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Dec. 4, 2017, 1:23 p.m.
Business Models
LINK:  ➚   |   Posted by: Christine Schmidt   |   December 4, 2017

On the heels of the AOL-Verizon-Oath amalgamation, HuffPost will soon end its partnership with India’s largest media conglomerate and forge its own path with an independent HuffPost India edition. It’s one of many U.S.-based news organizations trying to seize the still-rising Indian media market, but now HuffPost is attempting to break out of the herd.

“This was a place where we felt like we wanted to invest and to go in a different direction. We very much plan to remain in India as a publisher and continue to do journalism here. We plan to expand our team here,” HuffPost editor-in-chief Lydia Polgreen emphasized to Livemint, the website of Indian business publication Mint. She also noted that more than 50 percent of HuffPost’s audience is outside of the United States.

HuffPost had partnered with India’s Times Group, the publisher of the highest-circulation English-language newspaper in the world, three years ago. (Polgreen, who took the helm at HuffPost almost exactly a year ago, spent several years in India as a New York Times correspondent.) Vice also established a joint venture with the Times Group when it expanded last year into the “hugely attractive but notoriously difficult market”, as Hasit Shah noted. In that post, Shah, a former BBC News specialist for Southeast Asia and 2014 Nieman-Berkman fellow, explained the tweaks necessary — and the scale opportunity — for international media expanding to India:

Half of India’s population — 600 million people — is under the age of 25 and as access to the internet improves, the overall audience will grow. A huge number of people — again, we’re talking hundreds of millions — are now connecting to the Internet on increasingly affordable smartphones, and they are demanding content that represents their lives….

But setting up shop there is far from straightforward. The government is gradually opening the country up to foreign investment in a number of key industries but media is not yet one of them. It is not possible for foreign media companies to operate subsidiaries in India, if the headquarters remain outside the country.

There are two ways around this. One is to set up a separate company, registered and firmly based in India, through which the tasks of hiring, firing, and distribution are controlled locally (even if major decisions are, in practice, taken in New York or London). The BBC, BuzzFeed, The New York Times, and others have gone down this route. It allows for a significant degree of autonomy, which is valuable in different ways to each company, but it’s more difficult to build a brand, hire staff, and develop distribution networks in such a fiercely competitive market.

The other, increasingly popular way is to enter into a partnership with an established Indian media house, removing the hassle of setting up and maintaining an entirely new company.

India offers a massive potential audience for mobile-friendly publishers such as HuffPost, BuzzFeed, Quartz, and Vice: Indian smartphone users’ monthly data consumption is on track to nearly quintuple by 2023, and the country’s media and entertainment industry is expected to add between 140,000 and 160,000 jobs each year for the next five years, according to reports by Swedish telecom manufacturer Ericsson and the Boston Consulting Group, respectively.

While doubling down on its U.S. coverage after the presidential election, HuffPost is refocusing its commitments both abroad and at home. Polgreen told LiveMint: “Globally, I see HuffPost as serving a really broad audience of people who see the growing inequality in the world and are unhappy about it and who feel they are left out of the political and economic power arrangements.”

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