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We plan to go behind a paywall with Mint & other properties over time: Rajiv Bansal

It’s been almost a month since HT Media revamped its news website, Livemint, in January 2019. The new-look website has been appreciated by the readers and industry alike. 

Rajiv Bansal, CEO, HT Digital Streams and Chief Digital Officer, HT Media, speaks to Adgully on the four elements driving Livemint’s strategy – Personalisation & audiences, local languages, video and subscription. 

Please take us through the process of Livemint’s revamp.
Over the course of the past year, we have built the strongest team in the media industry across the board, including content, engineering, sales and other functions. This has allowed us to really up our game across areas, such as the quality of content in Mint. When we got feedback from consumers, we realised that although they were now happier with the quality of content, we had to go back to the drawing board and address the overall user experience, including the interface they were using to access news. The revamp addresses these issues and we have worked on aspects of it for a good part of the last year. We took a 360-degree approach to this revamp - starting with our editorial tools, then content strategy, building the user interface and creating elements such as personalisation to address user needs. We also had to radically redesign our engineering capabilities both in data and content delivery to address these. 

With this revamp, are you looking to go behind the paywall?
We have been following our strategic path for over one year, which includes the following four elements – Personalisation & audiences, local languages, video and subscription. So yes, we plan to go behind a paywall not only with Mint, but the rest of our products over time as well. 

What are the newer elements that have been introduced?
There are several key portions of our interface. 

‘Home’ is the place where users land. It provides news in the order that users want to consume it. It is designed to provide great, crisp fact checked headlines and highlights and a visual way to do storytelling through images or video for any story. It gives users the ability to get deep enough into any individual piece of news on the feed, then decide if they want to read the full story and expand it inline within the feed. There is a lot of plumbing that has been created behind the scenes to make it an enjoyable user experience, from the data infrastructure and personalisation to the industry leading content delivery systems that minimise lags. 

‘Latest’ and ‘Trending’ are designed to address users’ fear of missing out. Latest allows users to get access to news in the order in which it arrives. Trending allows users to access news that is popular in their geographic location. Unlike ‘Home’, these two modes are designed to allow users to quickly get through large numbers of news items to pick and choose those that might be relevant to them. So, we went with a list experience on these. 

‘My reads’ is designed to give users access to news that they quickly scanned though earlier and were interested in but did not have time to fully engage in. It also helps users quickly track updates to news items they have been following. It addresses these needs by giving users quick access to their reading history and bookmarks. As with other parts of the interface, these elements have been thoughtfully designed to give users a great user experience. 

What is your strategy to reach newer audiences/ subscribers?
Over the last year, we have done two things on the audience front with Livemint. First, we brought back focus on our core audience by bringing both discipline and depth to our content strategy. Initially, this meant we gave up traffic, but as we executed on this strategy, we pivoted to high quality audiences with depth of consumption in our core. Second, we grew our users in this core. This redesign has now driven depth of consumption in our core audience. Within the first week of launch we more than doubled our user engagement. We expect that over the next few weeks and months we should end up at 5X-10X engagement lift in that core. 

Are there plans to revamp the other sites of HT Media as well?
Yes. This design language and infrastructure will apply across all of our platforms and sites. 

What kind of revenue are you targeting in the next 2 years?
We don’t share revenue numbers for digital separately from the rest of the company, but over the last year our business growth has reflected the quality of the team driving it. We are profitable, one of only two digital media businesses in the country to be able to say so. This is pretty rapid progress from the last 2 years, where we were not really on the landscape of leading digital media companies. Given that we have made great progress so far, we expect to rapidly scale both profitability and revenue in the next couple of years. 

What are the other targets that you have set for yourselves in 2019?
We expect to continue making progress across all the elements of our strategy. This includes rolling out our personalisation focused interface across all of our sites. It also includes launching new local languages at an accelerated pace. One of the things we did with little fanfare and zero marketing last year was to launch ‘Punjabi’, HT’s first news product in a decade. Its success has given us the confidence to go big in our local language plans in 2019. We have made big strides on video last year – including in-depth and high-quality content focused on news, episodic formats, sponsored content, our Youtube multichannel network, which is now one of the world’s largest, and our brand studio, which has won several awards through its outstanding work and has started forums like our brand leadership series. We are also expecting to launch paid subscription models this year. 

We expect to continue to broaden our focus on storytelling formats, including audio and video across all of our sites, especially Mint. One of the areas that we will rolling out broadly in Mint is markets. Another is to take Mint into local languages. 

With this revamp, is there going to be an incremental spike in ad rates?
We expect that what is good for consumers is good for advertisers as well. Our brands bring high-quality audiences that have a trusted relationship with us. Advertisers have been excited about the focus we are bringing to our core audiences and we are also excited about continuing to broaden our partnership with them.

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