News media must address revenue challenge creatively

News industry revenues are going through a churn like never before. Currently, in late 2018, 38% of total global ad-spending is in the digital medium, which has gained heavily from print, which has fallen to 9% globally; television is at 34% but is declining fast. The other 19% are distributed among radio, outdoor, events and a myriad other channels.

Advertising pundits say that digital will finally stabilise at two-thirds of all ad-spending globally. This makes a strong case for news media to focus on the digital platform all the more. There is no need to create different teams for print, television and digital. In fact, an integrated newsroom is the right thing to do and creating a multi-skilled, multi-media convergent team of journalists on field and on the desk is a must for the news of tomorrow.

For quite some time now, the move from silos to a convergent multi-media platform has been the reality for most media enterprises, attempting to be present across offline (publications), online (portal, social media), on air (television, radio), on ground (events), and on mobile (app) platforms.

Then, the media group can take its content seamlessly across multiple platforms, reduce costs on human resources with fewer, but multi-skilled, professionals, and may also bring in higher revenue by offering integrated marketing and branding solutions to advertisers across multiple media. Media convergence always reduces HR, real estate and news-gathering costs and increases resource efficiency and brings in more revenue.

Second, organising relevant news-worthy events surely leads to positive top and bottom-line, apart from relationships and content, though organisations may need to be pliant to the powers-that-be if not careful in dealing with them. However, though events are a good source of revenue and lead to great relationships, events are also a non-scalable activity, and every edition of an event property is bespoke and needs to be started from scratch.

Third, clearly demarcated advertorials, news-you-can-use, utilitarian content from among paid-for branded content are other sources of revenue to be harnessed. It is a fine line to tread and only a balanced app­roach, keeping news sacrosanct, is needed.

Fourth, investing in multi-media content providers, making them mobile journalists, and in editors to make them multi-media editors along with multi-media brand and sales professions who can develop packages to sell in the market place make for another way to enhance revenues.

Fifth, attempts to increase revenues online must be the way forward integrating video, audio, text and images, for news, views, previews and responses together. Alongside, this will bring down costs of legacy media in real estate, people, distribution network and feedback channels.

Indeed, the digital news media of tomorrow will experiment with diverse revenue sources. There is the subscription route, crowd-funding, Paywalls, events, social campaigns, co-subscriptions with non-competing content platforms, customised story-telling for brands, collaborative revenue sharing among media platforms with similar approach, etc. Each of them is being creatively engaged the world over.

Alongside, solutions-based and advocacy-laced journalism, taking a stand or a perspective, will stand out and create its niche audience to be catered to through news, views, humour, info-graphics, events, referrals, etc. Engage people without them asking for it, but creatively.

One may give sources and other site references and solutions to the audiences. Digital video can make money. Ads inside digital news in video format can travel across multiple media, as in Buzzfeed and Vice.

Loyalty to such specific brands can be leveraged through membership drives as well, which go beyond just subscriptions. The New York Times example is a good example. Wall Street Journal has developed a membership model with Fox TV and Harper Collins publishing together, benefitting all three.

Focus on digital media

The revenue challenge is a reality in news media and can only be met by reducing costs on one side, specially of traditional news media; and increasing revenue, on the other, specially of the digital media. By listening more, engaging audiences more, using User Generated Content more, integrating brand stories creatively in the broad content plan, and having utilitarian content along with interesting content, this problem can be tackled.

Content is still king, but commerce can help it rule longer. So, content-led commerce will be more important going ahead. A media house may tie up with Walmart/Flipkart or with Amazon, review products without getting into direct deals with the product manufacturers, and take a cut on sales from the e-biz platform.

Today, media houses have to worry about ‘Time’, not ‘Competition’. The ‘Time’ the target audience spends on your platform is the one single non-renewable resource that needs to be monetised. Clickbait is a short-run success policy but negative, whereas engaging the audiences is the positive way.

Also, a news enterprise must know who its audiences are and hence who will spend to reach out to them. Developing annual packages on the sales front with such brands and organisations interested in your audiences is the sure shot way to tackle the revenue challenge effectively.

Reach and frequency are no more the only currency for advertisers. They also want to be associated with credible brands or the type of journalism reflected by a specific news enterprise in question.

Each media enterprise story is unique. You can only suggest a laundry list of revenue diversification, but the ones that will click in specific cases will vary from platform to platform. A dedicated community created by a media outlet, if serviced well, raises enough to sustain and grow. Being everything to everyone is surely an assured way to fail. The future of journalism is surely in producing content that people are ready to pay for.

(The writer is School Head, School of Media, Pearl Academy, Delhi and Mumbai)

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News media must address revenue challenge creatively

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