With GroupM Buy, New HuffPost India Starts Out in the Black

GroupM Says 'Checks and Balances' Will Prevent Clients From Getting Steered Into Upfront Buy

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Arianna Huffington is the founder of The Huffington Post.
Arianna Huffington is the founder of The Huffington Post. Credit: Rob Tannenbaum

The Huffington Post's new site for India -- which went live Monday -- will break even in its first year thanks to an upfront deal with media-buying conglomerate GroupM, said Jimmy Maymann, CEO of Huffington Post Media Group.

"It usually takes us two to three years to get to this point," he said. HuffPost India is the company's 13th international edition.

The Huffington Post teamed up for the English-language site with The Times of India Group, the country's largest media company, which is written in English. It plans to cover a number of topics, including politics, media, entertainment, tech, religious and lifestyle. There are currently about 10 dedicated editorial staff members, with plans to add about another five people.

The Huffington Post does not have a sales team on the ground in India, but GroupM bought enough inventory ahead of time to put the site in the black, Mr. Maymann said. He and C.V.L. Srinivas, CEO of GroupM South Asia, declined to provide details on the scope of the deal.

The Huffington Post struck a similar partnership with advertising and media-buying agency Dentsu when HuffPost Japan was introduced in 2013. Two more additions, HuffPost Arabic and HuffPost Australia, are slated to debut in the first half of 2015, according to a spokeswoman for The Huffington Post, which is owned by AOL. And it's looking to replicate these deals in those regions, she added.

When asked whether buying the inventory upfront will motivate GroupM to steer client dollars to HuffPost India instead of other sites, Mr. Srinivas said "not necessarily."

"There will be checks and balances within the system," he explained. "We will be absolutely transparent with clients. It's something that will be made with full disclosure."

"We could have easily kept this under the radar and not told anyone in the world and just done it," he added. "We'd rather go out there and tell the world that we are a strategic partner with HuffPost and tell clients that this is what is available with the strategic partnerships."

HuffPost India and GroupM plan to work together on introducing new ad formats to the Indian market, including native advertising, where the ads mimic editorial content surrounding it.

"It's still early days for digital advertising in India," Mr. Srinivas said.

Total media spending in India is roughly $7 billion, of which only about 8% of that is going to digital media, he said. And the rates digital publishers in India charge for advertising are very low. "Brands are used to buying cheap media," Mr. Srinivas said.

One goal of the HuffPost India partnership is to entice brands to invest more in digital media by creating more appealing digital ads.

The number of internet users in India is expected reach 302 million this month, according to a report from the Internet and Mobile Association of India. That will leapfrog India over the U.S. to become the nation with the second-highest number of internet users, behind only China.

"In the coming years, it will be a very exciting market," Mr. Maymann said.

Other U.S.-based media organizations have taken note and hung a shingle in India, including BuzzFeed, The Atlantic Media's Quartz, Business Insider and The Wall Street Journal.

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