Tom Goodwin on digital media & the future

21 Sep,2016


One of the star speakers at the Zee Melt 2016 was Tom Goodwin, Senior Vice President of Strategy and Innovation at Havas Media. This was Goodwin’s second visit to India, and as in the past he kept the audiences of his sessions glued to their seats with his vision for the future and a reality check of the present. Excerpts from a quick chat with Tom Goodwin…


In your session at Melt, you spoke about trends in the digital media – the goods and the bad. What is your view about the way things are in India?


The famous saying by William Gibson about the future being here but not equally distributed… more than anything else as I travel around the world you realise how true that is. So, it is very easy for Americans to come here and to somehow think that the things are far behind here. There are some things which are very far behind here. But there are things which are way ahead of America and I also think that change will happen probably more quickly here as well. For example, if you look at the way the mobile phones are embedded in the culture of people here… When you look at people in terms of media consumption, it actually lags behind. The number of people that buy daily newspapers, for example, is something that has not been seen in the realm of a developed world for a long time. One needs to be mindful of the environment it creates and the degree to which companies can lead for a lot in the interim stages. It is very easy for China to build the world’s best railway network because they are able to invest in the very latest and very best and advanced trains which is why they have one of the best train structures in the world. It is interesting to look at what the equivalent infrastructure looks like for India. So, what is mobile banking like in an environment where banks have not built a vast system of high-end banks first. What does Uber or Ola look like in environment where people have not got high car ownership>  It is a very interesting market to look at how things can be very advanced very quickly. Retail would be a very good example of that.


Why do you think there aren’t enough investments happening in terms of digital media spends?

I think digital media has always been the next big thing and what we realised in some markets is that there needs to be a much more nuanced approach towards it. There is always a lag between new technology and how quick investment happens in that channel. Mobile is the best example at the moment where we find an incredible amount of time but investment in advertising is very low. So, what we are probably seeing is people learning from early mistakes that happened in other countries. We are seeing a certain degree of lag because that is how the world is. Probably, I am also seeing a slightly different demographic nature here where if you want to reach the mass market, it still may not be as possible to do so using digital channels and there are still huge numbers of people watching broadcast TV and reading newspapers as well, so it is a combination of factors.


Consumption studies have claimed that print and broadcast are still going strong in India. So, traditional media is going to be here for long. Even the new media, for example Amazon, advertises a lot on traditional media.

At the end of the day, India is a country that has 1.2 billion people and is going through a remarkable economic transformation with incredible amount of growth. So, unlike more mature economies, it is absolutely possible and likely and good that the entire advertising community grows. Traditional media will grow but it is also likely and sensible that digital marketing and channels will grow even faster. I would like to think of a world beyond digital and traditional split because if you are reading the Indiatimes on your phone, we are still reading quality journalism. I talk freely about the post digital age where you can shoot TV through streaming or broadcast or whether you are reading news on your phone or on your desktop or newspaper increasingly matters less. The distinction between traditional and digital will hopefully increasingly mean less.


So, you are saying digital is going to get mainstreamed.

I think in different countries in different times digital will become how virtually all mediums are delivered. Interestingly in India, the TV streaming infrastructure is pretty advanced. So, we are already seeing lots of people consuming TV on desktop and through the internet. If we look at the long-term future other than newspaper and outdoor virtually all media will become digital, it is a personal opinion of mine as Tom Goodwin. And, this differentiation between traditional media and digital will just become irrelevant. As it happens that digital is better, we got far more rich personal information, we get to see how people are behaving, we get to optimise and buy in real time. It is the best environment ever for advertising. So we should see a positive there.


On a personal note, being a leading futurist yourself, don’t you want to do something bigger than what you are doing currently?

I am lucky and have done quite a lot of things for the first time. I did one of the first mobile apps, the world’s first interactive digital ad. I feel very comfortable when I make things and less comfortable when I talk about things. At the moment, I really enjoy triggering a debate. I feel my role is not to have answers but to have really good questions and I enjoy going around the world observing behaviour and thinking about how things are changing and not changing and I like making things and more work that I can do for our clients. But for me as an individual I think I am an intrepreneur rather than an entrepreneur. I do not want to take on the massiver of risk and have sleepless nights making stuff when I already got an amazing job.


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