Bhuvi Gupta: 2020 Trends in Media – Because Genuinely now Hindsight is 2020

30 Dec,2020

Bhuvi GuptaBy Bhuvi Gupta


It is the time for all the year-end pieces where one looks back and evaluates the year that was and what the coming year will be.


2020 was universally one of the most difficult years for the majority of us the world over. All of us have been forced to embrace disappointment and suffering, be jolted out of our comfort zones and respond to the ‘new normal’ with changed behaviours for no other reason but survival. The media the industry has been one of the worst affected – too many media outlets have reduced headcounts, shut shop or changed business models. This was a change that would have happened anyhow as consumption patterns have changed drastically in the last few years. The pandemic only accelerated the change. And in this digitally friendlier environment, I share four monumental ways in which the M&E  industry will change  in 2021 in the coming decade:


Paywalls & Advertising Revenue  – The free lunch is ending

More and more publications will start to go behind paywalls. This has been an eventuality long in coming. It was never going to be sustainable for media outlets to give away content pro bono.  Media companies depend on a combination of subscription and advertising revenues for sustenance. Traditionally, the more niche a media brand’s target audience, the more it can depend on subscription revenue. Hence, relatively niche brands such as The Hindu (which targets the intelligentsia) and Business Standard (which targets the corporate sector) have been behind paywalls since long. This year, however mass brands such as Hindustan Times are also gradually following suit, and more are bound to follow.


Had digital advertising revenues been controlled by publishers and not content aggregators paywalls might not have been built. However, currently Facebook and Google, which control the majority of content distribution on the internet and take the lion’s share of advertising revenues. This is set to change in Australia and UK (link –  where the respective antitrust regulators have enforced laws requiring both Google and Facebook to give a higher share of revenues to publishers. A move bound to get replicated globally as the current revenue share model is inherently flawed. Both the distribution behemoths are delaying this eventuality for obvious revenue benefits. I think by the time it reaches India in a few years, most mass media outlets will be behind paywalls so the increase in digital ad revenues will benefit their bottomline but not change the paid model that they would have established.


Podcasts – because ‘Video has not killed the Radio Star’

Podcasts have slowly been making their presence felt as a medium of importance. While they have been around for a few years, I must confess, it is only in 2020 during the pandemic, when faced with an endless stream of chores that I started listening to podcasts as a way to engage my mind while physically occupied. And to say I am hooked would be an understatement.


While the podcast industry is still in the early adopters phase of its lifecycle, it is booming globally in terms of both content being generated and consumed. It will go mainstream for a multitude of reasons. Firstly, it is an ambient medium, which fits seamlessly while primarily occupied with another task. Secondly, it enables listeners to access indepth conversations with industry experts and thought leaders they previously would not have exposure to.  Thirdly, the pandemic has accelerated its adoption and lastly it lends itself easily to content creation because one truly needs only a phone to record a podcast. Hence, in an ecosystem where we all are creators, it is an easy medium of expression with a small learning curve.


Hence, 2021 will be the year that podcasts will become mainstream.  Music streaming app Spotify recognised this and launched ‘Daily Drive’ (link- spotify-launches-your-daily-drive/)  in the US market in late-2019. (Daily Drive is a customised one-hour stream of music, news and podcasts basis user preferences). While the global rollout was halted due to the Covid outbreak, it is a sign of the times to come for podcasts.


New business models for news

An unfortunate outcome of the advertising-first business model for news media has been the ‘tabloidisation’ of the content. This means rather than focusing on what is important, an inordinate amount of show time is dedicated to sensationalist topics to get the maximum eyeballs and as a result advertising. Mix this tabloid-like content in with an additional layer of political biases  and as a result news today is more like entertainment rather than actual news. As a result, there is a rapidly spreading sense of disillusionment with news media and citizen movements targeting advertisers that advertise on seemingly biased media portals are gathering speed.


In 2020, two key things happened  – the tabloid genre died because most mass news content became tabloidesque. Case in point: the shuttering of both Mail Today and Mumbai Mirror. As a result of the first, subscription-led individual or small collective based journalism, which markets itself on credibility, came into being  facilitated by self-publishing tools like, newsletter platform Substack (link – and even Instagram. Case in point: Faye D’Souza whose Instagram is now a trusted source of news especially for millenials & GenZ.


In 2021, I think Indian audiences will start moving en masse towards paid portals and newsletters as their primary news source in the search of credible news.


The collapse of the singular media genre

Another important change is how in the last decade most media companies have crossed over from their primary medium to produce content in other media – all TV channels have websites where they produce quality written content. Most radio channels now produce video content as well.


In 2021, all media companies will stop identifying themselves as only TV or only Print or only-Radio and instead will become omni- channel media companies.  Case in point is the Times Group-owned Radio Mirchi, which rebranded to ‘Mirchi’  (link – prashant-panday-walks-us-through-the-brands-transformation/articleshow/79532987.cms) to embrace this expanded identity, which in reality has existed for a few years already.


In summary, the media industry is set to go through a monumental shift in the coming year because the biggest advantage that legacy media companies had was of distribution, a high-quality workforce and access to newsmakers. While the glass ceiling on the former has been shattered, the latter three still exist in varying degrees. Hence, to remain relevant leveraging this competitive advantage with credibility and honesty is key for both survival and success.


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