For Jain, there are three tech triggered monetisation trends in AWS' APAC customers, “First, they ask for customised AI/ML models to predict decisions. Second, more video platforms are implementing the server-side ad than the client-side ad. This is because client-side ads are easy to block and prone to malware. Server-side, in this way, ensures a seamless viewing experience since the ads rendered are in the same resolution. Third, the entire FAST (Free Ad Supported Television) segment is becoming a big trend because sales and popularity of connected TV are going up. This is opening opportunities for monetisation for content owners, including regional/ niche owners as they can replace ads in real-time on these platforms.” 

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