The mobile platform is steadily changing the game for all publishers, so much so that everyone from the small publishing houses to the big news publishers are forced to revisit their online content strategy.
According to research firm GfK, total mobile phone sales in India are expected to touch 200 million units this year, of which 53 million would be smartphones. The number of mobile subscriptions had already crossed the 900 million mark a few months back. Given that most of the smartphones and a significant chunk of the feature phones are connected to the Internet, consumers are increasingly accessing different types of content through mobiles.
Talking about the Indian Internet users on mobile, Nitin Mathur, Senior Director, Marketing - Yahoo APAC, says, “The number of users accessing the web on their mobile handsets in India is expected to reach 155 million very soon, maintaining a quarter-on-quarter growth of 20%.”
With the rapid growth of Internet enabled mobile phones in India, publishers are witnessing a major surge in online mobile traffic. “About 30+% of our traffic is now mobile," says B.G. Mahesh, Founder of online publisher OneIndia.com.
Mathur concurs, quoting even higher mobile traffic figures. “More than 50% of [our] traffic comes from mobile, an increase of 3X; also, the time spent on mobile grew 79% in the last year alone,” he says. According to him, today the number of monthly active users on Yahoo (including Tumblr) exceeds 1 billion, up at least 6% over the last year. Across Yahoo and Tumblr, on a device basis, the company now sees more than 550 million monthly active users on mobile.
The shift of traffic from desktop to mobile is happening for many Hindi publishers as well.
Bharat Gupta, Executive President - Marketing and Digital, Jagran Prakashan Limited, says that based on the current rate of change and adoption, they are expecting “mobile web to be bigger than desktop Internet use by the end of first quarter 2015.”
Gupta also adds that this year, 51.7% of their online users were on desktop, significantly less than the 67% desktop users last year. In contrast, mobile users grew to 46.97% from 31.75% in 2013.
“The average split for us is close to 50:50 for desktop vs mobile+tablet. This can obviously move in favour of mobile/tablet - we anticipate this going in the direction of 60:40 in the next couple of years in favour of mobile/tablet,” says Sandeep Amar, Chief Operating Officer, India.com.
For regional language publishers, so far, the split between desktop and mobile is still skewed in favour of desktop, but mobile traffic is expected to grow faster in the coming years. Boby Paul, DGM - Marketing (Online) of Malayala Manorama Co. Ltd, says, “For us an average of 84% and 16% of the total traffic is happening from desktop and mobile devices respectively. By next year or so we are expecting the mobile traffic to double to around 25-30%.”
Refining their mobile strategy
With current and future traffic growth coming from mobile, no wonder publishers are refining their online content strategy to proactively benefit from this platform shift.
“We all have to think a lot more about the mobile strategy as the youth is always on the mobile,” says B.G. Mahesh of OneIndia.com.
Yahoo, for one, has ensured that all its products have a mobile presence. The company also made its homepage experience available on feature phones and focused on delivering cross-screen experiences to its users. This year, Yahoo launched Mail, Flickr, Weather, Aviate, News Digest, and Homepage in India on a mobile-first basis. The result: today, over 50% of Yahoo users in India access its network through mobile.
Sanjay Trehan, Head - MSN & MSN Apps India at Microsoft, says that in a bid to address the multi-screen audience, the company recently launched the new MSN, which is slated to be device and platform agnostic.
In addition, many publishers are launching apps in different regional languages to engage with the users and stay relevant.
Monetizing the mobile traffic
Now with the growing number of mobile content consumers, publishers are looking for ways to monetize this traffic.
Mahesh of OneIndia.com feels that monetization on the mobile is in early stages, likening the current situation to the early days of content access through desktops a decade and a half back.
Trehan of MSN adds that the “consumer is info-snacking all the time” and for publishers it’s imperative to have a cutting-edge mobile app strategy which borders on a cross-platform approach and aims to address the needs of users.
Amar of India.com believes that display advertising is gradually moving into brand solutions, native advertising, audience data based sales and programmatic sales.
Talking about the revenue from mobile, Mathur of Yahoo says, “Our mobile revenue has more than doubled year over year. In Q3 2014 we saw mobile revenues in excess of $200 million on a GAAP based on our mobile-first focus.”
Mathur emphasises a “virtuous circle” that comprises people, products, traffic, and revenue. “Hire great people; they will build great products that generates increased traffic and, ultimately, increased revenue.”
It is believed that revenues will finally follow—but exactly when and to what extent are the big questions. For the moment, publishers are busy creating engaging content for the mobile audience and planning how to make this content accessible across multiple operating systems and devices.