2018: The Year of Digital Confusion

16 Nov,2018

 

By Shailesh Kapoor

 

The growth of digital media has headlined many conversations in the media landscape over the last few years. Many industry forums and conclaves have picked “digital” as their theme. It is nearly impossible to have a conversation with any senior television or films executive that eventually does not discuss how digital media is impacting their category.

The over-arching feeling in many such forums or conversations is still one of confusion. Everyone is trying to make some sense of what’s going on, but there is so much going on and so little public data available that it is impossible to make much sense after all. The smarter ones are still focusing on picking up packets of information and trying to join the dots in their head, even as others jump to hasty, often faulty, conclusions (the predicted death of conventional television is at the top of this list).

The last week, too, saw the media industry struggle with its ability to process the impact of digital media. There was, yet again, some talk about censorship of online content. This impossible-to-execute idea keeps propping up every now and then. The more you attempt to understand the thinking of the Government (or TRAI, which seems involved in some of this thinking), you sense that they are still struggling with two independent ‘challenges’ and but somehow trying to find common solutions to them: that of fake news via social media (including WhatsApp) and that of an uncensored original content space in OTT.

The fake news menace is a real one, and while there are laws that address this area, the topic is still too nascent for the execution machinery. Censorship demands that keep coming up are about wanting to control as much territory as they can, an inherent entitlement most politicians or bureaucrats struggle to let go.

While these are regulatory challenges, there are challenges on the industry side too. Last week, a big film (Thugs of Hindostan) released to scathing social media reviews. Within hours of the release, videos and memes were circulating on how poor the content of the film is. While this has happened in the past too, the sheer speed at which the information travelled this time was unprecedented. By the time the film entered its second day, it was already carrying the perception of being a low-grade product, and had received so much battering that even a higher drop in its box office collections from the first day to the second (it dropped about 45%) was not ruled out.

Then there is the entire question of marketing economics. Most big advertisers are struggling with the important question on how to divide adspends between digital and conventional media. The question here is of both reach and effectiveness, making it even more complex than the more general query: “How many people are watching content online now?”

In a widely-circulated Ormax report earlier this year, the collective impact of Facebook, YouTube and Instagram on the opening box office of a film dwarfed that of television, making some producers even question the presence of television in their media plans, especially for a film that’s modest in its budgets and its revenue ambitions.

The coming year will be particularly interesting, as many will hope to find some answers to the many questions regarding the role and place of digital media in the larger media landscape. And before we forget, it’s an elections year. And that adds its own share of both spice and uncertainty. One just hopes that by end-2019, we are all wiser, with more information on hand, and a better aptitude to understand the interplay of different media in India and the world.

 

 

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