Prof Ujjwal K Chowdhury
The news industry revenue is going through a major shakeup hitherto unseen. Currently, in late 2018, 38% of total global ad-spending is in the digital medium, which of course has bitten into the print and come down to 9% globally.
Television is at 34%, globally, but is on fast decline. Rest 19% are distributed among radio, outdoor, events, and a myriad other channels. Advertising pundits opine that digital will finally stabilize at two-thirds of all ad-spending globally. This makes a strong case for news media focusing on the digital platform all the more.
There is no need to create different teams for print and television and digital. In fact, an integrated newsroom is the right thing to do and creating multi-skilled multi-media convergent team of journalists on field and on desk is a must for the news of tomorrow.
For quite some time now, the move from siloistic or a few initiatives platform to a convergent multi-media platform has been the reality for most media enterprises. This is about attempting to be present across offline (publications), online (portal, social media), on air (television, radio), on ground (events), and on mobile (app) platforms.
Then, the media group can take its content seamlessly across multiple media platforms, reduce costs on human resources getting fewer multi-skilled professionals, and may also bring in higher revenue by offering integrated marketing and branding solutions to its advertisers across multiple media. Media convergence always reduces HR costs, real estate costs, news-gathering costs, and increases resource efficiency and brings in more revenue across platforms.
Second, organizing relevant news-worthy events surely leads to positive top and bottom-line, apart from relationships and content, though organizations may need to be pliant to powers that be if not careful in dealing with them. However, though events are a good source of revenue and leads to great relationships for which they should be organized, events are also a non-scalable activity and every edition of an event property is bespoke and all things of it need to be started from scratch.
Third, clearly demarcated advertorials, news that you can use, utilitarian content from among paid-for branded content are another source of revenue to be harnessed by each media enterprise depending upon its reach and impact. It is a fine line to tread and only a balanced approach keeping news sacrosanct and yet paid-for branded content also present is needed.
Fourth, investing in multi-media content providers making them mobile journalists and in editor to make them multi-media editors on the one hand, and multi-media brand and sales professions who can develop packages to sell well in the market place, together make another way to enhance revenues. Multi-skilling is a necessary condition in news media HR in times to come.
Fifth, attempts to increase revenues online must be the way forward integrating video, audio, text and images, for news, views, previews and responses together. Alongside, this will bring down costs of legacy media in real estate, people, distribution network and also feedback channels.
Indeed, the digital news media of tomorrow shall experiment with diverse revenue sources apart from traditional advertising on the web. There is the subscription route, the crowd-funding route, the Paywall route, the events route, social campaigns route, co-subscriptions with non-competing content platforms, customized story-telling for brands, collaborative revenue sharing among media platforms with similar approach, etc. etc. Each of them is creatively being engaged world-over.
Alongside, solutions-based and advocacy-laced journalism, taking a stand or a perspective, will stand out and create its niche audience to be catered to through news, views, humour, info-graphics, events, referrals, etc. Engage people without they asking for it, but creatively. One may give sources and other sites references and solutions to the audiences. Digital video can make money. Ads inside digital news in video formal can travel across multiple media, as in Buzzfeed and Vice.
Loyalty to such specific brands can be leveraged through membership drive as well which goes beyond just subscriptions. New York Times example is a good one in this. Wall Street Journal has developed a membership model with Fox TV and Harper Collins publishing together, benefitting all three.
Revenue challenge is a reality in news media. And can only be met by reducing costs on one side, specially of the traditional news media; and increasing revenue on the other, specially of the digital media. By listening more, engaging audiences more, using User Generated Content more, integrating brand stories creatively in the broad content plan, and having utilitarian content along with interesting content, this problem can be tackled.
Content is still the king, but commerce can help it rule longer. So, content led commerce will be more important going ahead. A media house may tie up with Walmart+Flipkart or Amazon, review products without getting into direct deals with the product manufacturers, and take a cut on sales from e-biz platform.
Today media houses have to worry about the Time, and not Competition. Time of the target audience is the one single non-renewable resource that needs to be monetized. Clickbait is a short-run success policy but negative, whereas engaging the audiences is a positive route.
Also, a news enterprise must know who are its audience and hence who will spend to reach out to them. Developing annual packages on sales front with such brands and organizations interested in its audiences is the sure shot way to tackle the revenue challenge effectively.
Reach and frequency are no more the only currency for the advertisers. They also want to be associated with credible brands or the type of journalism reflected by a specific news enterprise in question.
Each media enterprise story is unique. You can only suggest a laundry list of revenue diversification, but the ones that will click in specific cases will vary from platform to platform. A dedicated community created by a media outlet if serviced well raises enough to sustain and grow. Being everything to everyone is surely an assured way to fail. Future of journalism is surely in producing content which people are ready to pay for.
(The author is a columnist and a media academic, and is currently the School Head, School of Media, Pearl Academy, Delhi and Mumbai; and formerly the Dean of Symbiosis and Amity Universities.)