Knowledge Bridge

Global Intelligence for the Digital Transition

Media Forum 2012: Catching the digital wave

Media consumption is in transition, with consumers shifting to digital platforms. For instance, while television remains the main source of news in Indonesia, with 96 percent of those surveyed by Gallup for the US Broadcasting Board of Governors using TV once a week for news, growth in usage of mobile phones and the internet rose dramatically. With 81 percent of Indonesians now having a mobile phone, up from 67 percent the year before, more than half now use SMS at least once a week to access news, the survey found.

Even in remote parts of Indonesia, people now have second-hand smartphones, which they call Facebook phones. Villagers will gather where the signal is strongest to check on what their friends are saying on the social networkSocial networkAn online destination that gives users a chance to connect with one or more…

Currently about one in five Indonesians say they turn to the internet at least once a week for news, and that is starting to approach those who turn to radio, which stands at 24 percent. The survey found a dramatic drop in radio usage for news in Indonesia, falling from 50 percent who listened to radio news weekly in 2006.

With these dramatic shifts in media consumption playing out not just in Indonesia but around the world, the challenge for media companies is how and when to make the transition to digital, not only to new platforms but also to new business models.

At Media Development Loan Fund’s recent Media Forum, Bambang Harymurti, the CEO of Tempo International Media in Indonesia, compared the challenge of the digital transition to surfing. If you’re too early or too late, you’ll miss the wave.

If media companies get ahead of their audience or their advertisers, they won’t have an audience or enough revenue to support their work. However, in highly digital markets, there are lots of examples of media companies that missed the wave and now face declining fortunes. These companies have found that they have lost their dominant positions and now must make painful choices and deep cuts. When the cuts started, these companies had to first do more with less, but because they missed the wave they now have to do less with less.

But the risk for media leaders who get too concerned about timing is that they do nothing.

“You have to make decisions. Waiting for things to settle down is not an option,” Reg Chua, data and innovation editor at Thomson-Reuters, said during the keynote at the Media Forum. He added, “We have to seize the moment or lose our place in history.”

How to seize this moment? Media groups unfortunately will not be able to simply poll their audience to ask them what they want. Chua says that news organisations need vision. Quoting the late Steve Jobs, he said, “A lot of times people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.”

News organisations will need a culture of risk and experimentation, but they will also need a vision to help set priorities. “You cannot try everything, and just throw things against the wall and hope it sticks,” Chua said.

He said that he didn’t have the answers but he did have important questions to help guide news businesses. Ask what is your mission, what are you trying to achieve. Ask yourself who is your audience, and ask yourself if there isn’t a new, better way to tell the story that includes data and interactivity. The storytelling may not look like a traditional story, but many new data-driven storytelling techniques have the ability to engage and inform readers in better ways than techniques of the past.

The real challenge for news businesses in making the digital transition isn’t a technology issue or a skills issue. It is a cultural challenge, Chua said. News organisations have a deep sense of tradition, but that powerful sense of history can make the changes necessary to meet the challenges of the digital transition especially difficult.

Article by Kevin Anderson

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