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The Indian media landscape is more dynamic than ever before. Mediums are converging, and successful media companies no longer think about print, TV, radio, digital, but simply about the consumer. With more than 900 TV channels and about 17,000 newspapers, India is the most diverse and vibrant media market in the world today. And now with the rapid growth of 4G, rising literacy, and the fastest-growing large economy in the world, the Indian media market is as exciting as it gets.
The headroom for growth is enormous. Advertising is the lifeblood of the media industry, but ad spend as a percentage of India’s GDP is the lowest among the world’s largest economies. In Asia alone, Japan is at 0.88%, China at 0.7%, Malaysia at 0.64% and Singapore at 0.6%.
And India’s ad spend? A miniscule 0.33% of GDP. Increased advertising expands consumer demand, drives sales, and boosts GDP. Most importantly, it helps create jobs, something this country desperately needs.
But for Indian media to realise its full potential, regulatory reforms are needed across the board – to make it easier to do business, remove anomalies in the system; and above all, ensure a fair marketplace that benefits the consumer.
Today, e-commerce companies, telecom operators and social networks, all seek to play a role as major media players. But these tectonic changes bring with them new and serious challenges. A level playing field is a pre-requisite for healthy competition, and plurality of voices.
Consolidation in the telecom industry has left
just three serious players standing. With mobile becoming virtually
the only screen, telcos will control what you watch, read, consume and transact – leading to a near-monopoly situation. The government must discourage further mergers & acquisitions in telecom because that would drastically limit consumer choice. For the same reason, it should bring laws against telcos owning and favouring its content over others – just as TV channels are not allowed to own majority stakes in cable networks. India needs a healthy, diverse and competitive media ecosystem.
Net neutrality was an important step, and Times Group supported this position to ensure that pipe-owners don’t control the message and create walled gardens. And on TV, regulation ensured separate ownership of channels and carriage companies to avoid conflict of interest.
It’s important that consumers have access to as many voices and choices as possible. For instance, there is no reason for the FM radio industry to be as small as it is – especially when you compare with other Asian countries like Singapore, Malaysia, Sri Lanka and Philippines. A simple reform can spur exponential growth. The government can almost double the number of FM stations in a city by halving the spectrum separation between two channels. The TRAI has made this recommendation twice already. Broadcasters will be able to offer much more variety in content, just like TV channels do. Why can’t Delhi and Mumbai, with populations of 20 million plus, have 20 channels when smaller cities like Colombo and Manila do? The government itself would be the biggest beneficiary in the form of higher auction fees and annual licence fees and taxes.
The growth of digital India has enabled a wide range of voices, but it’s also brought us to a new, “post-truth” world order, lowering the bar for quality democratic conversation.
Digital media platforms, like Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, and YouTube are enablers of great conversation, but they are also hotbeds for misinformation, propaganda, and the spread of fake news. They have realized that unverified content can attract attention and revenues.
India must take a more pro-active stance by holding digital platforms accountable for the content they propagate, just as any other media company is held accountable for what it publishes or broadcasts. This is not a simple issue, but it is a vital one to protect the world’s largest democracy.
In a world where the line between real and fake news is being blurred, especially on social media, the credibility of print is being increasingly valued by discerning consumers. But sadly, the business model of newspapers is under threat with rising newsprint prices and cut-throat digital advertising. As business leaders, we must innovate to maintain relevance, and the government must work with the industry to ensure that we maintain a strong and healthy press, which is vital for a thriving democracy.
India’s digital economy holds significant promise, but as it stands today, Digital India looks to become an extension of US and Chinese companies rather than a strong standalone ecosystem. These companies now dominate digital businesses in India. They can leverage larger balance sheets and resources from their home markets. Unlike traditional industries, for these companies, expanding into India is as simple as flipping a switch, requiring little investment in India to succeed.
In comparison, China’s digital economy is one of its major strategic advantages today. China has supported local digital businesses, which now contribute
more than 20% of the country’s GDP growth. It has created millions of high quality jobs and fostered an entrepreneurial ecosystem that rivals that of the US. Today, most of India’s largest internet businesses will be either entirely or heavily owned by American or Chinese companies.
This has serious economic and political implications. These digital businesses will become the backbone of media, commerce, information and finance for India. Foreign companies and agencies will control valuable and extensive data about India, and that should worry us. The Cambridge Analytica-Facebook scandal has exposed how this data can be used to damage a country. The lion’s share of the value creation from these enterprises passes back to other countries, supporting their own job markets and global competitiveness. Just as cotton was exported out of India under British rule to be spun into yarn and sold back to India, today, data is being siphoned by global platforms, making them stronger and commoditizing the Indian market.
We must proactively protect our national interests with laws to ensure data stays within India and is governed by Indian law. Economically, we have the most aspiring entrepreneurs in the world. But ultimately, our political and economic ecosystem should view them with pride and support them to become champions of India on the global stage.
Simply put, India is the most exciting media market in the world. It has the opportunity to become a major driver of India’s GDP growth and job creation. With proper nurturing and support, it can be a major source of global pride, the way that the IT sector was in the 1990s.
At the Times Group, we are focused on continuously pushing our boundaries to be more innovative, relevant, and useful for the Indian consumer. We look forward to playing a major role in the evolution of the most exciting country in the world today.