Verizon Media offers an integrated digital media platform to prepare, deliver, display and monetize online content. The platform powers websites, apps, and OTT video services for many of the world’s largest publishers, media companies, and enterprises. Nikhil Rungta, Country Manager – India, Verizon Media, is responsible for Verizon Media’s business in India. His key role is to drive the company’s leading consumer brands, advertising products, and partnerships in the country.
In conversation with Medianews4u, Nikhil Rungta spoke about the relevance of Yahoo among Indian consumers, digital marketing opportunities post-pandemic, strategies and hopes for 2021, and more.
Speaking on how Yahoo is being kept relevant for Indian consumers today, Nikhil said, “Through Yahoo, we are committed to connecting people to their passions. We have reinvigorated our core strengths and are showing users here the role we play in their lives today — whether it’s through products like Yahoo Cricket, Yahoo Mail, or Yahoo Finance. This is already resulting in higher engagement and audience growth — we saw significant/triple-digit user growth in 2020 on Yahoo Cricket, driven by an upgraded experience and new fan-favorite game elements that have led to deeper engagement. Android users in India have given a high 4.42 rating to the Yahoo Cricket app, putting it ahead of leading competitor Cricket apps in the country.”
In the last year, they have amplified Yahoo Cricket’s reach, taking it to a much wider audience. During the premier league cricketing season in 2020, they partnered with PhonePe to exclusively power the content for PhonePe’s cricket hub ‘Switch Gully.’ This enabled 230 million users of PhonePe to catch all the live game action while they transacted.”
“In terms of Yahoo Mail, it remains one of the largest and most recognizable email services globally and the second-largest email service in India. One stand-out feature our Yahoo Mail users in India love and find useful is having 1 TB ‘free’ storage!” Nikhil added.
He continued, “Also, with how the world has evolved, especially post-COVID, we are rethinking experiences that are useful and timely for users here, including leveraging our global reach to deliver purposeful virtual experiences. The trust that consumers here and globally have brings them to Yahoo every single day. On our part, we are committed to delivering premium content and personalized experiences that are relevant and customized for Yahoo users.”
Elaborating on the digital marketing opportunities unfolding for the new businesses, he said, “This has been a significant shift. It wasn’t just big brands that harnessed the power of digital marketing through the pandemic. Even smaller businesses adopting a wait and watch approach earlier created an online presence — from websites to e-commerce and social media. At Verizon Media, we saw a rise in the number of advertisers and interestingly, around 25-30 percent were new advertisers who had never advertised on Verizon’s platforms. We saw new categories opening up and advertising with us digitally, including consumer product companies, online gaming firms, and even services driven companies.”
He continued, “For smaller businesses, one of the big benefits was discovering the power of reach. By moving or ramping up online, they were able to move past the ‘lockdown’ constraints of the pandemic and act on the opportunity to expand their reach, selling to consumers across India. In this increasingly omnichannel landscape, opportunities for brands will come from exploring the full potential and power of digital advertising, from being able to drive higher conversion rates to unlock the benefits of targeting
“Today, programmatic advertising makes it easier to reach audiences wherever they are, giving businesses big and small the flexibility to meet specific goals they have, on any screen, so they can effortlessly vary their media mix. In that sense, programmatic advertising is not just for formats such as native ads. Still, it can also help reap the benefits from rising post-COVID ‘streaming’ opportunities, given that there are now more channels to reach users than before — connected TV being one of them. Verizon Media’s DSP is seeing significant growth, driven by advertisers who continue to discover the possibilities with programmatic to connect the dots better in omnichannel campaigns, to drive performance, better results, and maximize outcomes,” he added.
According to Nikhil, Indian consumers were ‘Digi-rupted’, and their journey moved overwhelmingly online to digital channels during the pandemic.
“These same consumers now want their brands to be more socially responsible and transparent as they engage. Using data for good and respecting consumer privacy will be paramount to gain consumer trust. Research shows consumers aren’t averse to sharing data if brands use it ethically and understand the benefit of personalized ads if those ads offer tangible benefits. In this new landscape, with the physical world disrupted, marketing and advertising will have to be more intuitive and interactive to fill the gap between the physical and digital worlds, offering ‘utility’ with immersive experiences — that’s another learning. A Verizon Media survey conducted at the height of the pandemic found that a whopping 77% of respondents want brands to offer solutions that help in decision making, are helpful and provide utility,” he added.
Speaking on his current role as Country Manager of Verizon Media, Nikhil said, “A major highlight has been the power of the business and the assets: Verizon Media has some of the best-known media brands in the world — from Yahoo to AOL and TechCrunch. These are iconic, much-loved brands. Brand recall, which is notoriously hard to build, is 98% for Yahoo. There is a tremendous opportunity in India, given the focus on innovation and developing our products. We are already doing this with products like Yahoo Cricket and MAKERS India — a global product we brought down to India last year that is a powerful platform and community to empower working women.”
He continued, “Professionally, I have always been fascinated by how technology can be applied to make things much more efficient and useful for users. With Verizon Media being a key pillar of Verizon that is advancing the fastest 5G in the World, we have a front-row seat to how 5G technologies can be applied to benefit society and improve consumers’ lives. As a Verizon Media part, we lead 5G discussions globally in areas like advertising, marketing, media and entertainment. For me, this is a fascinating frontier. With 5G coming to India, we are looking at incredible possibilities to unlock the potential of 5G technologies through our products, both on the B2B and consumer side.”
On Expectations for 2021
This will be the year of Ad Tech. The pandemic has created even more opportunities for digital, omnichannel buying — more cord-cutting coupled with more CTV consumption continued digitalization of Out of Home assets in multiple forms (billboards, WiFi kiosks, car ads, etc.) Of course, the massive rise in e-commerce in all its forms will only heighten the urgency for more ease, efficiency, and effectiveness in this omnichannel universe. For advertisers and publishers, this will mean new and improved options to engage with their consumers and grow their businesses.
On strategies for 2021
As a company, we want to connect people to their passions by creating trusted content, connections, and transactions. By connections, we mean our communication and community platforms that bring people together — like Yahoo Mail or MAKERS India, which creates a community to empower women at the workplace. Through transactions, we are making it easier for customers not just to discover what they love but also to be able to transact on our related services or products easily.
From this, we aim to grow advertising, subscriptions, and transaction revenue. Advertising, by effectively connecting advertisers with their audiences. Through subscriptions, logged-in members can pay to access exclusive content and experiences and get access to communities that share similar passions. Finally, through transactions, we want to bridge the gap between content and commerce by helping people discover what they love and make it easier for them to buy what they wish to by incorporating transaction capabilities and services throughout our ecosystem.