In India the conventional media, especially print, is still growing well, but media futurist Gerd Leonhard has a word of caution for this sector. He says India may face the Brazilian situation tomorrow. The South American country was also witnessing the same story until last year when the middle class switched to new media such as the internet and newspapers became obsolete.
The Swiss expert, in Delhi recently to address a media summit, speaks to Ankita Lahiri about the media crisis that is about to strike India. He adds that the future will witness a convergence of the broadcast with the broadband. Until now, the conventional media has been living in a bubble, protected by legislation, regulation and to some extent distribution. The online crisis is inevitable with a deadline that is fast approaching. Excerpts from the interview:
The Wall Street Journal has called you a “media futurist”. Please explain this term.
It is really quite simple. What I do is I look at the media business, whether it is film, television, music, and advertising, and I look five years into the future to come up with new business models and new business ideas about how media companies can be successful in the future. So publishers, broadcasters, cable companies… I do other things too, but this is one of my main areas.
So what is your prediction for the media? What are the emerging trends?
Well, there are quite a few. But of course there is the convergence of the television and the internet; they are becoming the same thing. Mobile devices are taking over from computers. So there are five billion people connected to the internet, using mobile devices. Social media is already very active. The users themselves make the media. I think we will see a lot of bundling of telecom and media, the convergence of telecom and media, artificial intelligence for data mining for marketing, as we already see with Google Tools. So technology will be completely invisible. You can speak to your phone and ask for directions. Automatic translation is a major trend. So these are some of the key trends I think.
You have been talking about how the media is going digital. What will happen to print?
Print is just another screen. So if I want to read in a different way, I read in print. So when I am on the beach, I read print (book). But the business model of print is broken. Because 20 years ago, if you didn’t have a paper, you could not read the news. It’s not that people don’t want print, they do because it is a special experience. I think that will eventually happen. But the business model is breaking down, because it was a monopoly of attention. So if you had The New Yorker magazine, you could sell the [advertiser] for $100,000 a page. Because you have the user’s right. But now I have 50 magazines, digital. So now the price goes down to $5,000 a page.
So as a media futurist, what is your prediction for print in India?
There is a sort of a double problem. One is that the equality of income has to spread so that internet access becomes available to everyone. And that increases GDP. The government needs to make sure that everybody gets connected, which, I think, they are working on. And the faster people get connected, the less they are going to use the traditional media. And that is why the media companies are not so happy about people connecting. So basically my estimation for India would be three to five years, depending on where exactly [in terms of rural/urban locations]. But the urban areas will witness it earlier. In general, India is late because it is so big. The infrastructure is difficult. So maybe getting 4G is a little difficult. It may take longer, but it’s not a question of if it’s going to happen, but when and where.
What would be India’s role in digital media?
India has a lot of engineers and mathematicians and a lot of brilliant people on that side of the equation. So if you are looking at technology, India could play a leading role there. But India has to also create a role in the digital economy and digital standards. So for a country that is over a billion people, clearly, there is a leadership role there. Innovation cannot be just to produce for others but also to innovate for their own. And a lot of these things are lagging behind a bit. Infrastructure is an issue. But also the funding of entrepreneurs needs to change. It would be for the government to take the leadership position, just like Brazil has done in its digital economy.
What next after digital and convergence?
Well, what we are seeing in the first part of the internet is that everybody wants everything for free, because it’s there. And when everything becomes free, everything becomes available; then we become completely overloaded. We have everything that is free but we can’t use any of it because it is so noisy. Then we go back to a model where we say that we’d rather pay for it and make it a little better. And that is where we need the journalists, the writers and the broadcasters – to make it better for us. The reason that I pay them is that I get something better. So we have this intertwining period where everything is free and we use it but it is not satisfying, because it is just a huge ocean. And we don’t have the patience. We don’t have the skills for the curation. We will go back to curation, to experts. But the business model of media is completely changing. And this idea of somebody being dissatisfied (will stay). When somebody is dissatisfied, they will just leave. I mean we don’t need radio if we have internet in the car.
So are you saying that all mediums will become one medium at some point of time?
No, no, they will become pretty fragmented. But everything is connected. So when you get into my car, you can play your music, using Bluetooth or whatever. So you won’t be listening to the radio. It is the convergence of broadband and broadcast. And this is very powerful because for media companies, it is much cheaper. It’s much quicker, it’s much more real time. But they have to get used to the fact that they are not the only ones who own it.