The past few years have seen widespread adoption of various information and communications technology (ICT) solutions across the media and entertainment industry. Organisations across the industry are increasingly deploying new-age technologies like artificial intelligence (AI), internet of things (IoT), machine learning, (ML) and blockchain, among others, in an effort to improve their business efficiency and deliver better quality services to their customers. Vivek Pandey, Vice President, Revenue Strategy, Times Internet, shares his views on the key ICT trends shaping the sector, significant technology adoption and the challenges faced along the way…

What are the key ICT trends shaping the media and entertainment industry?

The media and entertainment industry has been at the forefront of technology adoption and the digital-first approach. It is an innovative industry that is pushing the boundaries through data analytics, ML and personalisation – all of which are leading to newer revenue channels, while ensuring a better user experience. Real-time signals from social media and sentiment analysis are being used to generate rapid content with a strong user focus.

In India, a lot of focus has been on the vernacular space, in the digital media segment, where there are more than 70 per cent of the consumers. We, at Times Internet, have been bolstering our presence in the vernacular market with our eight regional media publications.

Another key trend is personalisation and contextualisation of content, making data the linchpin, and thus developing the right adtech stack becomes a must. Multiple media and entertainment companies are developing adtech capabilities, something that we pioneered way back in 2015 with Colombia, our adtech stack.

What are the ICT solutions deployed by your organisation and how have they benefited business performance and efficiency?

Colombia, our adtech stack, is a massive data engine powering the Times Internet ecosystem. Think of it as a 360-degree solution for publishing, powering everything from content creation and distribution to monetisation. Colombia’s data management platform performs deep analytics for understanding our audience – a win-win for both our advertising partners and users. The former reaches the relevant audience and the latter receives the relevant content. In fact, campaigns that run on Colombia give a 50 per cent better performance than other direct campaigns. This is an example of technology directly translating into better business.

Our editorial teams use real-time content and social media monitoring tools to ideate, generate and manage content – all powered by a home-grown content management platform called Denmark, which unlocks immense efficiencies for editorial teams, again impacting the bottom line directly.

How is the growth in video consumption and emergence of multiple platforms transforming business requirements of enterprises in this industry?

The rise of video consumption is underscored by the steep drop in data prices that occured in 2016. As a result, there was a clear shift in consumer demand towards video content. This coincided with the growth of OTTs and the explosion of YouTube as we know it now. Times Internet understood the wave early on and acquired MX Player, which has, over time, become one of the preferred OTT players in India, and in fact, the OTT with the highest loyalty among users.

While the investment in MX Player was a strategic decision, our flagship products such as Times of India online and Economic Times online have been amping up the focus on video content, which is an ongoing process.

This is the supply-side story, where seasoned players like Times Internet have understood video and embedded it in their content strategy. On the demand side, marketers now necessarily understand the importance of video content and want to make it a big part of their media mix. The return on investment is also much better as compared to the traditional TV.

How has the adoption of new-age technologies such as big data analytics, AI, IoT, blockchain and ML been transforming the industry? What are your future plans regarding these?

Hyper-segmentation of content is only possible by really slicing through the audience data and offering users what they like. ML is at the heart of content recommendation.

Going forward, I see blockchain gaining traction, as media gets more and more fragmented, and a lot of collaboration will be needed among a wide number of players. Smart contracts enabled by blockchain will have a pivotal role to play. Also, blockchain has potential applications in tackling fake news. We are exploring it for our anti-fake news initiative, Times Fact Check, though industry-wide adoption of blockchain is still a few years away.

The focus at Times Internet, however, continues to be on analytics and ML – mainly with the intent of understanding our users and their preferences better, which, in turn, can be used for better content and advertising recommendations.

What are the key challenges in the deployment of new technologies and the existing IT and telecom infrastructure management?

Privacy concerns continue to go hand in hand with the industry’s attempts to personalise content according to users’ preferences. Also, the issue of fake news is something that platforms need to consistently work on. I can proudly say that Times Fact Check is a fantastic initiative by Times Internet against any misinformation. Another recent phenomenon is the consolidation of the inventory at the publishers’ end through the formation of media consortiums.

There are both challenges and opportunities, and will require not just the relevant technology to be adopted, but also the relevant cultural shifts for media organisations. There is an ongoing debate between using cloud versus on-premises (in-house) infrastructure. At Times Internet, we deploy a combination of both in our tech stack. Denmark and Colombia are extremely strong in-house infra management tools, and sustained investments in developing them will pay long-term dividends.