Media is in battle-mode today.
Digital media fights the physical. Within traditional media, television fights print, print fights radio and radio fights outdoor. Within digital, social media of the high-involvement kind fights that of the low-involvement one. The short-format video app fights the micro-blog and the micro-blog fights the blog. The fight is on. It’s meant to be. The media is in Tandav Nritya mode!
Let me do a quick recce of the space of media evolution for a start. How did it start, and how did it evolve? And where is it poised today?
In the beginning, the media was all about content. It was meant to be just that. A local community newspaper was all about information. As the publication gathered readership, and as the vehicle became one that was craved by diverse sets of societal interests, in came advertising. Tentatively at first, and then in a deluge.
Over a period of time, the newspaper that depended on subscription revenue from its readers gradually got for itself a twin revenue stream. Advertising became a vital part of this revenue ocean. Therefore, the newspaper, which was once about 100% content, gradually started looking different. A 90:10 mix of content versus advertising progressively grew to a 50:50 ratio even, in the case of several popular newspapers and magazines that made their way into modern progressive society. And today, most newspapers and magazines, and indeed every medium there is, is over-leveraged on advertising. Advertising runs the show really.
Advertising itself evolved. From purely awareness-creating forms, advertising took on stronger roles, wanting to create interest in brands that were advertised and stoke the desire to buy. It went on to create different and new goalposts. It offered the ability to make people buy, and once bought into, advertising had the ability to offer those positive strokes for the post-buy dissonances that may result in the minds of consumers. The science of advertising deepened.
Content and advertising therefore became bedfellows. Strange bedfellows. Symbiotic bedfellows even, at times. One fed from the other in some cases. The entire character and persona of a publication was therefore defined by the kind of content and indeed the kind of advertising that went with it. Marketers and communicators of every kind assessed the ability of publications based on their reach, reader involvement, credibility, content and efficacy. Different measurement tools were therefore put together to assess each of these. While some were quantitatively sharp, some depended on the power of accurate extrapolation from small sample sizes (such as TRP meters), and others remained qualitative probes.
It all eventually combined to create media intelligence systems for brands to use in their communication toolkit.Today, it is indeed difficult to distinguish where content stops and advertising begins and vice versa in many cases. That’s the subject of a different debate altogether.With the emergence and growth of digital media (remember, it occupies 31% of revenue today and threatens to be the fastest growing of all media in the days to come), there is a certain tumult in the industry of content and advertising together.
The key problem, as I see it, is a simple point. As digital media grew rampantly, it had to eat into the limited amount of money that Indian media advertising had to offer. Yes, the size of total advertising has grown over the years, but all the money that digital media accrues to itself today does not come from this growth. It comes from shares bitten off television, print, radio, and outdoor for sure. More importantly, it stymies the growth numbers each of these physical mediums would want for themselves in the five-year plans they chase.
In the bargain, physical media gets aggressive. There is content alteration to suit the need of the day. Physical media studies and watches digital media carefully. While digital media is a bit of an anarchy, where every Tom, Dick and Harish is a content creator and publisher, the physical medium is a carefully curated one with a responsible Editor at the top of the food chain of news and content. There is a certain degree of responsibility, ethos and care that physical media such as print, television and radio offer.
Despite it all, physical media decides to change in terms of content, tone, tenor and decibel. Why? Why? Why?
The key mistake is the fact that physical media has decided to copy digital media in its approach to content, taking stances it would never ever have taken in the good old days, if not for the prod by digital media. And here lies the mistake. Physical media still enjoys that one thing that digital media still does not enjoy in India: credibility. Why forsake that?
When I read something in print, I know it is true, if not largely true. When I read the same on digital, I am not too sure. There is just too much floating around there and there is no one who really takes responsibility for what’s out there. Just one missing element. Credibility.
I do strongly believe that if there is anything that physical media must do now, it is just one thing: Stick to your guns and continue investing heavily into deepening the credibility that we have come to rely on many a newspaper, magazine, television and radio channel in the past.
Physical media has sadly bitten into the bait put out there by the digital. It must stop copying the digital in its editorial content width, depth, tone, tenor and decibel of communication. When physical media starts looking like the digital, what then is the difference?
If there is just one big need in the market of content and news, it is the need for the credible and the reliable. It is the need for the real, as opposed to the surreal. People out there are really truth-seeking animals. All of us are. We will gravitate to whatever offers us that and we shall run from whatever does not. Later, if not sooner.
Brand Guru & Founder, Harish Bijoor Consults