New Delhi: India is the next big frontier for multinational media firms, and although the country’s laws prevent them from taking a significant stake in mainstream news publications and channels, there’s no bar on launching India-specific websites, even if they are fully owned by the company.
Following the entry of The Wall Street Journal’s digital imprint into India two years ago, at least two key media organizations may be getting ready to follow suit soon.
The New York Times plans to launch an India-specific online edition featuring a mix of international and local news in the next two weeks, according to an executive of the company who refused to be named.
“In the next couple of weeks, we will launch our online edition specifically for the Indian market,” said the US-based executive.
The company’s spokesperson declined to comment. “We will get back when/if we are prepared to make an announcement,” Eileen M. Murphy, vice-president, corporate communications, The New York Times, said in an email.
There is also talk that Huffingtonpost.com, owned by AOL Inc., will launch an India-specific online edition in the next few months.
The American news and content aggregating blog site that began in 2005 with a staff of six people was acquired by AOL in February for $315 million (around Rs1,400 crore today), following which its UK and San Francisco editions were launched.
Three people in the online news business confirmed that Huffingtonpost.com will launch a real-time Indian news website.Mint couldn’t independently verify this. Executives at Huffingtonpost.com did not respond to repeated emails or phone calls seeking comment.
The Wall Street Journal, published by Dow Jones, a News Corp. company, started its digital initiative for the Indian market in February 2009.
The website, India.wsj.com, features content coverage specific to India and features blogs, videos, photo sections and editorials besides local news.
“In our experience, localized digital initiatives are an effective and popular way to reach our audience in the region,” said Christine Brendle, managing director, Dow Jones, Asia-Pacific region. Mint has an exclusive content-sharing partnership with The Wall Street Journal.
Mint, Dow Jones and The Wall Street Journal also collaborate on Deals India, an online and print initiative aimed at investment professionals.
The Financial Times launched an India home page on the FT.com website in March, showcasing international news and analysis catering to audiences in the country, said Angela Mackay, an executive director and head of Asia-Pacific.
“The size and geographic spread of the Indian market makes an online offering particularly attractive to media publishers as it allows us to reach our target audiences faster and cost effectively,” she said. “FT.com is doing very well and India has among the highest number of FT.com registered users and unique users in Asia.”
India-specific websites are a logical next step for international news media companies, given the appetite for international content in the country, according to industry experts.
According to comScore Inc., a global audience measurement company tracking digital and online trends, in the last one year, the news and information category has grown 36% in India. The average time spent per user on news websites has grown 22% in the country.
Yahoo! News Network, New York Times Digital, BBC, CNN Network and the Huffington Post featured among the top 15 news and information websites that Indians regularly visited, according to the May comScore Media Metrix.
Among the top global newspaper sites that Indians visited were those of The New York Times, The Guardian, USA Today and The Wall Street Journal.
Roughly 5.5 million visitors in May went to news and entertainment websites, both Indian and international, and the average time spent per visitor was 31.5 minutes a month.
Kedar Gavane, who heads India operations for comScore, said news is the fastest growing category in the overall online landscape. “Even from advertisers’ perspective, this category cuts across different age groups. From a 20-plus individual to 55-plus, everyone is accessing news on international websites,” Gavane said.
The total digital advertising market, according to a Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry-KPMG 2011 media report, is Rs1,300 crore. The overall segment is expected to grow 28% annually. Consultancy firm Ernst and Young India Pvt. Ltd predicts that ad revenue in India for pure news sites will grow 50% this year.
“The business for news sites is robust because of the increasing number of Internet users and growing bandwidth in the country. Advertising will also grow because of online video insertions,” said Raghav Anand, associate director, Ernst and Young India.
Many of the global brands are coming to India because they are also waiting for the print sector to open up. Foreign direct investment (FDI) is currently limited to 26% in news and current affairs in print.
“The online sector isn’t so strictly regulated, and brands can enter on their own and serve readers in real time,” said Jehil Thakkar, an executive director at audit and consulting firm KPMG.
Lakshmi Narasimhan, chief executive officer of Web18, the mobile and online subsidiary of Network18Media and Investments Ltd, agreed. “The print market looks saturated, so the online sector is being explored,” said Narasimhan.
Web18 launched Firstpost.com, an online news web site similar to Huffingtonpost.com, two months ago. The site has exceeded page-view targets, Narasimhan said, adding that “the market is rich for many players to enter the turf”, when asked about the advent of the global websites.
In his view, the likes of Huffingtonpost.com aren’t necessarily well-known brands in India and may find it challenging to attract viewers and advertisers.