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Media nets growth and how!

Renuka Goel | Bangalore

The media industry is witnessing significant changes the world over because of penetration of the internet, online content and social media platforms. Over the last decade, the traditional Media has been hit like never before. With soaring costs of production, distribution and other associated functions of the industry, Print Media was hit the worst. Viable and cost-effective options like digital media and online entities only hastened the process. It was only inevitable for traditional media entities to shed their sluggish avatars and adopt digital miens.

It was the rise of mobiles and internet in India that kick-started a surge of digital start-ups curating and covering news on social media and mobile apps. According to Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, Indian news start-ups have been prioritising mobile-optimised websites and rightly so. To boost their India presence, lofty brands such as BuzzFeed, Quartz, and The Huffington Post too began to make their local presence felt. And, in keeping with the trend, many Western media brands have been forming partnerships with Indian media players too. The Quint, for instance, has partnered with Bloomberg and created an entity called BloombergQuint.

With the internet in India growing at a rate of 40 per cent year-on-year and the rest of the world tapering off at a paltry nine per cent growth, the going is indeed incredible for India and particularly so, its media startups.

In order to attract overseas players, the government is considering relaxing foreign direct investment (FDI) norms in several sectors, including single-brand retail trading and digital media. Also, the Union government is looking at a clarification on applicability of the foreign direct investment policy on the digital media sector. This is needed as the present FDI policy is mum on the fast-growing digital media segment.

Through the government approved route, in all, 26 per cent FDI is allowed in the print media sector. Also, in broadcasting content services, 49 percent FDI is permitted through government approved route.

FDI is hugely useful in improving the nation’s balance of payments situation and strengthens the rupee value against other currencies, especially the US dollar. India possesses the fastest growth in the number of internet users in the world and a diverse legacy of news media sector in both print and broadcast.

For the last decade, India has been battling with concerns that certain news media outlets are promised by their pursuit of short‑term profit combined by weak professional ethics, external pressures and conflicts of interest related to their owners’ other business and political activities.

This has also contributed widely to the slump in readership of print models and the current surge in digital media where apart from the speed at which news is delivered, the takeaways are higher. There is a lot of involvement and potential to exercise choice by way of endorsing or de-bunking reports available across the online fora.

Media start-ups in India aim to build on the opportunity afforded by rapid growth in internet use while navigating between news media competitors and international technology companies increasingly expand their online activities and on the other hand the economic, professional, political and publisher-linked pressures most journalists in India have to contend with.

Today, digital online entities compare with the reach and editorial prowess of leading legacy news media like the Times of India, NDTV or Dainik Bhaskar which have been swiftly losing credibility owing to their political stance and posturing that is for all to see.

However, in India, as elsewhere, the established media continue to dominate digital news provision and employ the vast majority of journalists. Yet the scope for the fringe and the few to put their views down in digital hemisphere is huge. Now, just about anyone can start a blog or a website and write news, views or whatever may be the case and publicise it. Why, they can even avail advertising support for their content either through the publishing platform itself, through Google Adsense or other monetising methods.

The Indian Digital Media journalism start‑ups in India are aiming to seize the huge opportunity represented by explosive growth in internet use across the country in recent years. In 2015, India overtook the United States and became the second largest internet market in the world in terms of number of users, second only to China. 

At the end of 2014, an industry association estimated India would reach 400 million internet users by the end of 2017. According to Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI), that figure was reached a year later by December . IAMAI figures indicate that, in India, about 30 per cent are internet users well under the global average of over 40 per cent and pervasive and persistent poverty means that India continues to have a deep digital divide between the poor and the rich, and between rural and urban areas. Internet use in major metropolitan areas is estimated to be well over 50 per cent whereas the figure is closer to 10 per cent in many rural areas.

Yet, the digital growth in the last few years has been astonishing. Cheaper smart-phones are increasingly found even in very poor rural areas. In the 15 year period, from 1995 to 2010, internet use in India grew from nearly a naught to a mere 8 per cent, even as global access reached 30 per cent. Yet, from 2011 to 2015, the Indian figure grew to over 30 per cent, the bulk of it being from 2014 and 2015.

In absolute numbers, it took 15 years to get the first 100 million Indians online, three more years to reach 200 million, one more year to reach 300 million, and then another year to reach 400 million.

Driven by the spread of mobile internet access, the growth in internet use in India has been phenomenal. While in 2012, a third of internet users in India were mobile users, by 2015, according to IAMAI estimates, the figure is more than 60 per cent and most of these being mobile-only users.

The Indian internet environment is far more mobile-centred than that of high-income democracies, where 80 per cent to 90 per cent of internet users have both desktop access at home and mobile access via their phone. In 2015, in India, almost two thirds of its internet users was estimated to be mobile traffic and most of it mostly 2G and 3G access.

Major telecommunication providers have been investing in expanding their infrastructure to provide better access and apart from the government’s initiatives, and large international media players like Facebook and Google have each presented their own initiatives to get more Indians online.

Media Start-ups now include a flurry of entities both private and public, self-financed and crowd-funded, and continue to grow by the second. It’s only a matter of time before they completely offset the influence exerted by traditional media houses which have, on their part, swiftly changed tracks from print to online and jumped on the digital bandwagon lest they be left behind.

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