oneindiaAt a time when advertisements typically shouldn’t be hard to come by – with political party spends likely increasing in the lead up to the upcoming General Elections in India – three key newspaper groups have inked a partnership to sell advertising together. HT Media, The Anand Bazaar Patrika Group and The Hindu are combining inventory for six newspapers: Hindustan Times, Hindustan, Anand Bazaar Patrika, The Telegraph, and The Hindu, both in Hindi and Tamil. Arun Ananth, former CEO of The Hindu and now a member of the senior leadership team at HT Media, told MediaNama that this is a collaboration, and not a formal joint venture, which would otherwise need a separate legal entity to be created. A few notes from our discussion with Ananth:

– Inventory available: This is not a remnant inventory deal, but rather based on inventory available with each publication on a particular date. Ananth points out that inventory for a newspaper can always be created.
– Operationalizing this partnership: The sales team for each publication will offer advertisers and agencies inventory from the other publications, in a bid to offer them a wider reach. It’s a single window clearance for the agency, and the complexity of figuring out which ad unit is available with which publication will be dealt with later. “They will speak with one person who will represent all three, and we will decide whether we want to go with a OneIndia plan or individual publications,” Ananth told MediaNama.
– Defining rates: Rates are based on demand and supply. Even now, the advertising rates have a range, and it’s not a point estimate, and that continues. Instead of three editions coming under the same company, there will be three mastheads under three different companies (being offered by the same sales executive).
– Only print: “We’re looking at only print right now. Online works differently, because we have different portals targeting different audience (India and International), the buyers are different. Some are using Ad Networks, some are not. Frankly, we haven’t even thought about it.”
– No online sales: “We’ll see where the efficiency lies. The idea of creating an open platform and auctioning is not new. It hasn’t worked in a significant way for newspapers as I understand it. If tomorrow we find that an auctioning method is going to do that, it’s fine. I don’t see that happening right now for OneIndia. It’s about placement, availability, and I may have front page available on one day, and someone might have on other. I don’t see the auction approach happening right now.”

Sans Serif points out that ‘Amul, Britannia, Fortune oil, Garnier, Godrej, ICICI, Kellogg’s, Marico, Morgan Stanley—have even pledged support as “advertising partners”‘.

Why this is interesting

1. There isn’t a legal entity because that is tricky. A legal entity could be seen as cartelization. Note that the TRAI has recently broken one level of cartelization in the cable TV business by disallowing content aggregators, even though it allowed aggregators on the distribution side to remain.

2. Publishers combining inventory isn’t new: It’s the job that ad networks are supposed to do online, where fragmentation is abound, with millions of publishers and potential advertisers. However, ad networks in India largely operate as advertising agencies, rather than blind networks.

3. Digital should have been a part of it: We’re a little disappointed that digital isn’t a part of this deal, and that it wasn’t even considered. Given the low online advertising rates in India, and the fact that a few agencies control a majority of online advertising spends, we do think that there is an opportunity in creating a premium ad network of the Federated Media kind. Most publishing houses have online businesses that aren’t profitable, so it makes sense to combine digital sales teams as well. Apart from that, typically, agencies in India offer terrible payment terms to online publishers.

As Sans Serif also points out, it’s strange to see that OneIndia, the name, has been trademarked here, even thought this isn’t a legal entity. Who owns that trademark? Also, how was it granted when OneIndia already exists as a fairly substantive online publication?