Future of Print media in India

In my personal view, this is the primary reason so many countries around the world are getting frighteningly polarized. More so in this polarized world, the challenge for the publishers will be to ensure that they give readers an accurate representation of reality—more grey than black and white.

In the next 10-12 years, I foresee three unique types of news media emerging in India. The first is similar to some of the 405 news channels in our country: players that are in the business for the clout, their ultimate motivation being in businesses like real estate, infrastructure or natural resources. The second will be highly bent news media aligned to a political outfit and with the clear agenda of forcing an ideology. Such ideology-led, openly partisan publications are today party mouthpieces but this format of content will evolve, get more subtle, be embellished and positioned as “balanced”, and go more mainstream.

The third type is the stand-alone news media businesses that are essentially neutral—as is the tradition—reporting first and opining later. Of these, I would imagine, many will be publicly traded or private equity-backed and run as business-first organizations.

Because the ultimate challenge in all this will be to maintain public trust. The future of the news business will be one of credibility rather than of news.

There will be plenty of editorial introspection among the players who have been in the business for ages, and it makes me confident that readers will distinguish between news brands like they distinguish between a gourmet store and a fast-food joint. With 1.2 billion potential readers to reach, the Indian news media can never be a homogeneous bunch. Readers will have to make their choices not only with the brands they want to consume but also the stories they should relish.

Unlike the dramatic decline of the media in the west brought about by smartphones and the internet, the situation in India could not be more different. Freddie Dawson notes that a recent study from the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce & Industry suggests the value of the Indian newspaper industry has in fact grown by two-thirds in the past six years, and, according to KPMG, is predicted to fluctuate comfortably between 12 and 14 percent for the next several years.

According to Freddie Dawson, growth in the Indian newspaper industry is primarily driven by the country’s rapidly expanding middle class, and comparatively low internet penetration across the country.

However, while Dawson relates the strength of the industry to the expanding “middle class,” it is actually the “second India” to which he refers. Literacy rates and the national GDP per capita are rising, but this group is nowhere near as educated or affluent as their western peers who are considered “middle class.” It is this group’s level of social and economic progression more than anything that keeps alive India’s 82,000 registered newspapers with a total daily circulation of 110 million.

Literacy rates have increased in India — currently sitting at around 75 percent — and more attention is being given to government-funded literacy programs for those under age 25. As young people become literate, one of the first things they do is start reading in their own regional languages.

“First India” has taken to digital media in a big way, and consumes their news on apps and digital sites across a range of devices and platforms. However, “second India” still consumes media in a traditional manner, predominantly through printed press. Reading newspapers and a strong protective culture for free press dates back more than 160 years to when India was under British colonial rule. India is home to the Times of India, one of the oldest newspapers in the world, and the world’s largest circulated newspaper, but it is not English-language newspapers that are pushing print press growth, but non-English vernacular papers.

This leaves India in a unique situation, in which TV, digital and newspaper  are all developing at the same time, unlike in the rest of the world where digital has blown everything else out of the water.

There are three kinds of companies in the Indian media sector:

Traditional old-school vernacular publications that cater to regional and mofussil markets. These newspapers are not focusing on digital and are in no rush to change because of their extensive readerships and continued high circulation month on month.

There are 20-25 larger companies spread across country — the Times of India, the Indian Express and Hindu to name a few — that are led by western-educated, English-speaking directors. These publications have witnessed the same media downturn as the rest of the world, and have their sights set on re-configuring for the impending change — but they still have huge readerships and profitable business models.

There is the new school of media startups, with no legacy, but that is much more technologically agile, and aims to create a new totally digital media.

Unlike in the west, where the digital explosion put even the biggest, best-funded legacy publications on the back foot, the three different media groups in India are developing side by side, passing each other like ships in the night.

Each group has benefits and disadvantages. New start-up players are working with the newest technology out there, they are well-funded, appeal to “first India” and are not held back by old mindsets. However, they lack a footprint, and are struggling to grow their audiences.

