Media owners discuss Industry challenges at the e4m Conclave
Moderator and Senior journalist Prananjoy Guha Thakurta opened the discussion by pitting it against the backdrop of economic slowdown that has curtailed the industry, growth of the internet, the blurred lines of telecom and broadcasting and the idea that the ‘content is king’ but content has no quality. Jawhar Sircar , CEO Prasar Bharti went on to ask important questions by putting it out there which helped streamline the discussion into talking about how the media owners were strapped of cash and extremely competitive and so in a merger or acquisition, the big fish would survive. Moreover, the freedom of expression has been limited because we have suffered from the colossal governments and now is currently suffering from big media or colossal conglomerates.
Moving into the parlance, Ashish Bagga, CEO India Today Group said that these are challenging times and there has been a huge loss with the INR reaching 65, in print. The added insult to the injury, Bagga feels, is the government regulations. These regulations have not allowed the press to flourish as an independent platform. Regulations in the form of the digitization process as well as the advertisement cap in print and broadcast have brought up the burning question –why? Capping of freedom of expression and speech is an issue though the speaker said that the losses incurred are not substantial since revenues from digital platforms are increasing with leaps and bounds even though traditional ones are falling. A positive point that Bagga brought up was that the regional or Indian language content even though have less leverage, they provide brilliant quality which is at par with English channels and the gap is closing fast.
Farokh T. Balsara from Media and Entertainment said that according to the international trends he would agree with Sircar that the next few years would be the best for companies with big pockets. With lots of acquisitions in regional media and more focus on the urban youth, even channels with sports content would proliferate. He asserted that companies which don’t have a definite source of funding would find it difficult but by planning ahead and managing regulations, there is hope. 15-20% of the company effort should focus on managing regulations and plan on moving to regional content since foreign content will definitely become more expensive.
With regard to measurement of audience ratings, the discussion got heated especially since L.V.Krishnan of TAM Media Research was available for comment. Balsara further contended that more than audience reach-rates; audience engagement measurement with links to social media should be used instead of vanilla TRP ratings. Talking about ratings and its challenges Krishnan began by telling the audience that TRAI regulations such as digitization in 20,000 sample size homes in 6 months clearly indicate that the government is trying to control business in the free market and this is further indicative of the politics involved rather than the analytics of data. With lower interest in the audience and people taking time to adjust to the new phenomenon, there is a situation of slump. Krishnan examined the popular belief that more supply of content leads to more consumption but concluded that modern work culture, travel times and such is leading to stagnation in consumption.
Presenting such analysis of the data, Krishnan offered the solution as either blaming the measurement system or looking for other devices such as subscription rates. Thus, content has to be created that is viable for all platforms and should be measured comprehensively and see that it gets paid for. Guha Thakurta pointed out that we have to wait till the ‘sardines become great whales and the piranhas become sharks.’ Sunil Lulla of the Times Television Network fame showed a more positivist attitude where he felt that we are all on a treadmill and readying for a battle to survive. The short term panic attacks, though harmful, would make media owners evolve in the market. The problem that he listed specified how great quality content was being aired on channels at minimal costs of 50p/hour and how it is not enough to compete with all the free to air channels, content on mobiles, Youtube and such. There is requirement for gumption in the industry and the knowhow of harvesting and countering regulations. Self regulatory codes have worked for the economy at large and it is important how one lobbies and learns. He ended the discussion by saying that the media industry is a young force and instead of bashing the regulator which seems the trend, one should increase the prices of the content that one is producing and learn to earn the respect that we have lost somewhere along the road.
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