Bangalore / New Delhi: In early 2005, Mumbai became the battleground for what was perhaps India’s fiercest newspaper war in recent times. In the space of a few months, two new English dailies—DNA and the Hindustan Times (HT)—launched in what is India’s single biggest advertising market. Incumbent The Times of India (TOI), which had enjoyed a near-monopoly for decades, counter-attacked by adding another paper to the mix, the tabloid Mumbai Mirror.
The battles pitted some of India’s most powerful media houses against each other. While TOI and HT are the flagship newspapers of Bennett, Coleman and Co. Ltd (BCCL) and HT Media Ltd, respectively, DNA was a start-up from Diligent Media Corp., a 50:50 joint venture between the Essel Group, the company behind Zee group, one of the largest broadcast networks, and the Bhaskar Group, the publisher of India’s second most-read Hindi daily, Dainik Bhaskar.
Now, a similar war is about to break out in Bangalore as DNA prepares to launch its Bangalore edition later this year with the stated goal of selling 300,000 copies, or just under half of the 650,000 copies of English newspapers currently sold each day by all other papers combined, according to K.U. Rao, chief executive of Diligent.
Playing field: Billboards for DNA, The Times of India and Deccan Chronicle newspapers compete for eyeballs in Bangalore, whose growing ranks of young and urban professionals are appealing to advertisers. (Hemant Mishra / Mint)
A sleepy backwater as far as national print media goes until fairly recently, Bangalore, India’s tech capital, is set to become a new battleground because of the growing ranks of young, urban professionals, a demographic that advertisers love.
“As an ad market, Bangalore has surpassed Chennai and Kolkata during the last two years to become third, after Mumbai and Delhi,” notes Nandini Dias, chief operating officer at media agency Lodestar Universal. “Media follows where there is advertising.”
An analyst at a Mumbai-based media-buying agency, who asked not to be identified since he isn’t authorized to speak to the media, pegged the annual spending on print advertising from Bangalore at about Rs500 crore. Mumbai generates around Rs1,500 crore and New Delhi, Rs1,200 crore in advertising, according to his agency’s estimates.
In a country where the newspaper industry is among the most subsidized, in terms of how little readers pay for a copy of the newspaper, it is Bangalore’s advertising revenue opportunity—and not necessarily demand from readers for more newspapers—that is causing the stampede.
Indeed, even before DNA comes, Bangalore is already home to TOI, The Hindu, The New Indian Express, Deccan Herald, Deccan Chronicle (DC), Bangalore Mirror (also part of BCCL) and Mid-Day English newspapers, with a few of them having launched in the past couple of years.
In addition, there are about at least 26 non-English newspapers—seven in Kannada, four in Telugu, four in Malayalam, four in Urdu, five in Tamil and two in Hindi—that are printed in the city. Add to that six business papers—The Economic Times, The Hindu Business Line, The Financial Express, the Business Standard, Mint and the Financial Chronicle that are also available, and the city’s 5.8 million people seem to already have plenty to read each day.
But, DNA, which claims it will invest Rs200 crore on its Bangalore edition, is betting that readership will climb to 1.5 million copies from 650,000 in three years. And, says Rao of Diligent: “There is a huge gap between TOI and other newspapers, which have a marginal presence in Bangalore. The second slot after TOI is vacant and DNA will occupy that space.”
To do that, DNA is attempting to follow the tried and tested route of trying to be the prima donna booster of Bangalore, thus striving to out-local TOI, typically a fairly strong local paper that is often perceived as a national brand in various cities where it has editions. Among the 70 billboards that it has put up in a city where outdoor media is quite expensive, are those that say: “I believe in Bangalore” and “New York has more traffic jams than Bangalore”.
Not to be outdone, the three-month-old Deccan Chronicle, whose parent is based in Hyderabad, has gone to town with hoardings displaying its latest circulation numbers as has the market leader, TOI.
Still, for a serious contender, Bangalore is attractive because it is a relatively weaker market for the leader TOI, says Subramaniam Swaminathan, general manager (south) of MindShare, the powerful media-buying agency owned by WPP Group Plc. “Advertisers might want to look out for alternative and cheaper options.”
Among the general interest English newspapers, TOI’s readership in Bangalore tops at 400,000, the Deccan Herald at 200,000 and The Hindu at 40,000, as per the July-December 2007 Indian Readership Survey. IRS figures for the Deccan Chronicle, which launched in May, aren’t available.
While widely used by advertisers, and by media companies for bragging rights, both circulation and readership surveys in India are relatively easily influenced and their outcomes routinely manipulated by various media houses that resort to various short-term techniques to boost results in their favour, especially in highly competitive markets.
Meanwhile, some media analysts say DNA’s entry is unlikely to dent TOI’s leadership position in any significant way. “People don’t stop reading their main paper because of a second newspaper,” insists Ravi Dhariwal, chief executive officer of BCCL. “We would stick to our strategy and continue growing our readership as well as ad revenue, thus, giving value to advertisers.”
Indeed, after about three years of pitched battles in Mumbai, TOI has managed to retain its No. 1 position though both DNA, which emerged as the No. 2 in terms of readership, and the Hindustan Times, have so far managed to find both readers and advertisers to want to stick it out though neither are making any money in that market. Mint is published by HT Media, which also publishes the Hindustan Times.
Going by Mumbai, a strong new entrant might bring in some new readers, and also eat into the readership of the smaller players, such as the Deccan Herald, which is a pale shadow of its much vaunted leadership position, or maybe The Hindu, which, along with the Deccan Chronicle, is in the throes of a tough battle with TOI in its home market of Chennai.
“I foresee DNA in Bangalore becoming a second paper by creating new readers rather than eating into TOI’s readership,” said Vikas Mantri who tracks media at ICICI Securities Ltd. “DNA will not have it easy with the three-month old DC fast consolidating ground. But, it will give readers more choice in a market which is monopolized by a single market leader.”
Deccan Chronicle Holdings Ltd managing director P.K. Iyer declined to comment for the story. N Murali, joint managing director of The Hindu, noted that while Bangalore is already overcrowded with too many papers, DNA’s future would depend on the kind of advertising rates it offered.
As for the reader, “there is no point in having newspaper after newspaper coming. What’s your differentiator?” asks Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw, chairman and managing director, Biocon Ltd, and one of Bangalore’s more prominent residents. “People in the advertising business look forward to more papers as it gets them wider reach and better rates. But, for the reader, all papers are offering the same thing. As someone who enjoys well-written and thoughtful articles, I’m pained to see the deterioration in the quality of writing and reporting.”