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Business News/ Industry / Media/  Where is the media in Asia headed?
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Where is the media in Asia headed?

Bloomberg’s chief content officer Norman Pearlstine and The Washington Post’s Marcus Brauchli on future of the media in the continent

Marcus Brauchli and Norman Pearlstine at the India Dialogues event in Singapore on 28 May. Photo: Mint (Mint)Premium
Marcus Brauchli and Norman Pearlstine at the India Dialogues event in Singapore on 28 May. Photo: Mint

Singapore: The advent of the Internet and the mobile phone and the rapid increase in their reach over the past decade has changed the way people consume news, posing a challenge to traditional media companies such as newspaper and magazine publishers. Norman Pearlstine, chief content officer at financial information and news provider Bloomberg L.P., and Marcus Brauchli, vice-president at The Washington Post Co., publisher of The Washington Post, joined MintAsia editor R. Sukumar in a panel discussion in Singapore on 28 May on the way forward for global and Asian media accompanies against the backdrop of a changing technological landscape. Edited excerpts:

As far as the Asian media is concerned, is the best behind us?

Marcus Brauchli:I think it is really a matter of perspective. If you are the consumer of a media, the best lies ahead. If you are a legacy media company, there are some complications ahead. I think the way to look at media and what is coming down the road, what is happening in US and other developed markets, from the consumer point of view, there will be a proliferation of new sources of content, new means of delivery, new approaches to content. I don’t think consumers are happy with the media environment as the traditional media companies are. So I would argue that for consumers of media, there will be more sources of content, there will be more delivered on their mobile phones, there will be more video content that is accessible and makes sense and there will be a wider range of content available for people, because they can see content from anywhere in the world. From the point of view of media companies, those which are agile and adapt, (will succeed). HT (Hindustan Times) has done a terrific job. What has happened with HT is Mint has produced a very specialized string of content, that happens to coincide exactly with the mood and interest of the country at the time. It delivered content on different quality standards, which I think is also happening with across Asia. I think you can see an elevation of journalism quality because the competition is going global. People no longer have a media in a specific national market because your consumers are reading everything else and I think it will be delivered across multiple platforms as Mint.

How does one make money out of it?

Norman Pearlstine:First of all, you and everyone in this audience will understand that it is dangerous to generalize about Asia. It is dangerous to generalize even about countries in Asia, but particularly given the differences in Internet penetration, you will see areas where there will continue to be growth in the short and medium term. In terms of print in India, in Indonesia and perhaps a couple of other places, but for the most part, in Japan and Korea, you will see real fall or rather quickly in terms of print. The big change that I think is going to happen is two things; one is mobility. There are now more phones than people on earth and a lot of them are in Asia, and phones are going to be primarily wary of communicating news and communication to very large audiences. Second thing is that local language will be the way that many international companies will continue to remain relevant in certain markets like this. Pan-regional English language will be a very difficult business strategy going forward.

How do traditional media companies stay relevant in times like this?

Brauchli:I would argue that to some degree, the proliferation of content that is not sophisticated, that is not journalistically sound, that is unreliable, actually favours traditional media organizations. Because people over time come to understand that that information is not reliable and then they seek brands they know will deliver to them reliable content. Now, obviously there is a period of time when people look for (such kinds of information out there.) Lot of them derive, in fact, what we news producers produce. In the end our audiences do gravitate towards good content. And the evidence I have with us is that if we look at the traffic of The Washington Post in the last four-five years online, we have seen a surge in the number of people seeking Washington Post content online.

Pearlstine:I think that is also true. I would make just two points. You do have to recognize what new technology can do and you also have to recognize new talent. Particularly with mobile, the mainstream media companies are going to have to develop personality and have to have different kind of story-telling. Headlines really matter and you can run 20 headlines instead of one story and I think you will find audience to stick with you.

A new breed of content creators. Is that what you are suggesting?

Pearlstine:I think that is one of the many things that is going on. I think it does tend to revolve around personality to a lot of degree and in some respects some of the old brands are just less important. Again it is very hard to generalize. If you are talking about general interest publications, you have one set of demands from audience, if you are talking about something like Bloomberg, where our best product is $20,000 subscription per year. That kind of customer is demanding speed, accuracy and ability to engage in a transaction to make money. That creates a different kind of opportunities for journalism than when you are merely trying to compete in the space of traditional news.

Given the developments in technology and delivery systems and how people read and where they read, if Watergate has to break again, how will the coverage be different?

Brauchli:It is an interesting question. And the answer probably is that it will unravel incredibly fast. In the first place, because of the (low-barrier) entry in journalism or into media today, there are a million bloggers and semi-journalists today who patrol any political developments in Washington and swing it according to, in many cases, their illogical viewpoints. There are many aggressive investigative journalists who are able to reach their audiences.

Norm, you have done the re-launch of a weekly news magazine at a time when most weekly news magazines are becoming irrelevant. Could you explain the strategy?

Pearlstine:Businessweek was for all these years with the McGraw Hill company, which managed to lose a lot of money with it in the last three years. We ended up acquiring it at the end of 2009. We lose less money but we haven’t still made it profitable by conventional measures. What we have been able to do with it is put it on the path of profitability by not only being a print product but also being digital and a tablet version by moving much more aggressively than it had been the case before, by having local language editions for Indonesia, Thailand, China, Poland and Turkey and now in the Middle East.

By really moving much more to a publication that focuses on an entrepreneurial league with a heavy emphasis on the coverage of industries to that effect, other industries, specifically technology, energy, healthcare, where there can be spillover effects so that if you are talking about manufacturing, you are really talking about... the ways in which technologies may be impacting industries. I think that has developed a loyalty for the magazine...We have the advantage of having a common brand across all platforms...

What kind of opportunities do you see in Asia, both for local companies and global organizations?

Pearlstine:We see great opportunities for Bloomberg across the region. One area is television where we don’t try to compete locally but where we try to supplement with specialized global financial information... We are very optimistic about television even in fragmented markets such as India where we had good success with the (licensee) there. I think that works well for other products as well.

Brauchli:I think for the local media everything is in flux... Anything can change. Somebody can club up and create a new mobile (website or device) that may aggregate content from various sources. Some find a blogger who put it personally for describing politics in India and everybody who reads that person becomes a franchise. There are huge opportunities still and because everything is in a flux, it is possible to bring in new products. If you look at just the last 10 years in US, the creation of news platforms like Huffington Post, which came out from nowhere...has become a fairly significant news provider which people look for. I think the same thing is possible for news products in every market in Asia.

Pearlstine: In some respects, the purity of journalism itself may be challenged by some of these news models. If you go back 50 or 100 years, there were many many publications, many fragmentations, We are going to see that kind of thing continue. The other kind of thing that can happen as a threat to the quality of journalism is that advertisers have choices that they never had before. One consequence is that the equation between news and editorial and dependence on advertisers is under more pressure than anytime I have seen them. You are aware that in The Times of India, Bennett Coleman buys equity interests in its advertisers and then writes stories about them. And most of the people who participate in that like the story. There is a whole lot of criticism is going on in that coverage. We have seen that trend creep into the US... Forbes, for example, has gone very heavy online, giving advertisers opportunity to write (orderbooks) that appear adjacent to reports written by Forbes staffers and by contributors.

Brauchli: I think that is a serious stand. But I don’t think that will necessarily overtake our journalism factor... People, I believe, seek out sources of information that they know to be reliable over a period of time. Those firms can survive and differentiate themselves.

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Published: 14 Jun 2013, 12:59 AM IST
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