Need for a news business model that rewards credibility

Media Rumble 2019 – Sponsoring the news

Vikas Mehta, chief executive officer, Mullen Lintas, Santosh Desai, a columnist and a social commentator, Atika Malik, chief operating officer at Cheil, with moderator, Sunetra Choudhury, a journalist and anchor at NDTV at Media Rumble. Photo IPP
Vikas Mehta, chief executive officer, Mullen Lintas, Santosh Desai, a columnist and a social commentator, Atika Malik, chief operating officer at Cheil, with moderator, Sunetra Choudhury, a journalist and anchor at NDTV at Media Rumble. Photo IPP

Sponsoring the news at Media Rumble 2019 was an interesting discussion among the panelists – Atika Malik, chief operating officer at Cheil, columnist and social commentator Santosh Desai and the chief executive officer of Mullen Lintas, Vikas Mehta – on the relationship of advertising to the quality of journalism.

The conversation opened with moderator Sunetra Choudhury, a journalist and anchor at NDTV asking, “How do brands and marketeers decide where to advertise?” Answering this, Malik said that it depends on the target audience, which is mostly Gen Z. “The millennials are looking for trust and credibility and not sensational content. Brands need to be cautious about where they place their advertisement if they want to appeal to their audience,” she said.

With smartphones glued to the hands of almost every person, the bigger question is whether the new generation reads news at all. In response, Desai said that the new generation does keep up with news but on different platforms; they watch news on social media and communications applications. A message circulating on WhatsApp can also be called news. However, the benchmark of authenticity changes with the medium. In times when brands can be called upon directly, they need to be conscious about what are they implicating.

Mehta said that for a news platform, it is important to consider what message is getting across and that is where the qualitative parameter comes in the picture. “Brands are becoming conscious about where they are seen. As a brand, I would be conscious about the kind of content I am affiliating with and that will depend on the quality of the content. That is why brands will gravitate towards better quality content; this is a force of nature,” he added.

Choudhury emphasized that the validity of content seems to be more important than the numbers. The audience wants to know whether you stand by your content. “Brands go for numbers largely but not entirely,” said Desai. On the other hand, advertisements that are placed by algorithms are based on numbers and the advertiser is not aware of where the ad is being placed. Furthermore, if a publisher does not have credible content, it will have to rely on numbers to drive revenue. Advertisers are not responsible for the credibility of the content; the quality of content lies with the publisher.

Malik presented a different point of view saying that digitization can help to hold a brand responsible since it allows the consumers to address them directly. This will force brands to be conscious of their actions. In this manner, the audience becomes the voice of consciousness. Giving an example of brand consciousness, Malik recalled the recent incident where food delivery platform Zomato gracefully protected its Muslim delivery person from bigoted attacks on Twitter. Desai, however, was not convinced with the idea that the audience could be a moderator of brands. He said that the idea of brands professing their stand on social media and ignoring numbers or business is being a little too optimistic.

The debate continued with Malik arguing that influencers in different genres on social media have millions of followers and brands are losing their audience to them. Hence, it is important for brands to step up and go for better quality reach and engagement instead of numbers to grab the attention of the audience. It makes commercial sense in the long run and is monetarily rewarding. In addition, while advertising with influencers and using their wide audience reach can be an opportunity for brands, there are challenges attached to this approach. “Influencers will say and do anything do get more followers. Where do you draw the line in the kind of content they will use to do so?” Malik asked.

Meanwhile, newsrooms cannot report only what the audience wants and are obliged to report facts truthfully. The panelists were of the opinion that even though newsrooms and brands cannot alter the content according to the audience, they will still need to adapt to the changing trends and shift to digital media since that’s where most of the people read or get their news.

The discussion concluded by expressing the need for a business model that rewards credibility. And once again reiterating that the primary responsibility of credible content lies with the media and not the brands who see it as a marketing medium.

The Covid-19 pandemic led to the country-wide lockdown on 25 March 2020. It will be two years tomorrow as I write this. What have we learned in this time? Maybe the meaning of resilience since small companies like us have had to rely on our resources and the forbearance of our employees as we have struggled to produce our trade platforms.

The print and packaging industries have been fortunate, although the commercial printing industry is still to recover. We have learned more about the digital transformation that affects commercial printing and packaging. Ultimately digital will help print grow in a country where we are still far behind in our paper and print consumption and where digital is a leapfrog technology that will only increase the demand for print in the foreseeable future.

Web analytics show that we now have readership in North America and Europe amongst the 90 countries where our five platforms reach. Our traffic which more than doubled in 2020, has at times gone up by another 50% in 2021. And advertising which had fallen to pieces in 2020 and 2021, has started its return since January 2022.

As the economy approaches real growth with unevenness and shortages a given, we are looking forward to the PrintPack India exhibition in Greater Noida. We are again appointed to produce the Show Daily on all five days of the show from 26 to 30 May 2022.

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– Naresh Khanna

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