Musings and notes on the media industry, and related matters of interest including technology, digital publishing and evolution of the Internet and new media. With particular reference to India.
This blog is not a lofty idealist perch. It believes in the business of the media.
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Here is a piece from Chris Cramer, a BBC and CNN veteran and current Reuters Global Editor, Multimedia, on what social media and "citizen journalism" means to the media. The bottomline: credibility and integrity matter, and profits follow. I agree with a lot of what he says, having worked at Reuters-- with its commitment for some basic principles. But there is a chaotic universe out there and we need more innovations -in products, services and business models.
I have been writing for years now about how online video, Internet streaming and mobile devices will cloud the media, but here is final proof on how confused and confusing the advertising industry and its feeder, market research, have become. I don't even need to understand the details. The simple fact is that confusion spells clarity. Here is how. For close to a century, we have been led by the thumb rules of the mass media
Channel leadership based on high capital costs
Television rating points (TRPs) based on prime-time
Hype based on a little bit of data and a lot of "relationships"
Brands based on broad recall
That era is over, with the Internet and online videos and iPods and all the elements of the Long Tail (including low-investment satellite broadcasts)
Is it any wonder that market researchers are groping in the dark? Stereotyping of the consumer is the illegitimate child of 20th Century mass marketing. That is ending. Rejoice. Now I can have an old man in Mozambique listening to Britney Spears. And I can have a 20-year-old Peruvian teenager liking South Indian plantain leaf meals.
I have talked in the past about another kind of convergence, where conventional media companies acquire or partner a social media outfit. New York Times made Freakonomics.com which is a blog derivative of the eponymous book a part of its Web initiatives. Now comes news that Examiner.com has acquiredNowPublic, which lets local news and "citizen based" feeds aggregate on its site..a bit of a more newsy form of "user-generated content" The convergence is happening and is sort of healthy. But I can't easily gauge the shape it will take.
I find this quite interesting. Could it be true? The venerable Old Lady of Bori Bunder losing hold in her Victorian bastion? Are Hindustan Times and DNA eating into her vitals? Or is it that thing called TV or Internet which is making readers less interested to pay for it? I don't know, but it is clear to me that the newspaper business is headed for a real churning. The winners will be those who truly understand readers-- and that's easier said than done. Here is the story with some details. Data is still pouring in.
The Web is abuzz after media baron Rupert Murdoch of New Corp said that his group's newspapers planned to charge for online news/content. I have no problem with that. Though obituaries and criticism of such a move are afloat on the selfsame Net. As an experienced journalist, I make a few simple observations. It costs money to make people do reportage Credibility comes from known sources that employ processes Bloggers and others who simply extract published news from the Web and repeate it have no viable business model and breaking news cannot be ad-hoc. If it is offered free, it has to be accounted in financial terms somewhere--at least by cross-subsidisation. For more than a decade now, newspaper publishers have been shooting themselves in the foot in order to understand the new medium better. They have tried to behave like news agencies, reporting 24/7 They have offered content free, only to find their own revenues and circulation falling. They have invested in technology and branding, but online ads have not got the traction to take it beyond a point. Above all, they have to suffer sites like Google News that looks like a newspaper and rides on free content from the papers and other online news sites. Something's gotta give. If Murdoch charges, will other newspapers see it as an opportunity or a threat? I don't know, but I do know that sooner or later, viable models for both credibility and profitability in online news has to come in.
It was touted as a great idea. Print blogs. Sell them. They didn't. Here is the story.
But publishing is not over yet, either in print or online. I believe bloggers often confuse venting and airing of views with meaningful content. Publishing is about getting the focus right. Truman Capote once ended a book review, saying, "That's not writing, that's typing. I want to paraphrase that. "Don't confuse printing with publishing."
Here is a video from a panel discussion involving the Reuters editor-in-chief and other leading lights. I haven't watched it, but can ask a cheeky question. In the 21st Century, will people have the time and inclination to watch leisurely panel discussions?
Rupert Murdoch should know -- it costs money to produce news and content. Why should newspapers give it for free--especially when the Web is what is putting them into trouble? Here is the baron telling us how things should move--or the way he sees them moving.
Please catch this lovely piece in New York's maverick blogazine, Gawker, on how online videos and help creative television writers circumvent the suffocating studio system. Internet is revolutionising media, and I have written many times in the past about how TV is changing and will end as we have known it. But this piece makes it read like a fairy tale.
