It is safe to say that the pandemic and the resultant lockdown has only increased the consumer appetite for content. Stuck indoors, without much to do, digital content consumption is skyrocketing everywhere and the same holds true for India too. With the pandemic, the traffic in the ‘general news’ category started seeing a massive rise in the second half of March. Comscore revealed that the visits increased by 30% during the week of March 23-29, as compared to the week of March 16-22.
Another study by Broadcast Audience Research Council of India (BARC) and Nielsen India revealed that users spent around 40 minutes per week tracking news on their smartphones in the week of March 28 to April 3, up from 27 minutes in the pre-Covid sample period (January 13-February 2). Overall, the news franchise on smartphones has grown 34%, it further revealed. This is also a result of the print publications leveraging their digital arms to fight the losses suffered.
In light of these new trends in consumption, companies such as Ninestars are enabling publishers to capitalise on the digitisation wave. Founded in 1999, the initial days of Ninestars were focussed on providing pre-press services to publishers. Soon, it saw the potential of using technology to digitise archiving, especially for media firms that were beginning to invest in preserving previous editions of their newspapers.
“In less than two years, we were entrusted with digitising the archives of The New York Times (through ProQuest), and as they say, rest is history. Since then, we have evolved as a content tech firm and diversified into adjacent industries such as publishing, media monitoring, libraries and archives and more,” said Mohan Doshi, chief technology officer, Ninestars.
Thanks to the belief of the founders — brothers Gopal and Gokul Krishnan — that tech will bring a massive disruption in the media industry, Ninestars started investing early in various tech solutions. Doshi told Inc42, “We were pioneers in digitalisation when the publishing industry was largely manual and broke the conventional software licensing model in media monitoring. Now we are focussing on automating the content pipeline and curating it for more accurate insights and measurement at a speed and accuracy not achieved before.”
Over the last 21 years, Ninestars has worked with a diverse set of clients worldwide, helping them achieve goals such as digitising content archives to real-time data streaming and analysis. While it has a presence across the globe, the tech team of the company is mostly based out of India, it told Inc42.
The services provided by the company are divided into three categories, namely content transformation, content intelligence and content experience. While content transformation includes services such as digitisation, media monitoring, transcription and more, content intelligence services help in harvesting and managing data through a proprietary platform that is modular and open to integrate with any internal tech environment. And finally, with content experience, the company enables brands to host content on its platform, services under this include cross-platform mobile app development solutions and more.
Today, Ninestars is working with more than 250 clients from all corners of the world from both private and public sectors. It claims to support content in over 50 languages and has worked with major world languages including Spanish, German, Chinese, Arabic, and several other Asian and European languages. “Among Indian languages, we have worked with almost all regional language media content,” added the CTO.
The Role Played By Tech And Cloud For Ninestars
“We continue to support our clients’ acceleration in digital & automation in terms of infrastructure – pushing for a move to the cloud for those that haven’t already. Today, 100% of our clients in media monitoring services are on our Clips on Cloud Platform,” explained Doshi.
Clips on Cloud is the company’s flagship platform that enables business transformation with the help of on-demand infrastructure from cloud infrastructure service providers. It provides benefits such as content clipping in near real-time from anywhere for media monitoring agencies, which is cost-effective, and much faster and more accurate for publishers.
According to the founders, moving to public cloud service provider DigitalOcean two years ago has helped it achieve infrastructure optimisation of about 15-20%, which has made its systems that much more efficient for publishers and helps them maintain archives that are stored securely and with backups. “The need to meet SLAs (service level agreements) defined by our clients means that our disaster recovery (DR) and business continuity requirements are very high. DR is cost-intensive when we own the infrastructure,” said Doshi.
Additionally, pricing was amongst the key factors that led Ninestars to choose DigitalOcean, added Doshi, saying, “The finance teams compared the TCO (total cost of ownership) against costs of services availed and they urged the move of infrastructure from in-house to cloud. With the right pricing from DigitalOcean, we have moved a significant portion of infrastructure to the cloud.”
He further said, “Our client requirements have us working with multiple providers. However, we recommend them to avail DigitalOcean as the pricing is aggressive and service is excellent.”
Not only is the company associated with FIBEP (global association for media intelligence) and AMEC (American Multimedia Entertainment Checkout), but it also counts six of the top 10 newspapers in India among its clients such as Times Of India, The Hindu and more. In media monitoring, it said that it is a critical part of the delivery for 26 agencies.
