‘Kaise Diwali manaayein hum Lala, Apna toh barah mahine Diwala! In the Doordarshan of the ’70s and ’80s, this very hummable Johnny Walker song from the 1959-film ‘Paigham’ would air every Diwali on song-and-dance shows ‘Chhaya Geet’ and ‘Chitrahaar’. Although I hummed the lyrics last year too (force of habit, since one was subjected to so much of it on DD), the song is most appropriate for the Diwali of 2009.
It’s been around ‘barah mahine’ (12 months) since the slowdown struck us. Not a recession, say purists, but a severe liquidity crunch. Whatever be the term used, for many in the media, the downturn spelt doom… a ‘diwala’!
Even the supposedly most cash-rich media companies axed jobs and shut divisions and businesses or publications that were unviable. Though there were some new launches and marketing spends of a few networks didn’t really go south, the tension was palpable. Salary cuts were the order of the day, and those who were subjected to it had no real option but to swallow the bitter pill. “Be happy you have the job,” was the underlying message. Busy pointing fingers at how biggie financial institutions were falling like a pack of cards, news media professionals now found the fingers pointing at themselves.
So are things better now? Well, yes and no. Players – who otherwise conduct their businesses more with the heart than their heads – were forced to switch gears. Marketing spends got a fillip, thanks to cricket and the elections and new offerings, but the emphasis was on squeezing the media to give better rates. There are still a few key media companies that aren’t listed, so their cash books aren’t open to the public gaze, but those who are, have seen a bloodbath.
My worry is that I don’t think media players have learnt much from the downturn. And I fear that they’ll repeat the same mistakes again. Systems aren’t in place, staffing and spends often done indiscriminately, and staff welfare is dismal. While one can’t generalise this for the entire media, it’s more of a rule than an exception. If there were a ‘best places to work in’ for media companies, I’m not sure how many will fit the bill, especially from amongst those in the news and non-news publishing and the electronic media. There is a huge accountability malaise that exists with employees and employers alike. Mediocrity is allowed to flourish, often leading to corrupt practices.
This is the most critical quarter of the financial year for media companies. Ad spends are traditionally at a high in the three months of October-December, and for many entities, it accounts for more than 50 per cent of the year’s revenues. It’s heartening to see all stakeholders making a concerted effort to reverse the recessionary trends. The Sensex was at 9,000-odd points at the Muhurat trading last Diwali and it was upwards of 16,600 points on Friday. So, while sentiments are better and ‘dhanda’ isn’t quite ‘manda’, the answer to my question in the headline of whether Diwali 2009 will bring cheer is in the negative. We all need to work harder and more efficiently to survive and thrive. My heart goes out to those who’ve lost their jobs or are finding the cuts too stiff to pay up their EMIs.
Happy Diwala, ah, well, Diwali!
(The views expressed here are personal. Post your comments below or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Starting next week, Mixed Media will appear on Tuesdays.)