He is done with Veerappan, the Mafia and skinny beauties. Ram Gopal Varma's next muse is Breaking News. RGV was across the road from my office today at Religare's elegant art gallery, in the company of Amitabh Bachchan, who, a little birdie tells me, will play a character fashioned after NDTV's Prannoy Roy (story revolves around a channel called India 24/7--good for the brand's ailing stature)
The film, "Rann" (Battle) has the tagline "Truth is Terrible" and seems from early hints like an engaging film. Ramu (touching his cheek about six times in the 10 minutes I watched him) said the movie's intention is to question the business of TV news channels blindly playing the TRP (television rating point) game. RGV's film has a social message. Now that is Breaking News, for sure. But seriously, I am glad my publicist friend invited me to cross the road. For one, the Big B of Bollywood spoke at length in his attractive, articulate way about '21st Century Journalism'--having turned blogger himself. I also salute Ramu's latest attempt to ponder over the mad business of mushrooming TV channels in cut-throat competition that raises too many questions. I might accuse RGV of stealing a page from another of the latter-day Cinema Verite kind, Madhur Bhandarkar, who made "Page 3" about the colour pages game, but all that is in good intent. I like the fact that when media cannot introspect enough, Bollywood steps in. I say this in the memory of my late friend Anil Saari, who called Bollywood the Sixth Estate. Here is a quick list of celebrated Hollywood and Bollywood movies based on life in the media. Surf on to IMDB and look for details
Hollywood: Network (on TV), Front Page, Citizen Kane (newspapers) Bollywood: New Delhi Times, Page 3.
Of course, many other movies featured media stories, but these are top-of-the-mind.
I have argued that "anytime,anywhere" video through the Internet is going to kill prime-time TV, but then, there is a key puzzle that is yet to be solved. What happens to advertising money? Web is not quite TV when it comes to ad money--at least not yet. Here is a report that says the jury is out on the Web as an advertising medium.
First came print advertising because people read newspapers. Then came TV advertising, that took away some of those ads Then came the era of advertising-supported content, as readers became more of "consumers" being targeted by advertisers who signed large cheques. Then came the part about newspapers adjusting to the demands of advertisers, and addressing readers as "target segments" That phase is still on now, but the Web is changing --or has changed things--all over again. Classified ads have migrated to the Web. Newspaper Websites are not really getting that much ads. Digital ads are growing,but are they the way out? How do we price content? Journalism is a costly business, involves travel and credibility -- and unbiased coverage that is under constant pressure from politicians or advertisers in some form or the other. In the age of the Internet, the business has become more complicated. New York Times has its property on mortgage, and Chicago Tribune filed for bankruptcy. So what is the future of the newspaper? This article in Time magazine discusses it, and apparently bets on micropayments. Oh well, let us see how it all goes.
It has been a while since I posted on this blog. It does not make sense to take time off from a busy day to write blog posts few will read, particularly because I don't write/carry gossip and more often than not, discuss strategic or professional issues more of interest to the serious pro. I am that boring! But I decided to take note of two developments this week with just quick remarks. Being part of the profession and being an acquaintance of people in the thick of controversial events puts me in a strange situation: If I speak out, I am eating a fellow dog, and if I keep mum, I lose the fun of letting pass two significant events related to the issues this blog professes to peruse. So I walk a careful wedge here.
1) Barkha Dutt, arguably India's most popular English TV news anchor, has hit a fresh controversy, having elicited an apology from a blogger on grounds that he wrote defamatory stuff. No court case here, but a quick, grovelling apology. She must have been on the right side of law, or the guy probably was in no mood to fight. But more interesting is the fact that this has raised the hackles of the blogger community, and on last call a new Facebook group has been formed accusing this icon of free TV of gagging critics (The last one formed to criticise her coverage of the 26/11 attacks had around 4,500 members) What gives? What's going on? I have clearly said before in this blog that bloggers are not above the law, and relevant media laws apply. So I am forced to defend Barkha on that ground. I have to tell my blogger friends to know their responsibility. But discretion is the better part of legal valour and Barkha must know that large numbers of people criticising her is not something she can overlook or ignore in the age of democracy plus the Internet. Bloggers need to realise that freedom of speech is not freedom to break the law. Sensitive use of language is at the heart of the issue. But then, who cares for that anymore?
2) P. Sainath, venerable, prodding rural-sensitive journalist, who has won many an award for his moving accounts of farmer's plights and drought-hit areas, has turned down a Padma Shri --something fellow professionals including Barkha Dutt have accepted in the past. He says a government award reduces the credibility of the journo, or something to that effect. I do want to clap, though I may be making some foes in the process. Honestly, journalism is more fun when the rich and the mighty squirm at you than smile at you. But then, that cannot be at the cost of responsible journalism, and sometimes, has financial consequences. It is a thankless profession, I tell you!