Life is just FANG for media post-Covid

Guest Column: Vidhu Sagar, Managing Director - India, MediaDonuts, outlines the Covid-19 impact on Indian media and how digital overtook print for the first time in India

e4m by Vidhu Sagar
Updated: Jul 29, 2021 4:49 PM
Vidhu Sagar

I was visiting Uncle Gulani after a couple of years and was keen to know how he dealt with the pandemic.

“So, how’s life, Gulani Uncle?”

“Life is just FANG now”

I thought I misheard him.

“Great that life is just fab, Uncle. So, what goes on?”

“No, no…life is not fab, it’s just FANG”, somehow, he seemed chuffed with his response, and for a split second, I thought I saw a twinkle in his eyes, suggesting a clever play of words maybe.

And then the penny dropped.

My septuagenarian Uncle, who earlier used to devour the daily newspaper end to end and in recent years had switched loyalties to the TV news, had picked up this fancy new abbreviation from the global stock markets, and he was using it smartly to tell me that post-Covid, all his time is practically taken up by the holy quartet of Facebook, Amazon, Netflix, and Google (FANG). 

While he may have been exaggerating a little, but conceptually I think Uncle Gulani was on point. Perhaps he was speaking for many others like himself and indeed ourselves too.

Last year changed everything. 

Our world, our country, our lives…everything changed dramatically last year. 

In the process, our connect with not just people but also with media underwent a drastic change. Digital media, inclusive of the omnipresent FANG entities, now dominates our lives. And ends up covering everything between info search to news to entertainment to shopping between them.

So, then it might be interesting to examine how exactly did our relationship - our involvement, consumption, engagement - change with media over the course of last year? Did things change for the better or worse? 

Let’s start by setting the context – 

Media in India is a complex, challenging & extremely competitive market. There are over 780 TV Channels (of which 60% are Regional), 400+ radio channels, 58,000+ Print titles and so on…

While TV still leads in terms of overall Reach among Indian adults, Internet has caught up fast and is now a bona fide mainstream medium – placed at the second spot in the pecking order, drawing level with Print.

Ad Spends too are reflecting this changing reality. 

With WFH as the new norm, TV & Digital ruled as the top media forms in the country the whole of last year. Against TV’s 22,508 cr., Digital garnered 16,974 cr. In 2020. Which was remarkable for a couple of reasons:

  1. Digital overtook Print for the first time in India
  2. Digital was the ONLY medium that grew after the pandemic – when every other medium faced a decline

To be sure, Digital’s growth rate came down from the heady 25-40% CAGR of last five years and settled at a more sedate 10%, but that still counts for a lot as it helped turn Digital into the second largest medium in the country.

How did individual media segments fare during Covid?

Television: TV initially went up in time spent as Indians were watching news and movies a great deal more. For example, the proportion of TV watchers spending on an average more than 3 hours/day went up from 52% in pre-Covid times to 64% once the pandemic caught on in 2020. But unfortunately, as new production activity was impeded and most large advertisers curtailed their ad spends too, in business terms TV as a segment, ended up grossing 11% less than its previous year’s total.

Print: newspaper readership too seems to have suffered during Covid, though IRS update is still pending for the period. Anecdotally, it was noticed that a considerable number of people grew wary of the physical newspaper and discontinued their subscriptions. Magazines are feared to have sunk deeper into a hole doubtless as their content superiority continued to diminish. Suffice to say, most publications in the Print category had no choice but to weather the storm stoically as overall Print adex dropped drastically (-41%) over the previous year’s figure.

Radio listenership suffered too during Covid since in-car listenership virtually crashed overnight. While some of the listenership is coming back now with gradual resumption of life, in parallel, it’s the digital music wave, as exemplified by the proliferation of streaming players such as Gaana, Jio-Saavn and Spotify, which is becoming stronger every day and eating into live radio listenership numbers progressively. Radio adex dropped dramatically during these tough times (-44%).

OOH: not too surprisingly, though quite tragically, the out-of-home ad spends hit a massive roadblock during the pandemic. A drop of approx. 63% is estimated in revenue terms. As things normalise, going forward, technology can perhaps be the catalyst driving recovery in OOH rapidly.

Cinema: With lockdowns since March’20, most cinema halls have not been active and thus Cinema business nosedived of course. While exhibition and advertising revenue expectedly collapsed, what’s worse is that the more lucrative and higher-yield F&B sales also dried up suddenly for the multiplexes.

Digital the ONE superstar during the pandemic

With its multifarious applications – spanning communications, entertainment, shopping, education - online media consumption zoomed amid the Corona period. Increase in News and entertainment content consumption was severalfold and helped accelerate digital’s overall growth. India officially is now the second largest internet population in the world with estimated 624 million users. These numbers have largely been driven by mobile (e.g., Jio) of course.

Breaking down digital by its key components - while Search and Video were the core drivers of the medium, Social Media consumption almost doubled during the pandemic – from 150 min.s/day to 280 min.s/day at one time. Most social apps anyway have loyal usership: >80% tend to use it at least once/day. In video, the genres that were most preferred for content were - Music, Comedy, and education. Also, from a UGC (user generated content) standpoint, Stories, Reels, Live etc. emerged as the newer ways of video engagement, particularly for the gen Z and millennial user groups. Moreover, many short format video apps ended up sharing the space vacated by TikTok - including Chingari, Roposo, MX Takatak etc. Gaming too grew big time in the country last year and in the process, effectively attained legitimacy as an entertainment option. From Ludo to Chess King to Candy Crush to PubG (before its ban), myriad gaming alternatives kept the users hooked. 

This was also the year when online shopping went mainstream. Even laggards and e payment-sceptics were forced to bite the bullet since physical shopping was practically impossible during the lockdown. So, while food delivery and grocery etc. took centre stage, Grofers, Big Basket and Zomato leveraged the opportunity to turn unicorns. In parallel, lifestyle categories like fashion, clothing, shoes, electronics further accelerated their shift to the online channel. Needless to say, Amazon, Flipkart, Myntra and several other platforms continued to gain traction and helped fast-track the e-com movement along.

So, in conclusion, what did the pandemic change about Indian media?

  • Total time spent by Indians on all media channels went up considerably
  • Ad spends shrunk all over except for Digital
  • TV: despite severe challenges remains the mainstay for entertainment
  • Digital is now mainstream: its multifarious applications help
  • Radio, OOH, Cinema are facing uphill battle

Going forward, the entire media industry, and not just FANG and their related brethren, would be hoping for a quick V-shaped recovery. 

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