To date, media transformation is being slowed down by the fact that India still has one of the world’s lowest levels of internet saturation.

On the flip side, traditional and regional newspapers have massive and engaged audiences and a steady income from sales and advertising, but are held back from modernizing by legacy technology and outdated mindsets. Traditional newspapers earn most from print media advertising, and have a readership used to reading physical newspapers. While they might recognize the need for change — based on what has happened to the media in the west — a newspaper is only as good as its readers, and, as they say, it is difficult to turn around a supertanker.

However, unlike in the west, where media publications were forced to advance rapidly and try new things to reach audiences on a range of devices and mediums, Indian media companies seem to have the luxury of time on their side.

This struggle is likely to continue for the next five to 10 years, until new digital players have gained a larger audience, and until the expanding “middle class” in India truly adopts smartphones and digital technology. In the same way as young people pick up papers in their own languages now, as smartphones become cheaper and more accessible, they will pick them up too.

Unlike in the western world, where most users accessed the internet via computer before technology advanced to the stage of mobile devices, in India we are witnessing a technology “leapfrog” in which the majority of “second India” has skipped laptops and computers and are accessing the internet for the first time via mobile devices. Recent studies predict there will be 249 million mobile internet users by the end of 2016, and expect growth at more than 50 million people per year until 2020.

As “second India” becomes more digital, they will inevitably begin to pay more attention to digital media, and over time the media downturn will take hold in India as it did in the rest of the world. The difference is that India has about three to 10 years to prepare for this, and can lean on positive examples and new monetization models from the U.S. and the west to navigate the period of change. A new digital landscape means increased competition, but with more than one billion potential consumers, the benefits and gains to publications who plan to make the transition should be worth the effort.


The Talent crunch in PR

The evolution of PR as a business in India started in 1980’s however it evolved as a business model in 1990 when globalization arrived in India in all spheres of every industry. Till such time many advertising agencies had their own extended arm which would handle the PR services of their existing portfolios. With the scope of work expanding and mandates growing bigger depending on size of the client India saw birth of many PR agencies and a select International PR agencies too started setting up shop in India some directly and few in association with Indian counterparts.

This was also a period when India saw rise of print media and the employee traffic was very high especially in the marketing wings of various companies. 90’s also saw a rise in TV media in India and there was plenty of movement from print to TV media both in terms of editorial shifts and also marketing talent. Few marketers grew bigger and bigger and the less glamour driven one’s moved to PR agencies. While a many of them also moved to corporate world in their MARCOM wings. Incidentally those with editorial backgrounds (largely) were not great administrators and ended up being advisors or network support to teams. However those with marketing backgrounds since had administrative exposure succeeded in leading agency business and started spreading their wings on a pan India model.

With agencies expanding at quick pace and many clients also looking at agencies seriously urban centers like Mumbai, Delhi, Bengaluru, Hyderabad, Chennai, Kolkata started hunting for talent who could be a right fit to the PR agency business model. This is where the talent crunch was felt and many a time Mumbai and Delhi use to send their key person to handle operations in other centers. This was not economically viable but to retain the client’s agencies had to gamble. 

Today we hear that PR industry in India is closing in on Rs 30, 000 crore industry and steadily growing at over 20% annually. However as an industry we are running short of good talent at entry level. Most communication graduates get swayed by glamour, and also fall short of delivery when it comes to meeting expectations of the clients. Their reading habits are always in question; in a gadget driven world newspapers do not motivate them. Even on a working platform there are too many disruptions there is social media, there is mobile phone which deviates their attention. But they fail to understand that it is traditional media which helps build a brand.

