'Breaking news is no longer TV's domain': Ashok Venkatramani

By afaqs! news bureau , afaqs!, Mumbai | In Digital | January 24, 2017
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Venkatramani along with FirstPost's BV Rao and NDTV Convergence's Suparna Singh discuss how digital video will impact television news as we know it, at a vdonxt asia 2017 session moderated by Shweta Mulki of afaqs!.

A vdonxt session titled 'Streaming India' had Ashok Venkatramani, former president of the News Broadcasters Association and former CEO of ABP News; BV Rao, editor of FirstPost and Suparna Singh, CEO of NDTV Convergence, shared their insight on the future of news, as part of a panel moderated by Shweta Mulki, special correspondent at afaqs!

The moderator began by asking the panellists their first thoughts, to which Venkatramani pointed out some trends that he felt were challenging traditional news consumption. He said that the youth-skewed population where the majority is under 25 years of age, and 65% under the age of 35 was a big factor influencing news today; aided by the fact that their television consumption had reduced by half over the years. Thirdly, he said, online video was going to be a major driver for news, and that the pillars it depended on - be it smartphones, broadband infrastructure or social media use - all were zooming upwards, and that there was huge headroom for growth.

Venkatramani surmised that a lot of traditional businesses did see the writing on the wall, but currently didn't have the clarity in terms of the required axes to address this, and the milestones to be obtained thereby.

Sharing her initial thoughts, Singh began with a quick fact saying, "NDTV streamed 2.5 billion minutes of video. We were very quick to realise that our online content could not simply be about television material rehashed and put up - the audience coming in here needed quicker, snappier videos. So, despite being a traditional broadcast company, we are now creating vignettes made especially for mobile phones in our most popular genres be it tech or auto."

Singh also added that the staggering numbers (for eg. in 2017, 72% of internet data will be devoted to video) were a good indication of growth in digital video. On the kind of video that would shape this growth, Singh asserted," One is short-form video where every big story is broken down to three quick points, and another is growth in vernacular video content."

Calling out to media planners to evangelise the situation, Singh noted that money was much slower to come in, and that publishers and content creators would have to factor in whether they should move in now and park themselves - all depending on whether they had the affordability to wait for the advertisers to come in later.

Rao in his initial thoughts said that 'television as we know it' had already started getting impacted by digital but he felt that the medium would hold out for longer as digital still couldn't handle concurrence above a certain level. "Formats and content offerings are changing but the technology gap exists. For instance, a major sporting event with billions of concurrent viewers can currently only be handled by television."

When asked about the nature of audiences coming in, Venkatramani mentioned that while you can play the sampling game on TV; digital allowed you to profile your users beforehand but despite this there was no value. "We are used to selling eyeballs, and not analysing the page views, so a seasoned buyer has the bargaining advantage," he explained. Adding that digital lacks, a 'hero' - as neither the person nor the brand has high recall.

On data, Rao commented, "We are looking at data and trends continuously, and you can get swayed by the 'trend of the moment' but brand identity needs to outlive that. You need to have a larger picture."

Here, Venkataramani spoke of the editors' dilemma where some operate on the 'I'm going to tell the consumer what is new' model, while the other extreme looks at the 'putting out news based on what is trending' model. "This could hold them back from looking at data," he added.

Singh asserted that there were editors out there who looked at audiences demographically alongside content consumption trends. "Editors have to pick and choose, so while some cover wardrobe malfunctions, we won't. Experience and brand credibility are key here," she reasoned.

Mulki then questioned the panel on why advertisers were still not seeing value despite the numbers seen in the space. Rao responded, "This is a changeover phase and technology in digital has to scale up to match television. Things like Facebook Live are starting to address this in some way."

Extending the social media issue, the panel was asked about competition arising from that space. To that Venkantramani replied, "At ABP, we courted social media early, as we realised breaking news is no longer in TV's domain. We wanted to build brand over anchors, and we put up short videos. It started out as a marketing act to woo millennials, and evolved into a way of life." He also revealed that 'fake news was possible on video too' in social media. Both Rao and Singh viewed social media platforms as distribution and brand building opportunities.

Going back to the hurdles in monetisation, Singh spoke of some advertisers wanting 'real estate' and complaining that mobiles screens were too small. "But that's where people are. We have teams that help advertisers with these kind of creative", Singh stressed.

Rao observed that, "The challenge in getting revenue on digital is that there are too many of us. I'm also competing with a New York Times or a Washington Post as well as Myntra or Flipkart when it comes to time spent on mobile."

Venkatramani who was of the view that publishers needed to pull their socks up, insisted, "You need to base your monetisation model on something - be it brand image, uniqueness in news presentation or specific profile of audience, as otherwise the buyer will always treat you as a commodity."

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