In Conversation with Vignesh Vellore, Co-founder and CEO, The News Minute

Agency Reporter recently interviewed Vignesh Vellore, the CEO and Co-founder of one of the fastest growing digital news platform that does ground journalism. Vellore believes advertising is and will always be an important aspect of the digital media business model.

Agency Reporter: Media in India is currently going through a phase where the traditional conglomerate-ownership setup is being challenged. Co-creation, VC fundings, and crowdfunding are breaking through large scale. Do you think this is somewhat giving the news platforms the flexibility and freedom to practice the ethics of media without being fully dependent on advertisers?

Vignesh Vellore: Somewhat, yes. Thanks to VCs and investors interested in digital news media, we have been able to create and run platforms the way we want, with the ideals and ethical standards that we have in mind. But I don’t think that necessarily means we can be fully independent of advertising. The funding ecosystem has been able to give the very crucial, initial runway of a few years where we didn’t have immediate revenue pressures. But there is no free lunch, and we have to start being truly independent – which is to survive on our own, and advertising is a part of it.

Advertising is and will always be an important aspect of the digital media business model. Unless you are a very small, niche player, advertising has to be one of the several revenue streams that can lead one to profitability. And depending on advertisers does not mean we have to compromise on our ethics or independence. Editorial integrity can be compromised even in models surviving on subscriptions or non-profit funding. Advertisers are very mature, and if you have a sound product and a good audience, advertisers will give you business, without asking you to compromise on your independence. In fact, our independence adds to the credibility of our advertisers too, and they know it. Yes, there will be some cases where such requests are made, but I think we can work around them without succumbing to them.

AR: Post IPL completion phase, other mega-events like 2019 General Elections and World Cup are lined-up. The News Minute was started in 2014 itself but of course, the readership must have grown gigantic in numbers thereafter. Are there any big sponsor tie-ups happening?

VV: Not in a big way yet, because we have so far been dependent on programmatic and we are just starting to aggressively sell our own branded content products. Our readership has indeed grown massively – we clock 10 million unique users and 30 million page views monthly – and we are now reaching out to the big brands in the market to sell the impact of our storytelling, the novelty of our content and audience, and the uniqueness of our reach. We are a credible digital news platform which does ground journalism, unlike many other so-called ‘fun’ content sites which push out sub-standard content. So the big sponsor tie-ups are not too far off in the future.

AR: You have recently been announced one of the most widely-read digital news platforms in India. What do you think can be the reason for arriving at such a position in so less time? Also, tell us about the exclusivity of The News Minute and its editorial strength along with the marketing strategies.

VV: First, focus. We saw a gap, and we filled it. There wasn’t, and still isn’t, any English news platform which focusses entirely on South India. Being able to position ourselves as the independent voice of the south has been an important part of our success. If we are able to rub shoulders with the legacy media giants online, it is because we are offering what no one else has.

Two, we created a balance between what is a reader is interested in and what is in the interest of the reader. We write about cinema and pop culture because people are interested in it. But we also write about social issues, which may not generate pageviews, but provides people with what they need to be informed, citizens. This helped us remain credible and yet gain traction in numbers.

Three, we looked beyond journalism to create impact. We worked hard day and night to help people out during Chennai and Kerala Floods. People appreciate that, and they like us for that, and the readership has remained loyal since.

The News Minute is an exclusive brand which can drive ground impact through its journalism – and even through our brand campaigns. We are bringing the same thinking we have towards our journalistic content to marketing brands as well. We tell them – let’s do something genuine, something which we really believe in. And that works. We also feel that we will be able to market products better for the south audience as we understand the cultural sensitivities of the south.

AR: Started by tapping the down south geography of the country, you configured yourself as a national media news platform eventually and gained recognition for the urban readers. However, your content is usually for the English speaking audience. So, how do you look after reaching to the rural audience that demands a lot of attention?

VV: Rural audiences have to be reached out with content in regional languages. While we don’t have any immediate plans for that, it is definitely a possibility for the future. We are focussing on making videos in the vernacular languages to increase the reach of our regional audience.

AR: Lastly, can you brief us a bit on — Journalism 2019 and the integration of media with technology.

VV: There is nothing without technology now, it’s the same for journalism and media. We are using faster methods of communication, better ways of storytelling, more accurate ways to use data and efficient ways to market our content. Content is our specialty, but our actions have to be backed by data, and we use technology for that. The shift to consuming news has moved from traditional formats like newspapers and television and now its all about ‘on the go’ and technology plays a major role in making sure you get what you need at a time and place where you need it. With faster internet speeds we as a news organization need to piggyback on that through technology to stay ahead of the curve.