The new age youngsters do not network which is a great disadvantage in pushing the coverage of clients in media. There are systems and process in media house too now that must be understood to ensure that the objective of the coverage is achieved. Every PR professional must know that “media needs them as much as PR professionals need media”. In traffic chaotic city where travel is not easy and with many media options available every journo looks out for standout stories and it is the art of networking which ensures that the story gets space and audience and finally a story too. The best part is that many tech led companies/brands while being tech savvy always value the traditional print coverage as they know that these “media brands” do matter in their brand building process. Many clients whom we work with are very clear on the expectations from print media for any initiative and online coverage takes a back seat. 

Regional media is another opportunity which hasn’t been used by many PR agencies to their advantage. This largely occurred because of India’s growing literacy rates in the past decade and it is the regional media which gained the most due to many factors like ease of reading, availability and cost.  India’s media is a feisty many-headed beast that is growing at a rapid clip. In print, vernacular media is primed for expansion, while a mind-boggling array of TV channels compete to shout the loudest.

As PR firms scramble for competent people salaries gets inflated and with low fee the profitability gets affected. The demand supply gap can only widen the over next few years as salary becomes prohibitive PR business will suffer. With huge number of youngsters entering the job market the problem will only amplify. Even many PR agencies do very little in formal training of newcomers. Hence in an environment of low fee and fierce competition PR agencies struggle to attract, nurture and retain talent. This also affects the quality of output to clients and unless productivity rises the retainer fee is not likely to go up. Over 70% of PR professionals at entry levels shift to greener pastures largely to corporate or industries due to better pay packages which an agency cannot afford to pay.

Hiring is one issue retaining the talent with training is another. There is no formal training and most learning’s are on the job with skills sets needing change with every new media intervention this too has become a challenge for many agencies and client requirements.

Hence the talent crunch needs to be checked with frequent interventions from the agency promoters and lead managers. They need to be taken through the systems and process of PR on a regular basis and keep them aware on the happenings to keep their agency experience alive.

Traditional Media

Time for TV news media to reformat

With the advent of media options in the last 15 years in India TV media has evolved considerably. My mention is about TV news which is in utter chaos. With technology integration and up-gradation the TV media became an easy business entry option, hence we saw many of them making foray into the same. However sustained efforts have not been made to stay afloat and we see that the trend is set by an English channel, which is followed by all regional channels without getting into the pros and cons of the same. The audience has been taken for granted and there has been no effort by news channels to provide news per say.

 There are many aspects of giving news but today anyone with a video camera and smartphone can be a TV journo and there are channels waiting to grab them with open hands. The large unemployment in rural India has prompted many TV news channels to appoint so called “stringers” in small towns who work as feeder network to mainline channels. They are connected to the nearest regional office who if time permits edit and air and if the news is “hot” they air it as it is with minimum chopping.

However if we notice news channels have become noisy and merely a platform for debates and discussions which ends up nowhere. In the process and there are nominated spokespersons from politics, business, healthcare, real estate, crime and many retired officers of center and state Govt and few Supreme court retired judges and many senior lawyers too. These so called celebrity speakers become brands within the network and are always available for TV channels. The best part is that India has large regional viewership while most of the regional news channels are trying to copy the English format of noisy debates rather than focusing on the news aspect.

It was anticipated that with the advent of social media and multiple TV News channels the traditional print media will show signs of decline but I will say that it will take some more time for traditional print media to write off so easily. With growing literacy in India the readership of print media has gone up considerably more so the regional media has grown across all linguistic locations. While English media has grown largely in urban markets it is yet to make inroads into the semi-urban and rural markets.

While the bandwidth of internet has improved in most part of the country but we are still far away from going full throttle which doesn’t allow readers to read online editions of traditional media. This implies that traditional print media will exist for another 5-7 years till such time that India attains bandwidth and also technology savviness gets into the DNA of large part of Indians.

To summarize I must say the unprofessional and disorganized TV media (news) is making the traditional print media far more relevant in today’s context and they need to make amends in their format, structure, presentation before the viewers blacken them for not serving their news interests.