While in conversation with Inc42, Doshi delved deeper into the operations of the business, its use of cloud services and more.
Edited Excerpts . . .
Inc42: It has been 21 years since you set up Ninestars — what has changed from the point of view of content consumption in India? How have you adapted to the new realities and challenges?
Mohan Doshi: Social media has caught the eye of everyone and content creation platforms are extremely popular. Especially the regional and uber-local content online has grown multifold. All these developments have a bearing on the content lifecycle and how the tech has made content fluid and intelligent. From a challenge perspective, we are witness to the huge shift in the mindset that has happened in terms of offshoring work.
A recent pivotal moment for us came about with the launch of PRANA where we introduced near-real time processing of media content (omni-channel, language-agnostic) at scale. This potentially changes the pace at which brand reputation management is done today.
Inc42: How has the pandemic benefitted or affected your business? Could you shed some light on the impact it had on your market and operations?
Mohan Doshi: Globally, organisations across verticals are accelerating digital transformation initiatives. Content, which is our core, has seen an unprecedented upswing in consumption and at the same time further fragmentation of sources. For instance, it is more important now than before to grow our ability to analyse and merge data from wider datasets: online channels, stores, social media, news, sales data, and so on. We also understand the impact is still fresh and keep our strategies flexible so that we can respond to future demands of a market influx. We know of the disruption in content supply chains worldwide and believe our platforms like PRANA can play a crucial role in addressing the gap.
Inc42: What are some of the most used services by startups and corporations from Ninestars?
Mohan Doshi: We are seeing an increasing demand in digitalisation but a couple of services that have remained popular are historical newspaper digitisation — we have digitised over 3,500 newspaper archives, a cumulative billion pages and counting — and media clippings, where we work with media monitoring 36 agencies.
Inc42: What are the benefits of cloud computing for startups in particular? How has it simplified your operations and work?
Mohan Doshi: Using the cloud, R&D and innovation become highly accelerated to experiment ideas and concepts. DevOps especially with cloud deployments have simplified our configuration and change management processes. Managing varying volumes is also easy as the cost efficiencies are brought in by using computing when required.
Inc42: Cloud technology is revolutionising things across operations for companies. Tell us how DigitalOcean is helping you on that front?
Mohan Doshi: Being in the content industry, timeliness is very critical for operations. Our service-level agreements are stringent when it comes to processing and delivering content. Also, the new age solutions which consume content as inputs, now require content to be delivered within seconds (or milliseconds) of being published into their systems for further analysis. We have developed PRANA on a cloud-native architecture. Our choices were either to build the whole infrastructure in our data centres or avail what was provided by top cloud providers. We selected DigitalOcean, based on the choice of computing available and pricing. We have been running the platform successfully without any issues for the past 24 months.
Inc42: What are some of the products and solutions by DigitalOcean that you use and how has that impacted the growth of Ninestars?
Mohan Doshi: Our big data analytics offering (‘PRANA’) leverages the computing and storage services of DigitalOcean. We have transitioned a significant portion of our AI and ML-driven solutions onto the platform. We perform large content indexing operations for our clients and use DigitalOcean services to manage the archives and API services around the offering.
Inc42: What are some of the major challenges for you in the current situation? How are you countering these challenges to ensure growth?
Mohan Doshi: In the initial days of the pandemic, the switch to 100% remote working without interrupting delivery was a challenge. However, with our cloud-based infrastructure and highly automated workflows, we were able to reach near-normal quite quickly. Constant communication with the team and customers helped in this process. Now, the challenge is managing the fluctuation in the volume of content from clients as well as planning for the disruption in the supply chain across industries.
Inc42: Are there any plans of expansion with respect to new geographies, products or services amidst these times?
Mohan Doshi: We are continuing on our product roadmap now adapting to the changed context where digital transformation is a top priority. As a digital content company, we are in the right place to help accelerate the digital vision of these organisations. We will continue to invest in innovation where our clients benefit the most. We will also explore opportunities through partnerships and collaborations.
Inc42: Where do you see the next big innovation in your domain coming from?
Mohan Doshi: Media intelligence is changing several industries – not just newsrooms but also public relations, marketing, media monitoring and reputation agencies, to name a few. We are just beginning to see how we measure the impact and influence of content in a dynamic, social, and deeply connected ecosystem.