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Are Horizontal Portals Losing Out To Verticals In India? Not Yet…

There’s something amiss in this article in the Mint: it creates the incorrect impression that all Internet conglomerates like Info Edge, Times Business Solutions (TBSL), Consim Info and Web18 are drawing advertising away from horizontals like Indiatimes and Rediff. The article infers that this might be to blame for Rediff’s “declining growth in revenues” – down from just 8 percent up in FY08, compared to 90 percent up in FY07).

The fact is that for sites in the Info Edge, Consim Info and TBSL portfolio, advertising remains a fairly small percentage of revenues: for Info Edge, two quarters ago, it was less than 5 percent of overall revenues. Even assuming that it is now 6 percent of total revenues for the Q4 2008, that’s a maximum of Rs. 4.14 crores. Compare this to Rediff’s online advertising revenues (pdf)of around Rs. 22 crores in the quarter. Frankly, a 42 percent increase in Info Edge’s ad revenues, or a 200 percent increase in Consim Info’s ad revenues doesn’t mean much if the base is low.

For classifieds businesses, there’s better ROI in advertising some of their own services to increase usage. For example, a TimesJobs is more likely to prefer advertising a special package of jobs in, say, Hewlett Packard, as a relationship building exercise with a client, because the returns are greater in the long term, instead of putting up an advert for Sunsilk or BigAdda. Classifieds businesses mostly use Adsense. Horizontals have an ad-sales team, and also use adsense for extra inventory; ergo classifieds and horizontals aren’t a like-for-like comparison.

The bigger competition is from other content-based Internet conglomerates like Web18, though their collection of sites can well be likened to a horizontal. Then there are other horizontal portals like Yahoo, AOL and MSN. Bear in mind that these sites have a significant online marketing budget, and are able to draw in traffic using search marketing. Then they sell advertising based on these numbers, and make the margin. Since Yahoo India’s revenues have grown 100 percent y-o-y for the last five years, there clearly isn’t a case for verticals taking away advertising from horizontals.

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P.s.: The story also quotes Comscore numbers, which I have debunked here. Talk to any of the Internet co’s and they’ll tell you that Comscore numbers are not in line with their internal stats. Also, the term Internet Conglomerates was coined by Outlook Business.

Disclosure: I own an inconsequential number of shares in Info Edge and Network18

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