The 2020 media fantasy

There is a feeling of fear and uncertainty in the air. India’s economy is on a downslide, its social fabric is in tatters. And it doesn’t look like anyone in charge is doing anything to repair and rebuild.

That is true for India’s Rs 1,67,400 crore media and entertainment industry too. Therefore, my first and biggest wish for the industry that has been my home for so long is a stable regulatory environment. One which is about facilitating growth instead of becoming something the industry needs to work around in order to grow. 

Take for example the New Tariff Order or NTO from the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) which was implemented in February last year. It has brought transparency and method in an industry where 60-70 per cent of the Rs 43,500 crore collected on the ground doesn’t always come back. But it also led to a rise in prices, complaints of complicated packages, a drop in sampling, a shift from cable to DTH or from TV to online options. None meet the stated objectives of the Trai, the biggest of which was giving viewers’ choice. Nevertheless, in August, it released yet another consultation paper on tariff to howls of protest from across the industry. There is now talk of another paper with more recommendations. 

Since 2004, when Trai became broadcast regulator, there have been 35 orders including amendments on tariff alone. There are scores of others on interconnection, quality of service, audience measurement. “There is a new regulation or direction, almost every month for the past five to 10 years. This makes the regulator’s role intrusive and the industry’s working unstable, unpredictable and contentious. The industry then tries to find loopholes in Trai's regulations which in turn leads to a patchwork of modified or new regulations. It is a vicious unending cat and mouse game,” says Dinyar Contractor, editor and publisher, Satellite & Cable TV Magazine. Can we end this cat and mouse game in 2020? 

While transparency has been creeping into the TV trade, it is far from present in digital which is next on my wishlist. Try getting a list of the top 10 OTTS or news sites in India without half a dozen qualifiers — it is not possible. Unlike the Broadcast Audience Research Council for TV or the Readership Studies Council of India for print, in digital there is no single independent body that offers a reliable metric to advertisers, media and the trade. 

While most OTTs have their own analytics which offer figures on traffic, time spent and so on, these may or may not be comparable with the figures of others. The numbers comScore puts out are two to three times lower than those from the OTTs themselves. Much depends on what is included and what is not. Are they based on logins and single users across devices? Are they the sum of all devices without duplication? Are these visitors who have visited the site or app and not seen a video? Also, any list of OTTs will not have subscription-only services such as Netflix or Amazon Prime Video. Since these don’t need ad revenues, their systems are not open to measurement. 

Can digital firms get together to give us a robust metric to measure their business? 

The third, arguably the most childish fantasy, is that Indian news channels disappear. Or at least change into proper news organisations overnight. Of all the things that have caused harm to the democratic fabric of India, TV news is the worst. 

And my last, most ardent, wish is that we become a well-informed country that doesn’t scream and shout at each other because of some rubbish from WhatsApp. That we become a country that has devastating but well-informed arguments devoid of personal abuse or mud-slinging. 

Isn’t that a good dream to sleep on? Happy New Year everyone.

Twitter: @vanitakohlik

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