Media’s newfound identity crisis

Published: March 13, 2018 12:21:47 AM

‘Media frenzy’ has taken on a new meaning these days, with the frenzy not only being about what is hot in the news but also about how the industry courts its flame — the audience.

media, identity crisis, digital duopoly, digital media, brandwagon‘Media frenzy’ has taken on a new meaning these days, with the frenzy not only being about what is hot in the news but also about how the industry courts its flame — the audience.

‘Media frenzy’ has taken on a new meaning these days, with the frenzy not only being about what is hot in the news but also about how the industry courts its flame — the audience. It is a ‘hold on to your hat’ kind of romance as digital has been thrown into the fray. Improved internet accessibility is now enabling the audience with a variety of content consumption options. Both media houses and publishers, who were typically used to owning both the content and the audience, have begun to feel the pinch. How do you keep the interest brewing with this increasingly fickle yet selective and discerning lot?

Facing the digital duopoly

Enter Google and Facebook — the digital duopoly — slick entities that you do not entirely understand. On the one hand, they offer you so much more insight, but leave you wondering if you are getting played. It is incredible what they are able to offer as their marketing technology and social engagement tools are vastly superior to those used by traditional media. But at the same time, it is also disturbing as you can never be too sure what information diet you are on, given their advanced content curation algorithms. This media shift is taking place at an alarming pace, giving everyone in the business a serious run for their money. So what brought us to this fork in the road? On the news front, as the digital wave was swelling, most publishers began to diversify their offerings rapidly to tap into the potential of the online market. This made way for a host of web-based news outlets that went live while they were still half-baked. As these new news machines needed to be fed constantly, they seemed to lose sight of the main objective of creating content — to become one of the many aggregators or distribution platforms for news and that too with an emphasis on quantity and not quality. While this transition was taking place, Google and Facebook already had top-notch technology in place which inevitably put them ahead of the game as their plan was future-proof — to be true-bred search and social aggregators. It was mostly the media industry that lost sight of its goal in pursuit of digital scale. Media companies eventually could not overlook the reach of these internet giants and had to latch on and partner with them — they could love them or hate them but could not afford to ignore them. This status quo started getting further challenged with the emergence of the app-economy, as content owners became keen on pushing their own apps. While they lacked the widespread reach that these behemoths could boast of, they still desired to engage directly with their consumers through apps. Barely had publishers released their own apps, that the entire brouhaha around apps died because there was suddenly a surfeit of them and no real estate to park them (read: tiny little mobile screen space).

Looking into the crystal ball

In parallel, with the uptick on digital content consumption, the audience started becoming more concerned about fake news or advertisements taking over their screens leading to a series of measures that have been taken to appease this concern — Google’s focus on closer vetting of ads and Facebook’s changing the functioning of its news feed, to name a few. However, this still continues to be the largest looming challenge that everyone is concerned about and is increasingly being viewed as an insurmountable wall! The market is ripe for innovation, should someone come up with disruptive tactics. It is wise then for long-standing media companies, who may have been a bit disillusioned with the constantly changing track of the digital journey, to go back to the drawing board and thoroughly ponder over their USP. It is truly a time for you to decide whether you will create and own outstanding content or dabble in the distribution arena. Distribution and aggregation today is highly dependent on advanced tech capabilities and the industry is rife with competition on this front. Once your company arrives at a conclusion, the path ahead will be far easier to tread. Often, media companies being legacy players believe they can continue to own the entire chain from creation to aggregating and monetising their consumer reach. Maybe Rupert Murdoch was able to glance at the future through a crystal ball and therefore, quickly began carving out and disposing large tracts of his gargantuan media empire. It is an age of reckoning and not the time for publishers to take a Panglossian view on the changing digital landscape. As the race for more eyeballs is only set to intensify in the future, the industry needs to realise that while content is certainly the king, delivering the whole experience from curation to seamless distribution is equally important. Moreover, all advertisers are increasingly expecting you to aptly gauge your audience’s changing interests while you are at it; and one organisation may not be able to excel at it all! If you do not pick a choice now, later might just be too late.

Apurva Purohit

The author is president, Jagran Group

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