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We see a double digit growth: Ramesh Kumar

The digital landscape in India is seeing considerable changes with the changing habits of consumers, the explosion of smart devices, social media and the shift from traditional to mobile mediums. The fact remains that Digital media has grown rapidly around the world, and it is led by younger users.

With keeping up with the Digital consumption in the country ESPNcricinfo and ESPN Digital was launched to provide convenient and relevant content to cricket fans across the world as soon as possible ESPNcricinfo was founded in 1993 and was acquired by ESPN in 2007, and is the world leading digital cricket brand.

Adgully caught up with Ramesh Kumar, Head, ESPNcricinfo & ESPN Digital to talk on the growth of the company, the digital consumption of today’s youth, the traffic split between mobile and desktop and many more.

Can you tell us about your growth in the last 2 years?

The last two years have seen some marquee cricketing tournaments including the 2014 ICC World Twenty20, India’s tour of Australia, 2015 ICC World Cup and the Indian Premier League editions for the two years.

The Cricket World Cup 2015 proved to be highly  popular with global cricket fans and resulted in ESPNcricinfo’s most successful tournament in the our  21-year history across web, mobile web and apps – shattering all previous records.

Overall, traffic during the 2015 Cricket World Cup was up 121 percent in daily unique visitors compared to the average day over the past year and 36 percent higher than the average day during the 2014 Twenty20 World Cup

Video, in particular saw enormous growth, with a 345 percent increase in daily video views compared to during the ICC Twenty 20 World Cup just a year ago. Overall ESPN Video Uniques increased by 9 times from Mar’13 to Mar’15 led by our various digital properties in India.

What kind of evolution have you seen in the Indian digital landscape?

The explosion of screen-based devices has turned consumers into multi-screen viewers. These multi-screen experiences are posing both an opportunity and challenge to various stakeholders in the digital ecosystem. From the point of view of media houses and publishers, that means managing the 24/7 consumer experience cycle across devices and platform to ensuring a seamless experience. From an advertisers perspective posing constant challenges to them to exploit these multiple touch points of consumers to ensure brand engagement in a non-intrusive manner.

People do not use media in an “either-or” way – they use multiple media and shift from one device to another in pursuit of information and engage with the available screens for the relevant task. We think of this in terms of “the best available screen” and from ESPN’s point of view our various sports properties are available to consumers in the best available screen at that point of time. 

What has been the advertisers’ response towards ESPN? What categories of advertisers use the medium the most?

First, I would slightly adapt the wording of the question, as we don’t think of ourselves as a “portal.” We think of ESPNcricinfo as a multimedia brand that is the go-to destination for cricket fans around the world.

We work with the leading brands in markets globally. To name a few of them  Renault, Gionee, Micromax, Amazon, Google, Nokia, Investec, Destination New South Wales and many others.  And we are able to work across many different models, whether that is sponsorship, targeted campaigns, custom executions, contests and more.  As a result of this, we have seen strong, double-digit growth in our overall advertising revenues – with India contributing to it in a major way

We’ve seen growth in audience and engagement over the years, which in turn have meant that we have been able to over-deliver for our advertising partners.

What is the target audience which you cater to?

The mission at ESPN is “To serve sports fans anytime, anywhere”. At ESPNcricinfo we ensure we are aligned to this and our offerings have a promise of quality, authority and personality which our consumers can connect with.

The explosion in mobile use globally and specifically from a high growth market like India has meant that the 15-35-year-old – the so-called millenials - now constitute a large part of our core audience.

With the youth becoming more digital oriented, what kind of growth do you see in the coming years?

Our position as a pioneer in the digital content publishing space has been to continuously innovate to make our offerings engaging to the youth. Some of the high growth trends that we have observed in digital sports video, mobile consumption for sports content and huge growth in social especially in a high growth market like India would continue in the coming years

What has been the traction that you have witnessed in the World Cup and IPL? What property has worked for you the most?

ESPNcricinfo is a global digital brand and is the world’s leading digital cricket brand. Cricket fans around the world followed the World Cup – and not just the core fan. Casual fans as well. The tournament proved to be so popular with global cricket fans that it goes down as the most successful tournament in the site’s 21-year history.  And it was very successful for us from a business standpoint as well. 

Our IPL coverage on ESPNcricinfo continuous to be very popular in India and has also had a tremendous following in US on ESPNcricinfo.

What kind of challenges do you face given the vast Indian population? How do you look at capitalizing on the same?

In India, one of the biggest challenges in the online space in general is to increase the time spent by users given the vast choice of media platforms and specific to sports properties engage with users during the “non-live window
Another challenge is to work with brands to ensure the digital medium is exploited for brand building and synergies with their overall media plan through effective sponsorship solutions 

What kind of traffic split have you seen in mobile vs the Desktop?

Globally, we now see about half of our traffic from mobile and tablet devices.  In some markets, like the USA, it is substantially higher than that.  While that shift is a challenge for many brands – due to the relatively early stages of the mobile advertising market, we’ve embraced that and have been able to develop a robust mobile advertising business.

What is your endeavor towards providing a seamless multi-screen viewing for consumers?

Our endeavor always is to manage the consumer experience which would be in his “best available screen.” A sports fan will seek that content on whatever the “best available screen” is at any point (indeed, multiple points) throughout the day for them.
We have also developed lighter, more feature or diary-style video content, including ‘On the Road,’ ‘Up for a challenge,’ ‘Switch Hit,’ ‘Let’s talk about,’ and ‘Polite enquiries’.

Do you think creating content in the mobile space has become need of the hour?

The pattern of content consumption is changing and we are developing second screen experiences via our mobile properties for ESPNcricinfo, ESPNFC and ESPN.com. The screen is the most convenient meanshrough which fans connect to this content.

What are some of your upcoming properties?

Our offerings – whether video, content or products are centered on international fixtures. With The Ashes slated to begin early next month and other tournaments including South Africa’s tour of Bangladesh, India’s tour of Zimbabwe, and the ICC World T20 Qualifier, plans exclusive to ESPNcricinfo are underway.

We are looking at a whole range of exclusive content offerings including focused multimedia offerings during these events.

How has the growing importance of video helped in growth of the organization?

Content is central to our identity. Both ESPNcricinfo and ESPN overall, at heart, are content companies. The surge in in digital content consumption - especially video, is something we have been at the forefront of for many years. We have developed a host of digital video programs and properties over the past year and a half, with some of the signature ones being: 

‘Modern Masters’ – is an exclusive digital video series featuring Rahul Dravid and Sanjay Manjrekar who profile 14 cricketing greats who have graced the modern game and played alongside or against Dravid.

‘Contenders’ – a series featuring former skippers Rahul Dravid and Graeme Smith hosted on the website where the hosts analyzed the strengths and weaknesses of each of the world cup playing nations besides sharing their predictions for the upcoming tournament.

Match Point - a live programme, three times a day for every match day of major competitions – pre-match, post-match and during the mid-innings break.

The Huddle – a cricket hangout especially for IPL 2015 featuring Ajit Agarkar, Iain O’Brien, and Alexis Nunnes

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