Media at Crossroads: When Small is Big

The small handheld screen is taking the bigger tele-screen by the horns. From news to entertainment, short video to music video, the any-time consumption of video online is increasing fast, more so in times of low internet costs on handsets.

Digital is being reborn almost every day with 1200 million cell phone users in South Asia, almost half of them being active on internet and social media with smart-phones, and 6 on 10 internet users being a regular daily user. Transition to the digital world ahead will be more through Artificial Intelligence, Augmented Reality ad Virtual Reality, which will add visual and conceptual diversity on one hand, and may also create stories and visuals which do not actually exist and pass them off as news. Therein lies the pitfall as well.

Revenue & Distribution Challenges:

News media is at crossroads on many counts.

The basic problem facing the news media, specially the TV, today is the disproportionate expense on distribution and carriage fees of channels. Hence, there is decidedly low investment in content and the variety of the same. Almost all channels then resort to studio talks rather than much of field-work. This also results in limited courage in content and prevalence of subdued voice of many channels.

Size of the television news business is around Rs.4000 crores, which is 5% of the gross 80,000 crores advertising revenue in South Asia, and hence the frontiers are still open on revenue side. Even in digital news, profit sighting and traffic rise are rare and far in between, though has happened in some portals, like NDTV.com in India and Onlinekhabar.com in Nepal. In spite of the news portals like TimesofIndia.com and IndiaToday.in already earning profits, consumer is still not ready for the subscription and Paywall route to revenue generation in digital news.

The situation for general entertainment channels (GEC) is a tad better and the consumption of serials and reality shows is far more on TV than on the handset. But there is a perceptible change herein too. Snacking of small parts of reality shows on the digital medium is rampant now and often such short videos go viral.

Also, appointment viewing of television programs is on decline as urban consumers specially need anytime viewing due to a hectic short-on-time lifestyle and working status of many. Digital with its anytime viewing option is hence a major way forward, being aided with large and cheap datapacks on phones and home wifi getting cheaper by the day.

TV Integration with the Digital Medium:

A major movement forward in the domain of television news is its increasing integration with web or digital news. NDTV.com has emerged to be the 20th largest news portal of the world and by far the largest of any TV news organization in India, with its Web First slogan and series of initiatives. India Today takes it to Mobile First perspective where the content (pics, language and video) are even tailored to mobile medium sensitivity. Alongside, the editors today find video for online very different from the video on TV for the same news since online video is consumed more on a smaller handheld device. Onlinekhabar.com and Himalaya TV in Nepal have just announced their partnership for bringing converged content to Nepali audiences.

Alongside, television and its digital avatars are both caught up in the debate between speed news (face focus) and enterprise content (full story with various perspectives). Original curated personalized content is must in the digital medium, and hence the adaptation of journalists to digital content generation techniques becomes crucial. Un-cynical and tech-savvy younger work-force is often more suited for this.

Bias versus Neutrality:

It is a good news that journalism in myriad forms is being consumed more and democracy is being served better with reach of news becoming stronger and wider, though in a clutter of news-platforms, credibility is going to be the discerning factor. The worrying factor at times is that by-lines are increasingly known less for the news they speak but for stands they take. There is the rise of branded anchors, living in their bubbles and echo-chambers, and TV often presents less news, and much more views.

Alternatively, social media, consumed much on smartphones, has created some pressures on TV to stand firm. Portals like altnews and boomchecker have created pressures on TV journalists in India to get their stories right. News anchors can have their biases in views, but post-truths or fake news cannot be presented as facts. The artificially created conflicts through studio guests and #journalism are signs of decay in healthy news presentation, though these serve the twin purposes of reducing costs and strengthening biases and stereotypes.

“Don’t let objectivity get into the way of news,” James Cameron. So, opinions fine, so long as they are stated upfront and not presented with doctored or fake facts as news.

Media Self-correction:

Media mediates social change, and media self-corrects with time. People do go back to credible news. After the coming in Donald Trump to power in USA, New York Times and CNN have become more popular. Indian news media should be thinking about what they are doing to themselves for TRPs, viewership and being in the good books of powers that be.

While audiences are coming to TV or re-iteration or reaffirmation of their already existing world view, they take to digital media for breaking news and this will only grow further, but revenue is still abysmally low in the digital which is the cause of real worry. With higher revenues on the digital medium, there will be more corrections in the overall contours of news-dissemination in India.

NewsRoom 2020: Crystal-gazing:

The new definition of DTH is Direct to Handset. So mobile journalism (MOJO) and skills of MOJO journalists are the order of tomorrow. The future is of further integrated newsroom along with staff doubling up on TV and digital fronts, selfie-stick reporters shooting themselves and publishing simultaneously will be the new normal. In brief, multi-skilled convergent techno-savvy mobile journalists with a great network and way with languages shall be the most sought after animal in the world of news of tomorrow.

Also, technology penetration will emerge as the game-changer ahead. Social media will fill in where the mainstream media fail and with broadband going to every corner this will be further accelerated. Also, Specialized Content, as in business or ecology or defence, for specific niche audiences will also find market and revenue talking to their right audiences.

Indeed, journalists can take you to the spot of an event through VR and add layers to it through AR. Facts and fiction distinction may to an extent get obliterated. Since people are consuming a specific news platform more through the social media like Twitter, Youtube and Facebook, and less through their portals, creating viral news through AR/VR becomes a reality of the future. This is more so as video capable devices are on the rise, and are expected to grow more than twice between 2016 and 2020. Increasingly, the shorter hand-held screen is for snacking news or watching trailer of the news, while the larger screen on TV is for more detailed presentation.

