News and content aggregator Dailyhunt’s user base has doubled to 145 million people from six months ago, says president Umang Bedi. He says Dailyhunt is looking to become the largest Indic language platform with the number of local language consumers of Internet expected to grow to 600 million in the next three years from 235 million now. In an interview with Fortune India, he spoke about challenges facing news aggregators amid proliferation of fake news, and competition. Edited excerpts:
With proliferation of fake news, has the market become challenging for news aggregators? How do you separate the real from the fake?
I have worked for a social media platform [Facebook India], and social media platforms are often blamed for disseminating fake news. Unfortunately, those platforms are used to disseminate information to wider audiences; they’re not always the originators of this kind of content. This originates from two sources: malicious individuals or from very low-end local publishers. At our end, we do three things. One, we only work with high-quality, known, large publishers; we then work around professionally generated content providers, and we license that content. Second, when it’s coming from such renowned publishers, the chance of news being fake is very low. Having said that, we also have a publisher rating system, basis views and feedback on whether the content is disturbing, imagery wasn’t accurate, or we have feedback from users. We create a score, which is calibrated in real time for each publisher, and we transparently share that feedback with the publisher.
How do news aggregators find a niche for themselves? Will credibility will be the discerning factor?
Most news aggregators today are blindly aggregating links of content, and redirecting users to other publishers. Our niche is that we have licensed arrangements with legitimate content providers, all of which is in the local language. When people read a news article, we aggregate content which has disparate views on a certain subject... and give the user a very balanced view. We build credibility around three things: legitimacy of content; licensed content with native experiences; and providing a well-rounded balanced point of view, and never being biased.
Who are your competitors? Facebook, which you headed in India, and Google, both of which dominate news aggregation, or the other players as well?
We don’t consider any of the other news apps in India as competition—fundamentally because our user base is exponentially greater than theirs by over 10x; our time spent is exponentially greater than theirs by more than two-three times; and our retention rates are far, far higher. In addition, all of our content is from licensed sources, and it is a real world monetised business, which most of the other platforms are not. So we really don’t look at any news app as competition. When you are playing a big-boy business, you are competing with the big boys—Google and Facebook—in terms of time. These are great organisations that are built with very sophisticated algorithms.
There are approximately 420-430 million people consuming the Internet in India, 200-235 million are consuming the Internet in local languages; about 175 million of them are consuming the Internet in English. Over the next three years, when Internet [consumers] hits 750-800 million, local language consumers are expected to grow to 600 million, whereas English [consumers] would grow by only 1%, to 199 million. That’s why we want to be the largest Indic language platform; we think of it as a holistic competition for a customer’s time and attention.
Has cheap data made video the next frontier? What are your plans?
The Jio effect has democratised data, making us the cheapest mobile data market in the world. I tend to think of it as the basic essentials of life—roti, kapda and makaan—have been extended to mobile. There are 1.1 billion SIM cards with over 800 million mobile devices in this country, making it the single largest consumer product in the nation. And as a result of that and data becoming cheap, video has now become the new voice, because voice is free… you could argue that the mobile has democratised video and it has now become the consumption device for not only news and social, but also entertainment and video. Our bets are on video and intuitive multimedia experiences—of larger multimedia focussed cards, carousels, graphs, animations, listicles—new-age content format that Bharat likes engaging in.
Do you think news aggregators will play a key role in the 2019 general elections? What’s your plan?
During the Karnataka elections six months ago, we had over 22 million people come to the platform every day. The time spent on the platform went up from 27 minutes to 45 minutes, per person, per day across three sessions; and we had over 500 million page views a day. Our secret sauce around elections is providing real time updates from local regions, in an accurate, unbiased fashion, such that a user is always informed in real time, about what’s happening. As we get into the 2019 elections, [our focus] is to better improve on that platform, pivot around new formats of content and probably build the most immersive election experience for the future; such that we’re giving real time updates at a hyper local constituency level to everyone that matters, in a personalised fashion, in a language of their choice.