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Nic Dawes, Hindustan Times: ‘Mobile audiences are at the centre of our thinking’

As their digital transformation process gains ground, mobile becomes more of a priority at HT. Facing a rapidly growing and demanding audience means having to make priorities about where to focus.

We asked Nic Dawes five questions on how HT is going about the issue of maximising their mobile platform.

IFMS: Which audiences are you prioritising for mobile?

With our English speaking audience, we have principally focused on urban smartphone users. Within that broad demographic, for us, that means that, on the one hand, we serve the smaller segment which is slightly older, slightly upper-end market with more expensive devices with more access to data. They are very price conscious and will use desktop instead of mobile to access content at work, but will be back on mobile before and outside of the office.

On the other hand we have the larger and younger and very important audience who use lower-end devices and have more constrained use of data packages and probably won’t have access to a desktop at home or in the office.

We don’t have ‘all you can eat’ data packages here in India. People monitor very carefully which sites suck their data and people are very particular about which sites give them the most effective reading experience. That is the case both with our English and Hindi speaking markets.

IFMS: What kind of mobile content and access are you prioritizing?

For us the explosive growth in messaging is a priority. We are seeing figures like 80 plus million on Whatsapp. Facebook continues to expand, becoming the biggest user interface and we are seeing staggering growth with homegrown messaging platforms like Hike Messenger. We have seen some brilliant success in terms of reach and revenue with Facebook Instant Articles. Because we are seeing how vast amounts of audiences are coming purely from these kind of platforms, we are really prioritising these areas. And we’re not the only ones, of course. You will see other publishers trying to play much better in that space.

Currently there is ad hoc unorganised sharing and this will improve with easier sharing, better integration and we are looking very closely at how best to use bots that provide ask-and-answer services, combined with our well-known and curated content. Finally regardless of the bandwidth challenges India is facing and just because of the scale of demand, there will be more much native mobile video.

I believe we may end up operating at two ends of the spectrum – short and pithy, quick overview and then long form, more connected content, essentially being a time companion for the user. We have invested in a tool that quickly summarises content which addresses one need our mobile users have – it gives them a quick sense of whether or not it is worth them to invest more of their time and day in scrolling down their story. Asking editorial how can they put what is needed directly into the face of the audience. It’s not rocket science but it the kind of thing we are trying.

IFMS: Did you change anything in your editorial structure to facilitate mobile?

We haven’t until recently introduced a mobile editor because we didn’t want to ghettoise mobile in the newsroom. But for us that was probably wrong. Now we have someone just about to start who will be involved in product and content as well as training.

But this is not just mobile as the platform but ultimately anything that is portable. At the start he will work chiefly on mobile platform and content strategy, to ensure the staff have the tools and training they need to produce portable content. Mobile tools are very much part of our journalists’ lives already. Giving them more consistency, sharpening their skills would be great, particularly in the local city sphere.

The aim: Bringing together mobile reporting and mobile news products into news collections that are in a format which is born on a phone and therefore easier to give its full expression on the phone.

IFMS: What’s been you experience with the HT app?

We’re not very bullish on apps. We think that there is a shift back to the mobile browser happening particularly on Android, which matters very much for us.

Many Indian users are very conservative about which apps and the numbers of apps they install. De-installation rates are generally very high here. But that said, for the audience that you can get on the app they are very loyal and are very high value and they are worth doing it well for. Today our app is really a holding area for content. We haven’t optimised the user experience for their behaviour. We allowed too much web-like thinking to seep into our app, instead we should have been more radical to conceive it for a mobile audience. It’s too complicated and there are things on there that people don’t look at.

We also haven’t prioritised enough between their rhythm of very short and easily accessible content and the need for something long to read. We should have made bolder choices in line with people’s behaviour on the app. We will go far further away from a scheme that ‘presents we everything we have got on the site.

IFMS: What three pieces of advice would you give to other publishers on mobile?

Firstly try and force people in your editorial and business to only use their mobile. They should access your site only on mobile for a substantial period on a regular basis. It’s so tempting to design something on a 27-inch monitor and a simulator which is not the same as really using, living the product through the handset.

Secondly, we were not nearly bold enough in shifting our design, editorial and user experience thinking towards something much more radical.

Finally people really care about speed and pageflow. Tech, editorial and commercial have to sing together on that. Bad ad tech as well as editorial tech can really hinder the experience. That’s something to prioritise and pull together.

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