Come 2020: Content still remains the king, though contexts and platforms shall change.

Educational Delivery: Changing Left, Right & Centre

Education technology and its delivery are going through a revolutionary change today. In the digital age, chalk and talk is history. On one hand, with depleting attention span of learners, new learning pedagogy is needed. And on the other, integrating digital tools into education, from school to University, is must. But which are these tools and how to integrate the same?

Brick & Mortar:

This has been the usual learning in the classroom taught by teachers who speak the last word on the subject, coupled with learning in the library from hard copy books, and evaluating through examinations written in examination halls. Brick and mortar still is the core of education delivery. We need teachers as role models and a human touch, for clarifications and for inspiration. A good teacher motivates a learner to be open to even tough subjects. Also brick and mortar gives us peers, brings in a sense of collaboration and teamwork, and gives our first circle of friends much of which remains till death.

Click & Portal:

The West first brought the concept of online learning. Entire courses came to be presented online through the blend of text, pdfs, audio (podcasts) and video, and finally blended where all of these are converged to make the learning experience diverse to the sense organs and pleasing to internalize. New range of e-learning tools and resources, e-tutors, self-learning through Khan Academy and Coursera videos and courses have now emerged. They are sometimes aid to mainstream learning, and at times these become the mainstream learning itself. However, such an approach, when taken to its logical conclusion and in its entirety, makes education mechanical, bereft of role models, inspiration, peer group and teamwork. Many critics have noted that such an approach leads to geeks and robotic minds. The good old campus life, peer-network, teacher as a guru etc do have their own place under the sun.

Experiential Learning:

Ancient Gurukul System in our civilization has eulogised learning by doing with a Guru in front as an inspiring role model and learners staying together in Gurukuls for collective learning. Even in the post industrial world, many with basic education went directly into the factory system, workshops and offices and picked up skills on the job, learning by doing. While this experiential learning makes a strong case of hands-on ready-to-use skills being imparted, the major limitation of this is while it answers to ‘How’ questions of skills, it does not delve deep into ‘Why’ questions of any issue. It renders itself limited to a repetitive process and learning by default, rather than by design. In true education, we need to learn how to do any work, along with the clear answers to why to do that, when to do (and not to do), what is the continuity or history of that skill/knowledge, etc. For these, we do need a formal and structured learning architecture as well.

Experiential Brick & Portal Learning:

As we proceed into a Knowledge Economy, and also a society which needs all the more reasons to interact and mutually empower one another, education is increasingly moving towards the right futuristic model in its delivery: Experiential Brick & Portal Learning (EBPL). Education to be diverse in scope, humane in approach, technical in skills, and internalized in its impact must combine the best elements of all the three noted above seamlessly and without mutual conflict.
We need to enumerate various educational pedagogy and approaches, and then move to learn in details, with cases and tasks to apply. This can be achieved by blending the class room/library brick and mortar education with internet/cyber-based click and portal learning and experiential learning by doing.

On Campus Practices:

Jaipuria management college in India has started using whatsapp as a tool to enhance attendance. It makes 2 minutes video with a touch of humour and creativity on the major theme of the next day in session and sends it a night or two before to enhance interest of the learners. Pearl Academy in India has done away with written exams and evaluates learners only through a major project applying all learning of a module, for each module.

Flip classroom methodology has been started by several management and engineering institutes where power-point presentation on the subject of discussion a day or two later is given along with online and offline reading resources. The class begins with a quiz to assess the level of information and understanding of the learners on the subject, then moves into clarifications and case-studies.
After discussing development and organizations in the classroom, reading cases and documented examples, a few management and communication institutes like SP Jain Management or Symbiosis Media schools have started sending learners to study development organizations and apply management principles and communication skills to contribute some value to them for a period of 4 to 10 weeks. Many universities have institutionalized a mixed evaluation process of integrating project work with online research and offline written examination to have a holistic approach to evaluating learning outcomes of their students. And this process is obviously a continuous evaluation. This is in sharp contrast to one-time year-end or twice a year written exams which determined grades and marks of learners for all their lives.

Finnish Innovation Labs in Education:

Education system of Finland is considered to be the finest in the world. In the Finnish Innovation Labs in education, specially at higher education level, there is no formal teaching, but a collective learning by doing where a theme is introduced, ground rules are set, the learners in groups explore it themselves through self-study, cases, survey or research on ground, and coming together and sharing results at every level, discarding those that do not stand strong.

The entire edifice of Finnish education system is founded on one core belief—learning by doing—that inherently values trust and responsibility. Further, the same belief—effective learning can happen when it is self-directed and self-regulated—got firmly imprinted in my mind. ‘Learning’ rather than ‘numerical outcome ‘should become the key component and occupy the center stage to keep education in line with the ‘Self-determination’ Theory—one that propounds that pupils perform better when they are motivated by intrinsic rather than extrinsic rewards. Hence, there are no marks, only grades; and rewards are more in the form of joy of discovery, bonding, and field-work. Recently, Kathmandu University School of Management (KUSOM) and King’s College of Nepal are taking steps towards implementing this approach with Finnish support in their educational pedagogy.