‘You cannot meet challenges of the digital era unless you have data'

N. Ram, Editor-in-Chief of The Hindu, on Friday urged trade bodies to lobby the government for launching a nationwide status survey on Internet penetration and usage patterns as a starting point to help reshape the strategy of the media and entertainment sectors in the digital era.

Mr. Ram called on organisations like the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI) to lobby Parliament, Ministers and NASSCOM to have Internet usage surveys as is done in most other countries.

“You cannot meet challenges of the digital era unless you have data … in-depth information about Internet usage,” he said delivering the keynote address on ‘Entertainment marketing and monetisation in the digital era' at the third FICCI Media and Entertainment Business conclave here.

The survey should come up with data on the age groups that use the Internet and whether they use the web for chatting and e-mail purposes or beyond, he said. “If not, newspapers will continue to be in the dark.”

Mr. Ram said the paradox of the digital age as far as journalism was concerned was that while in the midst of the old media crisis more and more people, including youth, were reading newspapers across digital platforms, many of these widely-read newspapers with websites that attracted visitors globally suffered heavy losses.

Referring in particular to the experience of U.K. newspaper The Guardian suffering heavy losses in spite of producing very good journalism, he said it was now pretty clear that the problem is not that readers are going away but rather that advertisers are no “longer willing to support the same old way which makes for viability, not to mention profitability, of what is being offered on the digital platforms.”

“This is the writing on the wall,” Mr. Ram said.

Pointing to the latest Indian Readership Survey that put the readership of all publications at 350 million with Hindi titles leading the pack while English titles accounted for less than 17 per cent, Mr. Ram said the “good news” was there is still space for growth. About 280 million people classified as those who know how to read or write do not read newspapers, according to the survey.

While India had some situational advantage due to its underperformance in the digital era, it was important to avoid the mistakes made elsewhere in developing a sustainable business model in the digital age. Dismissing as absurd the projections that the decline of the media would not happen until 2040, Mr. Ram said it could perhaps manifest in three to five years from now.

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