BV Rao
Guest Article

How should media houses adapt to the digital world?

The answer lies in the fact that most digital news is, at best, dumbed down.

Content. Content. Content.

That, to borrow Vidya Balan's words, would be the simple answer to the above poser.

How should media houses adapt to the digital world?
But that must sound strange because media houses are supposed to be all about content, so why should they do it three times over?

The answer lies in the fact that most digital news is at best dumbed down -- because the digital native or even the digital convert, is assumed to be ADHD-afflicted. And, at worst, which is ever so often, it is surrogate news, originally birthed in print or broadcast and repackaged in unthinking hurry for a digital after-life.

This format of digital news will not survive too long. I draw this conclusion from personal experience, of course. Firstpost puts out a lot of original content. The average length of our articles is about 1,000 words, considered very very long for digital. But our industry-beating engagement metric (average time spent) tells a story that is at complete variance with the received wisdom that the digital reader likes it only in small packages.

That's the first change media houses will have to get used to. The digital medium will demand news that is original and sensible. That means more content costs. And a lot of this content will have to be in video. Which means even more content costs.

So, one thing the content producers will have to get used to is making video content at quality that rivals broadcast at costs that are a fraction of broadcast. At Firstpost, we started on this road on May 19, 2016, when election results to five state assemblies were announced. By marrying the just-arrived Facebook Live feature with a readily available live streaming technology, we were able to take the essential Firstpost brand - breaking opinions - to live video mode at costs that would be laughable in comparison with broadcast. We repeated this with the November 9 US presidential election, Union Budget 2017 and the latest round of results to five assemblies on March 11, 2017.

You will see not just Firstpost, but many others as well doing this more and more as they adapt to life in digital news video.

Volume. Volume. Volume.

The next big trend everybody, even those that started out as specialist websites, has realised is - the digital news space is all about volumes. The digital beast is worse than its broadcast predecessor. It needs to be fed all the time. UVs and PVs are directly proportional to the number of stories a publication puts out every day. Here we are talking of volumes that neither print nor broadcast have ever achieved. Just to illustrate the point: if Times of India print carries say 100 stories in a day (big and small), its online version is said to be putting out nothing less than 1,000 per day. So, digital will need not just original stories, but truck loads of original stories. Again, that means costs.

The other trend that is fast catching up is the growth of language readership. Everything that is true for English publications is true for language publications. The growth in reach here can be quick and fast but the revenue yield per unique user will be a fraction of what English publications can command (which will be a fraction of what broadcast or print can command). So some more costs.

Costs. Costs. Costs.

The unkindest cut is that while all of this investment in content needs to be made here and now, the time-frame for return on investment is uncertain.

So that's the other big ask for adapting to the digital news world:

Wait. Wait. Wait.

Vidya Balan doesn't have to say it. We all know it.

(The author is editor, Firstpost​)

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