Media: A paradigm shift

7 years ago, Internet on cellphones was rare. Today, more than three-fourth of users are online using phones. The phone is the place where every media company wants to be, to publish news or livestream cricket


Today, nearly 130 million Indians use their mobiles to get onto the Internet. Photo: Pradeep Gaur/Mint
Today, nearly 130 million Indians use their mobiles to get onto the Internet. Photo: Pradeep Gaur/Mint

Media on the go

Media has gone seriously digital. Newspapers and magazines are available online. So are television serials and cricket matches. The cable that delivered television to your homes has also switched from being analogue to digital, ensuring better picture quality and more channel capacity.

In short, media—news, entertainment and sports—has become seamless. It is not only platform and time-agnostic but available on-the-go as well.

This has been made possible by the explosion in the number of Internet users in the country in the past seven years. In 2007, there were a total of 29 million active Internet users. Nobody even bothered to track people accessing the Internet through mobile phones then. Today, of the estimated 169 million active Internet users in India, nearly 130 million use their mobiles to get onto the Internet, according to I-Cube Syndicated Research, a study conducted by Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI) and IMRB International. The same report says that of the 169 million people, 49 million are active users in rural India.

Another report suggests that mobile Internet has become the primary source of accessing entertainment content like videos. It is also used to read news, play online games and for general browsing.

To be sure, media consumption is taking place across multiple screens—television, personal computers, tablets and smartphones. The improved availability and ownership of mobiles with larger screens is driving the trend. Content providers are also tweaking a wide variety of content to suit these devices.

The concept of fixed time and fixed screen consumption has changed to anytime, anywhere.

However, bandwidth speeds are a major roadblock. While it may be true that the young consumers are shifting to sampling media online and on-the-go, they are still only snacking content. Video will remain episodic for a while, up until the bandwidths improve. Currently, the average Internet speed available on a home Wi-Fi is approximately 1.4MB, which takes 30 minutes to download a 30-minute episode.

While publishers are awaiting the digital tsunami that will devour their print products, experts say that newspaper companies are aware of the challenge and have created a reasonable presence online. All they have to think of are ideas to monetize this presence.

The great IPL tamasha

It was one of the most expensive television assets created in India. Designed and launched in 2008 by the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) as an entertainment event, the Indian Premier League (IPL) caught the imagination of viewers as well as advertisers.

Cricket in its shorter Twenty20 avatar became an instant hit with a high dose of glamour both from the corporate world (Mukesh Ambani, Vijay Mallya) and the film world (Shah Rukh Khan, Preity Zinta). The first edition rolled out in April 2008 with eight teams saw its television ratings soar. The tournament was all about razzmatazz, steered by Lalit Modi, scion of the K.K. Modi family and member of various cricket bodies, as its chairman and commissioner.

Critics argue that IPL’s sheen has worn off in the past seven years thanks to Modi’s ouster, scrapping of team franchises and the spot-fixing scandal involving three players of Rajasthan Royals last year. “Governance and transparency lapses have contributed to the rapidly declining brand value of IPL,” said a 2012 report from consulting firm Brand Finance Plc.

League officials brush off such claims. Most leagues have their ups and downs, they say. Why else would political parties even toy with the idea of sponsoring the League this season to coincide with the Lok Sabha elections? Or why else would Star India chief executive Uday Shankar desperately want this marquee property in his Star Sports portfolio?

It’s true that some advertisers have stayed away for the last couple of years and the tournament’s ratings have declined. But even its total viewership has doubled in the last six years as the number of households with television sets in the country increased. The property, for which Sony paid upwards of $1 billion dollars for 10 years, remains relevant even at current level of viewership.

Star’s superstar

Uday Shankar was appointed chief operating officer of Star India Pvt. Ltd in 2007, the year “Mint” was born. The same year he was promoted as chief executive officer—the man who would be at the helm of media mogul Rupert Murdoch’s entertainment business in India. For someone who began his career as a newspaper reporter and then a broadcast editor, the rise was spectacular. Shankar has more than proved his mettle since. He has steered Murdoch’s empire here to touch a revenue of Rs.7,000 crore in 2013-14 from Rs.1,7OO crore (when Shankar joined), people in the company say, by sustaining brand leadership. It’s been a scintillating stint at the broadcast company:

l entered the regional entertainment space by acquiring Asianet Communications in southern India,

l formed Media Pro, a distribution company with rival Zee Entertainment Enterprises Ltd. (ZEEL

l exited a news joint venture with ABP Ltd

l bought out ESPN’s stake in India and, finally,

l acquired key cricket properties and committed thousands of crore to sports.

Except for a brief spell when Colors was launched by Viacom18 and Murdoch’s flagship channel slipped, Star Plus has, by and large, retained the top slot in terms of audience share. Shankar says he’s invested big money in content to keep his viewers hooked. Besides, he chooses to work with the best talent on- and off-air. His network has engaged Amitabh Bachchan, Aamir Khan, Shah Rukh Khan, Hrithik Roshan and Sanjay Leela Bhansali for on-screen content. Off-air, he owns the best management team in the corporate world, he claims, adding, “I am not insecure about working with the best.”

Shankar does not gamble. He takes calculated risks. His moves may have been gutsy but they were thought-through. While most of his moves have paid off, the sports business is currently in an investment phase and exerting pressure on the company’s profit of close to Rs.1,800 crore. But for Uday Shankar, managing that should be easy.

Arnab: India’s David Frost?

After his sharp interview with Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi recently, he has come to be known as the David Frost of India. Luckily, for Arnab Goswami, the 40-year-old editor-in-chief and prime time anchor of Times Now, public memory is short and few remember his 2009 interview of Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi which was completely devoid of aggression or even pointed questions.

To be fair, over the years Goswami has come into his own and evolved his own style.

Drawing room and newsroom opinion is deeply divided over his brand of journalism. Sunil Lulla, former chief executive officer of Times Television Network and currently president—corporate development, BCCL Group, calls him a “news entrepreneur” who re-invented television news.

He’s challenged the boundaries of classical journalism, toed his own editorial line and acted as the self-appointed guardian of Indian polity. His fans see virtue in that: he’s provocative and gives shape and form to public opinion in an open and transparent manner, they feel.

His detractors, meanwhile, cannot bear his manner or the news agenda he sets every evening—answers he claims “the nation wants to know”.

But as long as his shows are delivering viewership ratings—the channel that recently celebrated its eighth anniversary has been the top English news channel for the last six years—his management is unfazed by his methods. Vineet Jain, the managing director of Bennett, Coleman and Co. Ltd recently called him a “courageous journalist”.

Not sure if the late David Frost, an amiable TV host and a deadly serious political journalist—best remembered for scooping the world with his interviews with then US president Richard Nixon—would be pleased with the comparison. But we’ll let television viewers decide the epithet for Arnab Goswami.

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