Specialisation is the future, or so has been drummed into people such as me as soon as we step into the Indian media industry. The medium didn’t matter, because for the experts, the future of each medium – TV, print, online – was in specialised content that would aggregate a certain kind of audience. For the advertiser, it would mean access to relevant TG that controlled spill-over and wastage of advertiser’s spends. For the media owner, it meant access to audience that was willing to pay a premium to access content that was of special interest to them. In all, the future was about moving to narrowcasting from broadcasting.
Though on a smaller scale, online has been managing it. The very nature of the medium allowed more focus in pooling a certain kind of audience, and for many, therein laid the promise of the medium. Add interactivity, and the Internet has been the ‘next big thing’ for the longest time now. Internet has grown at a good pace – the growth of B2B media vehicles (including in the advertising and media news domains) bears witness to that. Distribution was not a problem – if you had an Internet connection, the distribution was sorted out.
Print being the oldest medium has seen many years of evolution in how print players reached their consumers. Newspapers and magazines have established routes to reach their readers, depending on what they had to offer, and who they were looking for. Specialised content, especially in magazines, hence was a possibility, and today, there are magazines on cars, gardening, cooking, interior designing, hair and beauty, fashion and so on. Print has taken strong strides in specialised content.
The hope was the same for television – allegations of mass content revolving around kitchen politics in general entertainment, or the focus on cricket, cinema and crime in general – news channels have been going on for years now. But for the domain visionaries, the time for content for a new audience, for more intelligent content seekers, discerning viewers, has come with the advent of technology evolving television distribution. And yet, the road has been full of bumps and holes.
The exchange4media Group had organised the Indian TV Distribution Networks Congress 2010 last week. The passionate views that came forth from industry doyens, Sameer Manchanda and Uday Shankar, had set me wondering on the kind of interest that these network heads have in distribution. Distribution is not just any other function for them, and the more one thinks about it, the more the reasons make sense. Distribution is the passport for broadcasters to more robust growth, and freedom from dependence on advertising revenues. The year 2009 re-stressed on the need for alternative and stronger revenue streams for broadcasters, and the answer lies in connecting with the consumer directly.
Manchanda had commented at the Congress that unless a sunset timeline for analog was set, digital would not take off. The statement is worrying in many ways – to get a nation ready for a digital distribution network does not even sound simple, let alone taking the exercise on-ground and converting it into reality. And yet, if the solution is to make the situation either/or, then digitisation doesn’t seem like a reality whose time has come.
Another question that many raised there was why would the established players, who were benefitting from the current set up, let go of the monies that they were pocketing through the current distribution system, and allow newcomers access to a more targeted distribution network. Will that mindset put the occasional spanner in the growth of digital distribution platforms? One has no definite way of knowing.
That finally leaves us with the option of co-existence, and allowing analog to thrive alongside digital. But the push needed for change would be missing there and that brings us back to square one.
Distribution in India is a dilemma for broadcasters, and the challenges seen are only the tip of the ice-berg. There is still a while before the promise of digitisation in distribution is fulfilled. Until then, broadcasters may well have to continue burning over 50 per cent of their investments in distribution, general entertainment would continue hogging the ad pie, given the sheer numbers it shows, big movies premiering on television would still be cause for excitement for the industry, and broadcasters and bouquet heads may still be engaged in conversations that they don’t personally believe lead to solutions.