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The year of traditional media: Print and TV bounced back in 2021

Mr Marple is an unlikely sleuth. Agatha Christie’s bestselling detective is a geriatric spinster who looks all fluffy, pink, and helpless. But Jane Marple has a shrewd, logical mind. Her ability to draw parallels, between the characters who inhabit her world in the little village of St Mary Mead and outside, to see patterns in human behaviour, is what enables her to solve the most complicated murders. A series of Scotland Yard chiefs know that listening to her, even when she is dithering, leads to results.

The analogy is not perfect. But that roughly is what can be said for TV and print as 2021 draws to a close. They are like Ms Marple; old but sharp, impactful, and a ‘must have’ as marketers realised. Across the board the advertising revival in the third quarter of 2021 was led by marketers rushing back to TV and print “with a vengeance,” as one media buyer puts it. The impact of being on say Kaun Banega Crorepati (KBC), Indian Premier League, Anupama, or on the front page of Dainik Bhaskar was clearly being missed. Note that there has been no data on print since the last Indian Readership Survey in 2019. Yet most newspapers are now filling up 100 per cent and more of their ad space.

“Digital got a chance to prove whatever it had to prove (over the two lockdowns). This (second half of 2021) has been a period of validation (for print and TV),” says Shrikant Shenoy, general manager, Lodestar UM, a media buying agency. That is why this resurgence is not a flash in the pan. It is one of the three big changes in this business going into 2022.

At 468 million unique visitors a month, digital’s reach is just a little over half of TV’s 892 million. Print has been at a steady 421 million a month. On the revenue side — TV brings in roughly half the Rs 138,300 crore (pay and advertising) that Indian media and entertainment (M&E) made in 2020. In second place is digital at 17 per cent. It is marginally ahead of print. However, the mind space that digital has occupied for some time now has been disproportionate to its hold and size. This year brought a much-needed correction.

Living online
As nice as that sounds the fact remains that digital is the fastest-growing part of Indian M&E. And it is getting bigger — in audience size and time spent. That is the second point.

Media consumption is no longer about leisure and entertainment hours; it surrounds us 24 by 7. You could read the news, find out how to make a roti, watch a film, listen to music, laugh at a funny video, hang out with friends or family or have a meeting online. The ubiquity of the internet, the spread of high quality bandwidth, devices, and the pandemic have combined to deepen the confluence of our lives and the internet.

This then raises the question that is the third point — what is a media company?
Take for example the $86-billion Facebook. It has a complete hold over our social and (increasingly) work lives. Globally, over 2.8 billion people use it to watch video, do business or connect with family and friends. More than 2 billion people across the world are on its messaging brand WhatsApp. Another billion are on its other brand — Instagram. What then is Facebook? A tech firm, media giant, aggregator?

Simply put, any company looking for audiences — across geographies, technologies, languages, tastes, formats — is a media company now. This search may be to monetise the audience through advertising or pay revenues, a la Netflix/Disney. Alternatively, it could be to create stickiness for another business a la Amazon.

What about India?
There is no Indian firm that could take on any of these tech-media giants in scale. So, other than offering its market, where does India fit?

On the creative side, with its ability to tell good, diverse stories. Unlike China, there are no quotas or restrictions on foreign films or shows in India. Yet more than 90 per cent of the entertainment consumed is local. In a world swamped by Hollywood, India’s creative businesses have stood their ground for over a hundred years with authentic local stories. Dangal, Gangs of Wasseypur, Vicky Donor, Uyare, Drishyam, Sairaat, to name some recent ones.

Every show and film that Netflix or Amazon Prime Video commission is launched in over 200 countries at the same time. This showcasing of Indian stories to the world has created what Vivek Couto, executive director Media Partners Asia (MPA) calls, Indian media’s “KBC moment.” In 2000, the success of Star TV’s KBC propelled broadcasting growth in India. This moment could do the same. From $2.9 billion in 2017 investment in content across TV, OTT and film is expected to touch $3.7 billion in 2021, says MPA data. Going by some estimates just four global platforms spent over $40 billion on content in 2021. There is then a world out there that the Indian creative business can get a bigger share of, just like British or Korean ones have.

TV, OTT, and film employ over three million people. After a terrible two years, there couldn’t be better news for them. Business Standard

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