Advertising will follow India's shift to digital, says Times Internet's Gulshan Verma

Chief revenue officer, Times Internet Ltd.- 'Indians owning a digital ID is enabling a whole host of banking services and innova

The Indian government estimates the digital economy to surpass $1.115tn by 2024-25, according to India's digital minister Ravi Shankar Prasad, while the Indian government's initiative Digital India has further empowered the Indian digital landscape

With a much more digital society on the horizon, what it will mean for traditional media remains to ne seen. The Drum spoke with Gulshan Verma, chief revenue officer at Times Internet Ltd. (TIL) , the internet news arm for the Times of India group, to find out how its adapting to a fast pace of digital disruption.

How do you think the Indian digital landscape has evolved?

Over the last 12-18 months, there have been a few developments that have influenced growth in the Indian market, like the rapid rollout of 4G-enabled internet at both scale and competitive pricing. Firstly, this means that previous bandwidth-heavy activities are now being adopted at scale by the Indian digital audience, which is now more than 400mn users a month. As an example, we have seen over a 300% growth in the number of songs played out on Gaana [Times Internet's music subscription service] in the last six months.

Secondly, the growth of the non-English internet in India. Three out of every four internet users will not speak English as a primary language. We have seen that, globally, Indian users are now one of the top three audiences for any global digital brand. These audiences now are consuming content in their own languages and are responding better to it.

Thirdly, in India specifically, the growth of Aadhar and UIDAI has meant that majority of Indians now have their own digital ID. This is enabling a whole host of banking services and innovations such as e-only accounts, payments in less than three clicks and allowing users to interface with the government quickly and easily.

All of this means that most activities now have a digital component either in how you consume the product, or the experience built in. Hence, marketers are now seeing digital platforms as a primary way to engage with majority of Indians. Advertising is now following this shift quickly as well.

Tell us about TIL's latest partnerships.

At Times Internet, we are always on the look out to empower our marketers through technology and our partnerships are giant steps in that direction.

As an example, we recently partnered with Moat – a SaaS (software as a service) analytics company focused on delivering third party measurement and attention analytics to marketers and publishers. The partnership integrates Moat’s viewability and attention measurement with Times Internet’s smart marketing platform - Colombia Audience Network. The new integration provides marketers with actionable insights into their campaign performance. We have also partnered with Nielsen Digital Ad Ratings to verify our campaign measurement.

From a scale perspective, Network18 has joined Times Internet’s publisher network “Colombia Audience Network” as a premium publishing partner. With over 60 publisher partners, the network now occupies over 55% page views across Top 10 news content publishers on mobile, along with reaching over a quarter of a billion users per month worldwide.

Do you think GST will have a positive effect on India's digital realm?

In the short term, there have been a lot of changes for businesses to adapt to the new regime. In the long run, there will be significant benefits above and beyond even the financial benefits. As an example, an ecommerce company can invest in a distribution hub to serve multiple states with less focus on tax issues and/or distribution timelines. This will allow them to take advantages of scale. Another example is now at a product level, we will have better understanding on what is being ordered, by whom and how much on a monthly level. That will bring a huge amount of insight into our economy in almost real time.

How do you plan to chase $1 bn in revenue by 2022?

We intend to grow 45-50% every year in terms of net revenue. If you do the basic math, we will exceed at least a billion dollar in net revenue in five years. Times Internet has a current compounded annual growth rate (CAGR) of 46% and expects to increase it to 51% going forward.

With over 200 million monthly users, Times Internet has a reach of more than 50% of India's Internet population. With over 66 properties that include digital versions of Times publications, entertainment-focused businesses such as Cricbuzz, Gaana, deals site Coupondunia, restaurant booking site Dine Out and property portal Magicbricks to name a few, we have a user base of over 200 million.

Currently, Times Internet sees 47% of revenue come from advertisements, 17% from classifieds and up to 24% from transactions, with subscriptions contributing up to 15%. We see all revenue streams growing but our transaction and subscriptions will probably grow faster than the rest.

How is TIL driving innovation in the digital field?

With Times Internet’s smart marketing platform Colombia, the company has been consistently revolutionizing online advertising technology and has now transformed the platform to give complete control to marketers in creating and reaching their audience digitally. Our publisher network, the Colombia Audience Network is now the largest content distribution platform in India.

Colombia not just monetizes for Times Internet, it also helps the 60 publishers outside of the group. An entirely homegrown product that competes at a global scale has been a remarkable feat for us. We will continue to enhance the product and its targeting capabilities.

Besides, we continue to set benchmarks in terms of creative innovations, targeting capabilities, enhancing trust and transparency in the ecosystem.

Tell us about ETsure which is data-led suggestions to help buy right policy. How well has the Indian audience taken it?

Given that ETInsure was launched in February 2017, it is still in a very nascent stage of growth.

TIL recently announced its partnership with mobile handset maker, Intex Technologies and is also one of the top contenders to acquire Snapdeal-owned digital wallet firm FreeCharge . Despite massive digital penetration, TV and print continues to drive revenue in India.

Taruka Srivastav

I march to the Indian beat of The Drum.

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