Skewed biz model hampers electronic news media functioning

MUMBAI: The electronic news industry is struggling against a business model of low subscription income, high carriage fees and commoditised content, experts said.

“We are currently operating on a broken business model where subscription revenues are low and, thus, one has to depend heavily on advertising for revenues. The process of digitisation has started improving the scenario but we do have a long way to go,” said NDTV Ltd group CEO Vikram Chandra.

Another challenge is that journalists as a breed are only just starting to adapt to new media. While there has been commoditisation of news, one must also realise that as technology is evolving journalists too need to upgrade. Instead of shirking or challenging new media, journalists can adopt means of using it to monetise news.

Essel Group News Cluster Group CEO Dr Bhaskar Das said, “The goal should be to maintain objectivity of the news across platforms. We must remember that the consumer has become increasingly platform agnostic in news reception.”

The silo mentality in the journalistic community is also a challenege that needs to be overcome. In an age where the consumer uses multiple forms of media, often simultaneously, journalists cannot afford to limit themselves to just one medium. They need to evolve and learn to be present and visible across mediums.

“This is the reason why in our channels, we have made it mandatory for our reporters and journalists to be present across platforms and maintain blogs and Twitter accounts,” said Russia Today TV managing editor Prof Alexey Nikolov, while speaking at Ficci Frames.

The session titled ‘Electronic News Media: Stock Taking and the Way Forward‘ discussed the challenges involved in running a news channel and explored ways to overcome these. The panel discussion was moderated by senior visiting fellow, national university of Singapore and author Dr Nalin Mehta.

India News Editor-in-Chief Deepak Chaurasia threw light on the political arm-twisting that prevails and prevents news channels from reporting certain news. Another impediment faced by news channels is the monetary pressure applied by various multi-system operators (MSOs).

“At the end of it, we are responsible for our own predicament. Many people with deep pockets have started news channels and have increased the carriage fees, which has affected all the other channels. There are no definite rules and this gives people with vested interests a chance to take advantage and pressurise channels,” he said.

Nikolov also stressed that while social media has taken the front seat, the audience is now looking for credibility. So the trick now would be to sell trust, competency and different points of view rather than only news.

Chandra added that in this case, trust can be built according to the niche that each channel wants to occupy. It depends on the ideology and the business model. In a country of India’s size and population, channels will find their own comfort zone and survive.

On the topic of trust, Das said: “Trust is non-negotiable. What is worrisome is that trust has become subjective. Whose trust are we vying for today (as news channels)? Is it the viewers’ trust or the management’s trusts or the politicians’ trust or the advertisers’ trust? It is the audience’s trust that matters and today’s viewers are intelligent and astute enough to understand where the value of news lies. They can differentiate the trust worthy from that which is not and that’s why some news channels work, while others fail to attract the masses.”

The silver lining, however, is that for the past one year the news channels, the government and other industry stakeholders have come together to discuss these matters. “It is a beginning. At least now we all agree that there is a shortcoming in the audience measurement system and process in the country. On the content side, there have been suggestions about framing a content code. In this case, the matter is too subjective and to reach a consensus is very difficult,” averred Chandra.

The panel concluded that the need of the hour is to revamp the business model so that it is not heavily skewed towards one means of revenue, in this case advertising. Once that is resolved, the channels can take a stronger stand on content regulation.

“The problems are complex and the fear of government interference plays a big role too. We have made a start and need to keep going as it is a long road ahead,” Das concluded.

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