Industry leaders on recalibrating media landscape in COVID times

At a recent webinar Sunil Lulla, BARC; George Varghese, Indian Express; Abraham Thomas, RBNL, Avinash Pandey, ABP News Network & Pradeep Dwivedi, Eros, shared insights on the COVID-19 impact

e4m by exchange4media Staff
Updated: May 16, 2020 10:43 AM
Webinar

“TV has always been the screen of the households and during the lockdown period it is only growing,” said BARC CEO Sunil Lulla on Friday. He was speaking at a webinar organised by the Bombay Chamber of Commerce and Industry on ‘Recalibrating the Media Landscape’ and the impact of COVID-19 on the Media and Entertainment industry. 

The other panellists included George Varghese, Group CEO, Indian Express; Abraham Thomas, CEO, Reliance Broadcast Network Limited (RBNL); and Avinash Pandey, CEO, ABP News Network. The webinar was moderated by Pradeep Dwivedi, CEO-India, EIML (Eros International Plc).

Sharing more insights on the current trends on total TV consumption before and during the COVID-19 or lockdown, Lulla shared data about the total TV viewership growing by 24% in week 18, recording 1.10 trillion viewing minutes. However, he said that viewership is now gradually seeing a drop after reaching a high of 40%.

“India has not seen such phenomenal viewing in years and unfortunately it is probably the lowest time for advertising. TV has witnessed a drop of 30% in advertising volume and lower than 36% in 2019 for the same period. Last year, we had IPL and its absence this year has impacted advertising. The count of advertisers has dropped by 35%. TV during lockdown rocks but business does not,” he added.

Speaking about the print and print digital business, Varghese shared that Print has seen a major impact of COVID-19 and the effect will be felt for a long time. Print is no longer going to be the same, he said.

Citing examples from the western media, Varghese said print circulation started dropping 7-10 years back with digital pageviews increasing. This put ad revenues under pressure for Print. There was tough competition between digital native publishers like Buzzfeed and Huffington Post. “In the last two and half years, the scenario has gone from bad to worst. Fundamentally, circulation is down, pageviews are slow, but ad revenue has not kept pace with pageviews increasing. The print and digital business works differently. For instance, the publisher gets the entire ad revenue in case of print but in digital 80-85% of the revenue goes to platforms like Google and Facebook. The digital native publishers have gone for cost cuttings due to huge losses with legacy publishers equally in trouble.”

However, Varghese said there was a silver lining in the way New York Times decided to go behind the paywall. “It was not an easy call but today they have made huge profits.” 

“Till about a month back, despite circulation and advertising money slowing down, print was a reasonably profitable business. Corona hit us badly. Unlike television, our distribution has got stuck. In term of print, ad revenue has been affected by 70-75%.” The print businesses will have to shift to digital and the window for this transition is very limited.

Speaking about the impact on the radio business, Thomas said the general assumption has been that radio is consumed in cars and since no one is travelling because of the lockdown the radio industry has been hit. However, he stated that as per latest data, 52% of radio consumption happens on mobile. FM Radio has garnered a reach of 51 million during the lockdown, he said. There has been a 28% increase in time spent in six metros and the hike is across the SEC. “Also the credibility of radio is higher than any other media except the Internet. In terms of advertising, it has been slow across media. Clearly the way forward is to be agile and innovative in the way we run our business.”

Speaking about the impact of COVID-19 on news broadcasting was Avinash Pandey who said that the news genre has grown from 7% to 15% in this period. “Impressions in Hindi news have gone up by 136% whereas the FCT has gone down by 32%. In the country where news is freely available on different platforms charging subscription for news is really a tough challenge but people in the news industry need to find a model to charge subscription on digital and as well as on television to balance this out. This crisis has taught us a lesson of not to be dependent on one revenue stream.”

He also shared that ABP network has done a lot to keep their reporters safe. “The news channel has invested in kits which are required while reporting from red zones, educating employees, and at the same time educating millions of audiences.” Pandey also suggested that the virus has impacted the industry badly and many businesses will go out of business. It will help if the government allows newer categories like alcohol to advertise, he added.    

Pradeep Dwivedi, the moderator, also shared some data on the digital industry and said there has been a massive increase in internet consumption during the lockdown. “All OTT platforms are seeing huge amounts of consumption. Keeping bandwidth in mind, we have reduced the resolution from HD to SD so that the content can be accessed by the masses.”

Speaking about the trends in the digital space, Dwivedi shared that the engagement with religious content has seen a substantial increase. He also mentioned that categories like airlines, automobiles and travel have cut down their expenses but that these categories will bounce back. “Interestingly, there are categories which are spending a lot more on digital than earlier. Also OTT has become the first screen for movie releases and the theatrical window is out for a few months now.” The industry needs to work together to make sure nobody loses out its money, he concluded. 

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