Last year was an eventful one for all of us at Roar, full of incredible highs and difficult lows.
We’d been working round the clock to cover events that shook the region and the lives that were forever changed by them. In the midst of all that, Roar turned five, giving us a chance to reflect collectively upon a brief but remarkable journey and wonder about things to come.
With ambitious goals on the horizon, we rebranded ourselves to Roar Global, and continued to scale up our operations internationally. Our presence, particularly in Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, has grown exponentially, making us a prolific new media company in both countries.
Indeed, it has been a memorable year full of growth, learning, great stories, innovation, and profound emotions, and it’s certainly worth talking about. In this piece, we look at some of the work we’d done, some of our progress and challenges, as well as a couple of new initiatives: Project Roar and Roar Academy. So without further ado, here are Roar Global’s main highlights from 2019. For a more brief overview of how 2019 went for us, click the video below.
Roar Global’s arm for in-depth storytelling, Roar Media has always been keen to make its content available for a wider, more diverse audience, and 2019 was no different. So as we celebrated Thai Pongal last year, we relaunched Roar Tamil with a brand new team of passionate and skilled content creators, thereby making our content accessible in all three main Sri Lankan languages. Through the course of the year, their work accounted for 500,000 article reads and over 6 million video views.
47.1% of Roar Tamil’s audience came from India while 43.8 % were from Sri Lanka. The rest, from a range of other countries that included Canada, Malaysia, Singapore, Qatar, the United Kingdom, the UAE, and the USA.
Ticking the local language boxes in Sri Lanka, however, was just the beginning. Last year, Roar Bangla, our first creative step outside Sri Lanka, had grown to become our biggest media platform by a long way; which we dare say is impressive, given that we only entered Bangladesh in September 2016. At the turn of 2020, Roar Bangla accounted for a total of 29 million article reads and 83 million video views.
Among their most compelling stories for the previous year were ‘Gaher Ali's Palm Plantation: A Pauper's Empire’, ‘Chase Your Dream: Tea Seller Travels the World’, ‘Thoughts of Conflict: Are We Hearing Disruption?’, ‘Recycling Symbols on Plastic Bottles: What do They Mean?’
In Sri Lanka, Roar Media’s English editorial content fared well, too. By the end of 2019, it had amassed 1 million article reads and almost 10 million video views. Some of their most interesting pieces for the year included ‘MGR of Pettah’, ‘Deliciously Sweet: The Bombay Sweet House of Colombo’, ‘From Field To Pitch’, ‘Out Of This World: Sri Lanka's Significant Discovery Of Exoplanets’, and ‘What Is Ashara Mubaraka?’
Roar Sinhala, which is currently our most popular Sri Lanka-based platform, achieved year-end statistics of over 6 million article reads and close to 13 million video views. Out of the hundreds of pieces that are published annually on this platform, it’s hard to pick a favorite. But we managed to pick a few, which included ‘The mystery of the hitherto unresolved ‘box boy’’, ‘The Mystery of the Orang Medan Ship between Fiction and Truth’, and ‘The Leikov family, who lived in the middle of the Siberian wilderness for 42 years’.
However, the most memorable events of 2019 for our editorial teams were not just about numbers. They were also about impact.
Last year, the English editorial team ran an article titled, ‘Colombo 'Fight Nights': Mixed Martial Art Combat And Its Struggle For Recognition In Sri Lanka’ which covers an ongoing campaign to establish mixed martial arts at a national level, in the face of some tall obstacles - a lesser known story that our editorial team sought to shed some much needed light on. As a result of being published, the article helped revive public interest in mixed martial arts, draw in bigger crowds to ‘Fight Night’, and create sponsorship opportunities for local mixed martial artists.
In the hours following the horrific events of Easter Sunday in Sri Lanka, Roar Media swiftly put together an accurate timeline of events and became a credible source of information and live updates in the immediate aftermath in an effort to counter an avalanche of fake news.
The repercussions and stories of that Easter Sunday, however, continued for months after. So, for the rest of the year, Roar Media continued to write about them, to ensure that the people most affected were not forgotten.
Another major highlight in Roar Media’s 2019 calendar was covering the election of a new Executive President - an event both politically sensitive and in much need of unbiased, fact-based coverage. The Media team executed its 2019 election news campaign with precision and prowess.
In the days leading up to the elections, Roar Media profiled all of the candidates who contested, listing their education, political experience, signature political focus, and one key factoid in easy-to-comprehend graphics. As the election was underway, Roar Media worked round the clock to provide live updates in all three languages on our social media platforms. The election coverage even got its own separate tab on our website.
By the end of their election news campaign, the editorial teams had reached over 2 million people. If you want to learn more about our election coverage, you can read about it here.
