The future of broadcast news is bright, but traditional media must collaborate with newcomers

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Jhe News Broadcasters Federation, a collective of more than 70 national and regional news channels, recently held its first national conclave in Delhi. The event, which focused on the “future of information” in India and more specifically on broadcast information, was striking for several reasons. A quick look at the broadcasters who make up the NBF collective reveals an interesting picture of the ambition and entrepreneurial spirit of young people, mostly newbies in a media landscape that has long been dominated by big business and traditional media houses.

The event also had its repeated interrogation of the many existential issues facing broadcasting in general, and broadcast news in particular. From audience measurement, content pricing and new revenue models to legacy issues with pricing and rating points, the serious issues facing the industry were discussed and key stakeholders interviewed. on the shifting sands within the industry.

The NBF, which grew out of a schism within the larger National Broadcaster’s Association (NBA) fraternity, has been at the center of a polarizing debate within the industry over both news ethics broadcasts and audience measurement standards.

The breakup was unusual given how tightly knit the broadcasting community is under the umbrella of the Indian Broadcasting Foundation (IBDF) (formerly known as IBF) where consensus and collaboration was high. part the standards on the issues facing broadcasters – from the new tariff regime to various policy interventions. The fault lines between the two news dissemination collectives had widened with the politicization of ratings fraud by the previous MVA-led Maharashtra state government. Criminal cases have been forced upon industry professionals and Mumbai’s police apparatus has been misused to settle political scores and personal disputes.

While these apparent factors have contributed to the splintering of the broadcast news community, there is a deeper underlying division about the future of news.


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New radical formats

Mainstream and corporate media have defined the common consensus around what is acceptable broadcast news in the two decades since the rise of private television stations in India. However, with the emergence of newcomers to the industry, the rules of prime time news have been rewritten and radical new content formats are being experimented with. It is in this uninhibited and raw energy to innovate and remake the industry that the deep roots of this schism reside.

It’s no wonder that the first serious attempt at tech-driven content innovation within the broadcast news industry came from this younger collective with the launch of an OTT platform from news and views News9Plus by TV9 recently focused on English-speaking audiences. With the launch of a news-driven web series on OTT entertainment platforms established by a legacy media house, we are witnessing the start of a competitive cycle of content innovation between incumbents and newcomers. It is in this competitive churning that the future of information in India lies.

While much of the public debate around this competitive schism has focused on the failings of India’s television audience measurement system, little has been focused on the values ​​that will matter for the future. some information. Most of the problems with BARC, the incumbent television ratings agency, stem from a misunderstanding of the underlying statistics and a competitive culture that has seen both incumbents and upstarts manipulate the rating system. measure. Although the current sample-based methodology for television ratings is well suited to estimating general entertainment habitual viewing behavior, it is ill-suited to objectively measure viewership for specific events at a given time. given, unless it is mass viewing phenomena such as live sports.

Alternatives to sample-based measurement that are based on census-scale or big data approaches such as “return path data” have significant technical and cost hurdles before mainstream adoption. industry scale is possible in a country like India. Solving the measurement challenges facing television news requires disruptive innovations that can creatively harness sensors on ubiquitous low-cost smartphones to objectively measure audience in a census-scale way similar to streaming on Internet. Achieving an industry-wide consensus on such innovations will require the various stakeholders to overcome their mutual distrust of each other for the overall benefit of the industry.

The first step towards such confidence building would be for the industry to avoid the use of landing pages to artificially inflate audience data. The use of landing pages has reached such an absurdity that a news channel claims higher reach than popular entertainment channels. While there are calls for the audience measurement system to fix this, it would be unwise to force algorithms to distinguish natural organic audience from these fake audiences. As an alternative, regulatory intervention could solve this problem which only requires platform services to be used as landing pages. Such a stipulation would ensure that platforms can monetize landing pages for marketing and promotional purposes without altering the integrity of the TV channels’ organic audience.


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Trust and collaboration

The future of news lies in creative content formats such as short videos and pricing innovation leveraging the digitization of payments through UPI. The use of disruptive technologies such as sensors, AI and direct-to-mobile streaming for delivery over 5G will be a key differentiator in the competitive landscape. However, the core values ​​of news will continue to define audience choice and brand loyalty. This is clear from recent investigations by the Reuters Institute of Journalism and the CSDS, which have highlighted how the radio and television arms of the public broadcaster, Doordarshan and All India Radio, continue to be sources highly reliable information sources in India.

While newcomers and incumbents seek short-term attention from audiences across India in a highly competitive media landscape, the winners, in the long run, will be those who inspire confidence among audiences. Overcoming the existential problems facing the industry, however, will require incumbents and newcomers to find common ground to collaborate on innovative industry-wide solutions that can help break the vicious cycle. current destructive competition.

Shashi Shekhar Vempati is the former CEO of Prasar Bharati, India’s public service broadcaster. He tweets @shashidigital. Views are personal.

(Editing by Ratan Priya)

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