‘It’s digital we have to be focused on, it’s our future’
August 7, 2017

Print media must transform to meet the needs of an audience that is fast turning to digital platforms. The process has already changed the contours of the print media in the United States and Western Europe and has started slowly but steadily in India. This was the consensus that seemed to emerge after brainstorming presentations and discussions at the two-day conference of international and national media experts organised by WAN-IFRA in February. Yogesh Vajpeyi sent us this report

The tone and tenor of the Digital Media India Conference was set by the vice-chairman of the New York Times (NYT), Michael Golden, during his keynote address at the outset: “Print is critically important to us, and I believe we will be printing newspapers for maybe two more generations. But our media is facing a day when it will be 100 per cent digital and we are trying our best to move from a newspaper that has a website to a digital company that has a newspaper.”

Golden was the right person to set out the agenda as he has been at the helm of one of the world’s most influential newspapers during its fast-track journey from print to digital. Ten years ago, 70 per cent of the NYT’s revenue was from advertising and 30 per cent from subscriptions. As a result of fast digitalisation, 60 per cent of its income today comes from subscriptions and 40 per cent from advertising.

The NYT senior executive is quick to underline that digitalisation is not at the cost of print. “We make sure that the print newspaper we put out is excellent. We continue to invest in it where that makes sense, and we continue to market it, sell it and build new subscriptions. But it’s the digital that we have to be focused on, because that’s our future.” 

The group is adding 50000 digital subscribers every quarter. In the third quarter of the last year – July to September – NYT had net 116000 digital subscribers, the highest since it launched the plan in 2011. In the 4th quarter – October to December – that number had swelled to 257000 net digital subscribers. “In times of uncertainty people go to the sources they trust to find out what’s going in the world. We saw this happen during 9/11 and we saw this happen during the last Presidential elections,” Golden explained.

In India, digital is expected to be the fastest growing medium with a compound annual growth rate of 30.8 per cent for the five years from 2016 to 2021. In contrast, the print media is growing at a much slower rate of 7.3 per cent, though on a much larger base.

At a time when print media is in decline, this might appear anomalous. However, as Magdoom Mohamed, managing director, WAN-IFRA South Asia, pointed out, this was due to the spurt in literacy. “When someone is literate, the first thing he or she wants to do is to be able to read a newspaper and showcase his or her new skills.” Moreover, a lot of the media growth seen in India is coming from areas where Internet connectivity is low, and where news media is just starting to penetrate. As connectivity improves through the government’s new digitalisation schemes such as the Bharat Net Initiative, the situation is likely to change fast.

Attracting advertisers and subscribers no doubt remains for digital media in India. But the biggest challenge for media companies, according to Thomas Jacob, chief operating officer, WAN-IFRA, Germany, is to adjust and respond to the fast pace of change.

Presiding over the concluding session he pointed out that the media scene the world over had witnessed seven dramatic changes—from print to online, from text and photos to multimedia, from search to social media, from linear TV screening to streaming videos on demand, from traditional ad sales to programmatic and native and from anonymous internet to identified internet. Six of the changes happened during the last six years.

Digital media in India is still in the age of infancy. India’s vast network of newspapers and online outlets provides an incredible means of informing and entertaining people across the country. As the country enters a new era of mobile, digital media consumption, the nature of news stories and the ways of telling them are bound to change. The rapid growth in mobi-le internet use in India in recent years has been accompanied by a boom in new digital journalism start-ups. With sites like the Quint, Scroll, the Wire and many others across the country, there are more new and interesting experiments in Indian digital journalism than in most other countries in the world.

The opportunity ahead is enormous, and some of these digital journalism start-ups are bound to succeed. But the market they operate in is also challenging. India still generates comparatively low average revenue per user in terms of digital advertising.

The reference price for news and media content in India is very low, with low cover prices for print newspapers and cheap pay television packages, suggesting that pay models for digital news may be even harder to pull off in India than in high-income democracies.

According to EY India media and entertainment advisory leader Ashish Pherwani, digital mediums are likely to surpass traditional ones by 2021-22, when smartphone and broadband penetration in-creases in the country. EY estimates show that smartphone penetration is expected to be up to 59 per cent by 2020 from 31 per cent in 2015. Digital advertising is also slated to be Rs 18500 crore by 2020, constituting a larger pie of the overall media spends.

Traditional media ad spending versus the online ad spending in India still remains precariously poised. A New York-based market research company that provides insights and trends related to digital marketing, eMarketer, pointed out that television will remain the most popular medium in India for advertising in 2017. However, the mobile ad spending in India is set to grow by 85 per cent, the company added.

July-September 2017