Times Internet Limited (TIL), the digital arm of the Times Group, claims that it will grow by 45 per cent to cross Rs 1,000 crore in revenues by March 2017. Even at the current Rs 690 crore it remains the largest digital media firm other than Google India. Times claims to have 175 million active users across 35 sites such as Magicbricks, Times of India, gaana and Cricbuzz. Vanita Kohli-Khandekar spoke to CEO Gautam Sinha on the details underlying those numbers. Edited excerpts.
Could you give a break up of the Rs 690 crore and the 175 million users?
There are three big clusters of traffic and revenues. One is news which gets 120 million users (unduplicated). This includes Timesofindia, Navbharattimes, Economic Times, Vijay Karnataka, and so on. Of these Timesofindia is the biggest with 70 million users across platforms and over Rs 100 crore in revenues. The second cluster is entertainment. This includes sites such as Cricbuzz, gaana et al. The third is a set of sites in what we call the ‘utilities and transaction’ space – ET Money, Coupon Dunia, ViralShots… Of the total traffic 125 million is from India and 50 million is from outside of India. But we use the reach of the entire TIL portfolio to improve average revenues per user (ARPU) within individual properties. So if we get a user through Timesofindia or cricbuzz and move them to 3-4 properties, it helps reduce cost of acquisition by 4-5 times and improve monetisation by directing users to a transaction.
How is that?
Three years ago we started a data management platform (one part of Colombia, its ad-tech platform) with the notion that every interaction with users has to be tracked. Based on a set of 66,000 rules, these interactions are then used to categorise audiences into 33,000 buckets. If we can categorise them better and target them better, we can improve monetisation through cross-work – moving them from say gaana to Cricbuzz. That is the power of a network. In a frictionless and ideal world we should have 175 million users in each category. So when the release order (for an ad) comes, the operations guys will use different variables such as time of day, audience, geography, to figure out where the ad could get the best response.
Most media firms find that ad sales across brands don’t work even within the same company because of territorial issues...
Ad sales is common across all our 35 properties. But each site operates separately as a vertical. The idea behind having common ad sales is that we can sell clusters of consumers – say people who like strawberries or ones who play golf. Now within that then advertisers may choose for example people who play golf and listen to old Hindi music. When we sell on reach, the common ad sales helps, but when selling specialised or niches the verticals help.
How dependent is TIL for content on the Times Group’s brands?
Till 2012 up to 65-70% of our content came from Bennett, Coleman & Company. Today only 30-35% of the content comes from Times of India or Economic Times or the other key brands. Over the next few years, we expect this to go down to 20%. In 2012, Satyan Gajwani (vice chairman Samir Jain’s son-in-law) came in and said ‘we are not just a media company but a digital/technology company.’ We also realised that if we need to compete with the best in the world we need to work as a start-up. So we put together a five-year plan and used growth engines to navigate through cultural challenges.
What are your biggest cost heads and your main sources of revenues?
The biggest cost head is people, we have 4,200 people. The second is marketing and third is technology costs. On the revenue side display brings in about 70%, then native advertising and third party publisher development. (TIL partners with a slew of global brands such as Huffington Post with which it has revenue share arrangements, then there are revenues for directing traffic called affiliate or commission income). From a brand perspective, the biggest contributors to revenues are Magicbricks, Times of India and Cricbuzz.
Are you planning to raise capital?
Generally, we are generating enough revenue for the existing business, but we won’t say no to capital. So far, we have never raised capital at the TIL level.
What are the gaps in your offering?
Healthtech is a big gap and we hope to plug that. Also in the next 3-4 years, we should be big in video content.
What is the TIL relation with the Times Group?
Operationally there is no dependence, deals are done at arm's length. Going forward we will pay for the content we take.