However, 2019 highlights for our editorial teams weren’t limited to content produced in house. Last year, we also launched our own contributor platform, opening Roar Media to members of the public to publish their own stories in collaboration with our in-house editorial teams. The new platform has since gained good traction, attracting an average of 100 submissions per month.
Moving onto Roar Media’s tech department, 2019 was the year we revamped and published our new and improved mobile app for a better, more seamless user experience. The app, which had been functioning as a native app, was upgraded to a progressive web app, allowing it to be updated automatically with our website, keeping you updated about our platform on your phone as you would be on your desktop or laptop.
As a whole, 2019 was a year that Roar Media got to focus more on telling great stories, trying new things, and further cementing its status as a credible source of information and analysis.
For Roar Studios —the brand focused digital content arm of Roar Global, 2019 was a year of growth, learning, experimentation, and productivity. It was also a year of constant change to keep up with an ever-growing number of projects and clientele.
There was a lot happening on the creative front. Not only were the creative teams producing more sponsored videos and articles (which is their usual bread and butter), they were also exploring new concepts, visual styles, and content series for those pieces. In addition, they also took on new projects such as Learning Management Systems for companies to train tens of thousands of employees, 3D captures of large factories, and custom built content platforms, to name a few. The coming months may give you an idea of what they’ve been up to.
Roar Studios also worked on a number of memorable projects with nonprofit organisations, including the UNDP, Women In Need, Women & Media Collective, Asia Foundation, Halo Trust, and more; a few highlights of which include articles like ‘How The Sri Lankan Legal System Can Help Victims Of Abuse’, ‘Developing Your Child's Brain From Day One’, and a trilingual mini-documentary on ‘Clearing The Last Of Sri Lanka’s Minefields’.
Our client base expanded immensely. As the year progressed, Roar Studios took on projects for new clients in Bangladesh, Indonesia, Singapore, Australia, and the United Kingdom. To accommodate the subsequent surge of new projects, Roar Studios spent a lot of 2019 expanding and reorganising its resources, both technological and human. A lot of furniture was shifted and work systems updated, the video teams got a whole new plethora of equipment and with it, new possibilities, and the creative/content strategising teams expanded their numbers to cope with a bigger workload.
By the end of 2019, the Roar Studios team of 10 writers, producers, and content strategists had grown to over 30. Together, they worked on hundreds of projects (including over 500 videos) for 155 clients while maintaining a rate of 200 jobs per month. All in all, a healthy 70% increase in productivity from the previous year.
Giving back to the community is a major component of the Roar ethos. So last year, we launched Project Roar, an initiative through which we would contribute to causes we deeply care about. Through Project Roar, we mix action with awareness; using content (which is what we do best) to create awareness on a wider scale, while also going out there and doing something about it ourselves.
One project under the new initiative was the Wellawatte beach cleanup, conducted with support from the local authorities. Much of the office showed up early on March 23rd and worked relentlessly all morning. As we wrapped up and beheld the two dozen trash bags that we’d filled, a collective conflict of emotions resonated among us all. While we felt good about putting in a solid effort to clean the beach, we came to the sobering realization that there was still much more to be done and we couldn’t do it alone. So, we worked to raise awareness about it on our website and social media platforms to encourage more people to be aware of the garbage we leave on our beaches.
On June 15th, the Roar Sinhala team organised a blood donation campaign as part of the national relief effort for the Easter Sunday attacks. The event was a heartwarming success, with over 30 outsiders and Roar team members donating over 15 litres of blood to aid the victims.
At Roar, we’re not just about KPIs. We are equally intent on breaking new ground and being at the cutting edge of what is possible for an online media company. But having constantly pushed our creative and technological limits, we inevitably arrived at a point where the skills needed to go further became somewhat of a novelty. That’s not to say, however, that we couldn’t cultivate them internally.
So last year, we introduced Roar Academy, a programme that would teach everyone at Roar the skills they need to get better in their respective fields as well as learn things that aren’t necessarily career-oriented but are interesting to learn about anyway.
Workshops were conducted on a weekly basis by experts in fields like photography, presentation skills, typography, documentary filmmaking, and writing.
When it came to documentary filmmaking and writing, we opted to follow a series of online masterclasses. As such, we made sure that the instructors for those classes had the hallmarks of a true genius—a long and illustrious career in the field and a bad haircut. So, Malcolm Gladwell and Ken Burns.
The feedback for Roar Academy has been so good that we plan to open it up in 2020 so that the public too can benefit from the expertise we share.
At the start of 2019, we were already a sizable media team. But after 365 days of continued growth, innovation, compelling stories, and a brand new identity, we had grown even bigger with over a hundred strong across two countries.
It had been a year of trials and triumphs, of turbulence and grace. But we as a team have made it through, and made it strong. As we journey through a new year and a new decade, we look forward to roaring even louder, bringing you better content and better stories from South Asia's pioneering new age media company.