How can news media increase its revenues?

By Prof. Ujjwal K Chowdhury , Pearl Academy, Mumbai | In Media
Published : September 05, 2018 06:24 AM
The future of journalism lies in producing content that people are ready to pay for.

Integrated Newsroom and Media Convergence:

The news industry revenue is going through a churn like never before. Currently, in late 2018, 38 per cent of total global ad-spending is in the digital medium which has gained heavily from print which has come down to 9 per cent globally. Television is at 34 per cent, globally, but is in fast decline. The remaining 19 per cent is distributed amongst radio, outdoor, events, and a myriad other channels. Advertising pundits opine that digital will finally stabilise at two-thirds of all ad-spending globally. This makes a strong case for news media focusing on the digital platform all the more. There is no need to create different teams for print, television and digital. In fact, an integrated newsroom is the right thing to do and creating a multi-skilled, multi-media convergent team of journalists in the field and on-desk is a must for the news of tomorrow.

Prof. Ujjwal K Chowdhury Prof. Ujjwal K Chowdhury

For quite some time now, the move from siloistic or a few initiatives platform to a convergent multi-media platform has been the reality for most media enterprises. This is about attempting to be present across offline (publications), online (portal, social media), on air (television, radio), on ground (events), and on mobile (app) platforms. Then, the media group can take its content seamlessly across multiple media platforms, reduce costs on human resources getting fewer multi-skilled professionals, and may also bring in higher revenue by offering integrated marketing and branding solutions to its advertisers across multiple media. Media convergence always reduces HR costs, real estate costs, news-gathering costs, and increases resource efficiency and brings in more revenue across platforms.

Events and Experiential News Route:

Second, organising relevant news-worthy events will surely lead to positive top and bottom-line, apart from relationships and content, though organisations may need to be pliant to powers that be, if not careful, in dealing with them. However, though events are a good source of revenue and lead to great relationships, for which they should be organised, events are also a non-scalable activity; every edition of an event property is bespoke and all things for it need to begin from scratch.

Third, clearly demarcated advertorials, news that you can use, utilitarian content from among paid-for branded content are another source of revenue to be harnessed by each media enterprise depending upon its reach and impact. It is a fine line to tread; only a balanced approach, keeping news sacrosanct and yet paid-for branded content also present, is needed.

Fourth, investing in multi-media content providers making them mobile journalists, an editor to make them multi-media editors, and multi-media brand and sales professionals who can develop packages to sell well in the marketplace, all combined, is another way to enhance revenues. Multi-skilling is a necessary condition for news media HR in times to come.

ALSO READ: How we sold digital advertising wrong in India

Digital Revenue Sources Diversifying:

Fifth, attempts to increase revenues online must be the way forward integrating video, audio, text, and images for news, views, previews, and responses together. At the same time, this will bring down costs of legacy media in real estate, people, distribution network, and also feedback channels.

Indeed, the digital news media of tomorrow shall experiment with diverse revenue sources apart from traditional advertising on the web. There is the subscription route, the crowd-funding route, Paywall, events, social campaigns, co-subscriptions with non-competing content platforms, customised story-telling for brands, collaborative revenue sharing among media platforms with similar approach etcetera, etcetera. Each of them is creatively being engaged the world-over.

Along with this, solutions-based and advocacy-laced journalism, taking a stand or a perspective, will stand out and create niche audiences to be catered to through news, views, humour, infographics, events, referrals etc. Engage people without them asking for it, but creatively. One may give sources and other site references and solutions to the audience. Digital video can make money. Ads inside digital news, in video format, can travel across multiple media - as in Buzzfeed and Vice.

Loyalty to such specific brands can be leveraged through membership drives as well which goes beyond just subscriptions. New York Times' example is a good one. Wall Street Journal has developed a membership model with Fox TV and Harper Collins publishing together, benefitting all three.

The revenue challenge is a reality in news media and can only be met by reducing costs on one side, especially of traditional news media, and increasing revenue on the other, especially of digital media. By listening more, engaging audiences, using User Generated Content, integrating brand stories creatively into the broad content plan, and having utilitarian as well as interesting content, this problem can be tackled.

Content is still king, but commerce can help it rule longer. So, content-led commerce will be more important going ahead. A media house may tie up with a Walmart + Flipkart/Amazon, review products without getting into direct deals with the product manufacturers and take a cut on sales from the e-biz platform.

Today, media houses have to worry about the 'Time' and not 'Competition'. The 'Time' of the target audience is the one single non-renewable resource that needs to be monetised. Clickbait is a short-run success policy, but negative, whereas engaging audiences, is a positive route.

ALSO READ: What are the monetisation strategies for online publishers?

Audience Insights:

Also, a news enterprise must know who its audience is and hence, who will spend to reach out to them. Developing annual packages on the sales front with such brands and organisations interested in its audience, is the sure-shot way to tackle the revenue challenge effectively.

Reach and frequency are no more the only currency for advertisers. They also want to be associated with credible brands or the type of journalism reflected by a specific news enterprise in question.

Each media enterprise story is unique. You can only suggest a laundry list of revenue diversification, but the ones that will click, in specific cases, will vary from platform to platform. A dedicated community created by a media outlet, if serviced well, raises enough to sustain and grow. Being everything to everyone is surely an assured way to fail. The future of journalism is surely in the production of content which people are ready to pay for.

(The author is School Head, School of Media, Pearl Academy, Delhi and Mumbai; and former Dean of Symbiosis, Amity and Whistling Woods).

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