Think of a cross between Paatal Lok and other critically acclaimed shows on Amazon Prime Video.

Then there is YouTube, the world’s audition theatre and largest OTT. It is part of the $183-billion Alphabet Group that owns Google. The $86-billion Facebook, on the other hand, has a complete hold over our social and (increasingly) work lives. Globally, over 2.8 billion people use its flagship brand Facebook to read, watch video, do business or connect with family and friends. More than 2 billion people across the world are on its brand WhatsApp, sharing pictures, short videos or simply chatting. Another billion are on its other brand — Instagram.

What then are Amazon, Google or Facebook? Are they tech firms, media giants, aggregators or e-commerce players? Technology, media, telecom are merging to form a kaleidoscopic ecosystem. A bit like the shape-shifting Boggarts in J K Rowling’s Harry Potter, it takes on the shape of whatever you want to do. You could read the news, find out how to make avial, watch a film, listen to music, laugh at a funny video, share a meme, a joke, hang out with friends or family or have a meeting or a discussion.

For decades, we read and heard about convergence — here it is upon us. The ubiquity of the internet, the spread of high quality bandwidth and devices finally allow it. The pandemic simply deepened the confluence of our lives and the internet.

In this new world, what is a media company? The answer has nothing to do with technology, content or lineage.

Many of the movers and shakers have large, profitable, linear businesses. Disney controls three large OTTs (Disney+ Hotstar, Disney+ and Hulu), one of the world’s biggest film studios and a pay TV business.

At 2 billion users and $20 billion in revenues, Google’s YouTube is the biggest competitor for Netflix (210 million users and $25 billion in revenue). The world’s largest online retailer, Amazon, has a Prime Video service only to get people in for shopping. “When we win a Golden Globe, it helps us sell more shoes,” said Amazon founder Jeff Bezos at a technology conference in 2016. In India, Flipkart and Zomato got into video in 2019 to increase the amount of time people spend on their online retail and food aggregation businesses, respectively. Media companies are becoming retailers and technology specialists while the latter are getting into media to keep audiences with them.

This search for audiences across geographies, technologies, languages, tastes, formats and devices defines a media company now. And it is altering the dynamics of the media business in subtle and not-so-subtle ways.

For example, though there is a deluge of numbers and a lot of talk of transparency, metrics, it would seem, have become less important in the on-demand ecosystem. Some of the biggest successes in this world, say, Netflix or Spotify, rarely share anything beyond the basic numbers. Is it because they are not dependent on advertising? Netflix, for instance, gets all its revenues from subscription. But Spotify and Amazon Prime Video have a mix of pay and advertising. Google and YouTube are largely ad-driven. But not all their numbers are public. There is no third-party listing of top 10 OTTs or top 10 news sites which does not have dozens of caveats. Funnily enough, it is the old style formats — TV, print — which have better metrics.

The whole shift from selling eyeballs to advertisers to selling a service directly to consumers means advertisers are getting locked out of pay ecosystems and therefore premium audiences. On the other hand, a swing to pay means there is more variety of content on offer and more creative freedom. Though this is also, in part, because large swathes of the new ecosystem remain unregulated. Some of these changes might settle down as the business evolves, others such as a fairer balance between pay and advertising are probably here to stay.

The media company, as we know it, however is dead.



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