Tuesday, September 22, 2009

State of media in India: Editors speak

Getting back to the subject of media, where is media headed in India? Let’s hear it from some of India’s leading editors and publishers.

Aditya Sinha, editor-in-chief of The New Indian Express, had written in his weekly column recently: “No one doubts that TV news is here to stay, and no one doubts that at some momentous point, Internet penetration of India will reach critical mass (it is only 5% of our population now) and online news will become the main source of breaking news. But what will happen to newspapers? Some people glibly say that newspapers will become irrelevant. Well, it’s true that nowadays TV news has more immediacy and impact… it’s also true though, that TV only drives the pitch of the debate; it’s actual content is hammered out in newspaper columns… Since then (referring to the Kargil war), the newspaper has reacted to TV by modifying its format: shorter news stories, more visually appealing front pages, an emphasis on graphics, and more colour. Newspapers that stubbornly resist this change find their circulation stagnant… Yet it is amazing that these newspapers are fighting for the ‘youth vote’, so to speak… the young don’t appear interested in reading newspapers. TV, mobiles, laptops, desktops and cyber cafes provide them with online access.”

Rajiv Verma, CEO, Hindustan Times, referring to the global economic downturn and pressure on advertising and shrinking media spend, says: “This has made media companies leaner and operations more efficient. HT Media has been able to withstand the downturn without any major downsizing and without resorting to pay cuts. While several media companies have reduced rates to woo advertisers, HT has focused on providing advertiser value by devising multimedia solutions and using its strengths to generate the multiplier effect for the advertiser.”

Regarding print media continuing to show robust growth, Sanjay Gupta, CEO, Dainik Jagran, explains: “Fragmentation of TV audience and low penetration of the Internet is one of the reasons, apart from the higher credibility of the print media in India. It makes it an important media for advertisers. The trend will continue in future also as regional markets in India have poor Internet penetration, and even TV due to lack of power in rural India has not been able to penetrate effectively.”

Reasons Varma: “We have a very evolved culture of newspaper reading – it’s a habit that is a part of who we are as a society. Indians still see media, newspapers in particular, as the fourth estate, and given our propensity for political discourse and engagement, newspapers smooth those conversations along. While new technology is growing in India, it is still not accessible to the vast majority, so newspapers remain a vital source of news and information. We have the benefits of learning from the rest of the world – where media technology has outpaced us – with respect to how newspapers have coped with the onset of new media and perhaps we have been able to very quickly evolve our newspapers, ahead of that kind of new media growth here.”

Says N. Murali, managing director, The Hindu, “The sharp advertising downturn, a consequence of the overall economic downturn, started adversely impacting the print media across the board from November 2008 onwards. The print media has also been reeling under the impact of higher international newsprint prices, exacerbated by the steep decline in the exchange value of the rupee over the last year. Newspapers have also reduced their page level in line with declining advertising. In select markets, cover prices of newspapers have also been moderately raised in the last few months. The last six months have been extremely challenging for the industry with no respite yet. The coming festival season starting October might see small signs of recovery.”

So, let’s wait and see.

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