Social media impact on politics

The traditional methods of campaigning are still ubiquitous in India with prospective political candidates going door-to-door distributing freebies, promising the well-being of people, extending courtesies, and portraying themselves as models of transformation and evolution. The reason that these door-to-door and traditional campaigns have prevailed till now is the belief associated with personal contact and communication. However, the current wave of political engagement also has roots in the wider political climate. 2016 was a year of momentous events. Outrage and joy were simultaneously voiced through social media. 

The sheer volume of such a social media outpouring was too much to ignore, and hence brought the once-apathetic to express their opinions. The shock of politics in 2016 has successfully borne new interest and engagement in young people. The problem, however, is that this engagement remains, for the most part, in the glowing corners of social media. Tweets and statuses do not actually count towards polls. 49% of people have witnessed a political conversation actually turn into an argument between friends and they end up getting into virtual brawl and finally unfriending each other. So clearly, if we’re not careful, this charged political climate can lead to some serious problems among friends and groups.

It helps that politics is the most talked about topic on social media. That BJP’s Facebook account has over 10 million followers, Congress’s over four million and AAP’s nearly three million is proof. Hashtag wars between political parties set the trend on Twitter almost every day. WhatsApp, too, is flooded with political memes. However, political brands, despite the investments they make, have not been able to harness the power of social media to a great extent. 

The average voter of today has terrific amounts of information available through smartphone, television and radio. The flood of information is changing the way in which voters think and make decisions. Politicians and political parties are directly facing the effects of this changing thought process through unexpected election results, shift in governance priorities and/or rise of collective movements. Recent years have seen a particularly strong increase in such voter responses and parties should study these closely.

Most political parties that are seeing the change in voting patterns, as well as the push for shifting policies and increased movements and protests, are changing their campaign and governance styles quickly. They foresee that the voter is changing and that the media is exposing them to the world beyond their households. However those who are continuing on the same path of playing caste politics and disregarding the changing world around them are inviting failure. Social media is surely changing the perception of voter very frequently hence no decision is static.


Social media impact on brands

With every opportunity there comes a challenge too. New age media or social media as it is termed is both an opportunity and challenge for brand managers and PR professionals. But social media is highly reactive, most of them vent their frustration towards a brand in state of anger by using hash tags thereby posing a threat to the brand. Now to manage this threat most brands have page managers who try to nullify the act by setting the record straight. First and foremost while doing this act one must ensure that the main agenda must be to engage the individual and avoid amplifying the issue. Like in any other crisis situation if the engagement is on a continual basis and addressed as per his/her needs the situation stays under control.

Many of us must have come across posts on social media wherein the disturbed user would have tagged the brand and used acronyms like “sucks”, “bad service”, “pathetic” and the likes. This largely happens when he is really disturbed and to add to it the customer care IVRS takes him long time to actually connect to the representative. Even then he doesn’t find a solution because the issue is not addressed. However here the brands must do adequate research on finding what the possible issues which may crop are and also indicative solutions.

With smartphones in every hand in today’s life all brands must be aware that social media will always remain a challenge for them. It is given to understand that people will only make noise when something goes wrong, good initiatives are not applauded in open. How many of us give a feedback when an issue is promptly addressed despite the brands giving the toll free numbers. I will give an instance here, I went to Domino’s counter on a weekend and placed an order but the man behind the counter said that the card machine is non operational. Now we had to go out draw cash and then place the order. In the meantime I was fast enough to tweet tagging Domino’s. By the time I reached home I had received a call from their call center apologizing and I was engaged on continual basis. They also sent me a discount coupon 30% for my next purchase. I thanked them tweeting them back with tag. Moral of the story is that brands must engage with the estranged party and avoid spillover. But we all know it costs to engage but the investment is worth it. One can’t be doing damage control on every crisis, we must create word of mouth brand ambassadors by an act of responsibility and concern. Finally a tip to the brand user, knee jerk reaction to any brand will not go well every-time. There are SOP’s in place just follow it and responsible brands do act in their own interest. One bad experience cannot be a reason for judging the brand wrong, give them chance they will overgrow your expectations.