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Will the Indian Media Bubble Burst Soon?

For the first time in a decade, newspaper readership in India has declined. Even the seemingly booming TV news industry may be suffering from overcapacity. Are these early signs of the Indian media bubble burst? Round 1 results of the 2007 Indian Readership Survey (IRS) were declared recently and, for the first time in a decade, newspaper readership in India has shown a decline. The survey shows a fall in readership of most English newspapers, vernacular language dailies and magazines. Is this the first sign of the Indian media bubble burst?

For the first time in a decade, newspaper readership in India has declined. Even the seemingly booming TV news industry may be suffering from overcapacity. Are these early signs of the Indian media bubble burst?

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Round 1 results of the 2007 Indian Readership Survey (IRS) were declared recently and, for the first time in a decade, newspaper readership in India has shown a decline. The survey shows a fall in readership of most English newspapers, vernacular language dailies and magazines. Is this the first sign of the Indian media bubble burst?

The Indian media industry has, for years, been the envy of media companies round the world. With restrictions on Foreign Direct Investment in news media, global media conglomerates have found it difficult to grab a pie of the huge Indian market. For an Indian reader like me, I have had a new title to choose from every few months. Indeed, a Canadian journalist friend of mine was recently lamenting about the declining Canadian media industry and comparing it to the boom times in India. Samar Srivastava’s recent blog on FC Now http://blog.fastcompany.com/archives/2007/03/21/no_gloom_for_newspapers_in_the_developing_world.html#more
“No Gloom For Newspapers in the Developing World” further reiterates the point.

But, the IRS survey result has proved to be the party pooper, spoiling the moods of industry and advertisers alike . It was less than a year ago that another national survey – the National Readership Survey (NRS) – had shown a jump of six million newspaper readers – from 216 million to 222 million. So, what could have gone wrong in just six months? The survey doesn’t provide any answers. But, it’s possible that TV news could be one of the reasons behind the drop in newspaper reading.

TV news in India has exploded in the last few years. If I count on my fingers, there are 4 national English news channels, 4 national business news channels, at least 6 national Hindi news channels, and innumerable news channels in vernacular languages providing 24-hr news to Indian viewers. Other than instant news, they provide entertainment, gossip and much more. Importantly, they have stolen a march over print media in investigative journalism with a slew of so-called sting operations exposing corruption among the high and mighty. Despite the 400 million TV viewers in India, even the TV news industry looks ripe for a shakeout.

Fortunately, the absolute readership and revenue numbers are still healthy. However, the writing’s on the wall for newspapers, not just in India but all over the world. With internet and other new media joining the battle to keep people informed, newspapers have to identify that unique need that can be met only through the print medium.

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The 2nd round of NRS results later this year will prove whether the fall in readership is an aberration or a trend. Till then, the industry watches and waits with bated breath.

Anupam Mukerji • Bangalore, India • anupam@mmi-india.com www.mmi-india.com