Ad revenue and subscribers will make my bones, but competition won’t break me – that’s the thought which resonates today in the hearts of digitally fuelled media platforms and publications. And how do I know this? I’m running an independent news commentary and analysis platform on Youtube.
Today, news media is not just mainstream print, TV and digital media. As India moves largely to mobile-based content and streaming, it has also seen a rise in independent news channels and an alternate presentation of news, which at some point will hopefully be funded by subscription and membership modules.
Soft subscription vs restricted access: A test for survival?
Major newspapers like The Guardian, New York Times, Time Magazine and Washington Post use a ‘soft subscription’ model, where the digital publication gives access to limited content and then asks for a fee or a subscription for more. Indian media, like The Hindu, sat up and took notice. It now follows a similar pattern.
A soft subscription model makes more sense than an absolute restriction, which only the top of the brands can afford to do; think Wall Street Journal and Economist. News itself is difficult to differentiate, so digital success will lie in more original and investigative journalism and the quality and credibility of your opinions.
Check the case of HBO’s entry into the VOD and OTT space of behemoths like Amazon and Netflix. HBO’s entry has meant that previously available content on other platforms like ‘Friends’ or ‘Game of Thrones’ can now only be accessed through their app. In retaliation, Netflix and Amazon are spending millions to create their libraries of original content across languages, ensuring their subscriber growth, while slowing in North America because popular titles are no more available with them, will at least grow in other parts of the world. Though, clearly it will take time for them to have a library depth of age-old production houses like Disney and Warner. This is where Shemaroo scores, having bought out old Hindi movie titles when no one thought they were of any value.
Is pay-per-view the new industry model?
Because of a flood of streaming and news media platforms, I believe that the way forward for most digital media could be variations of a pay-per-view model, where the consumer pays for all that he/she chooses to consume. Just like how as late as the turn of the century, consumers paid for a whole music album for just one hot song, (until Apple’s iTunes broke that), similarly the subscriber will now pay only for what they want to consume.
We already see it in digital publications and OTT entertainment. This step allows more breathing room for the platform, rather than a cutthroat fight to the finish. It, however, also makes their survival dependant on the choice of the audience, which may end up giving us very rich niche content; eg National Geographic and the History channel.
Until that stage of maturity, many digital publications may be bought out or shut down some publications are laughing all the way to the bank; media like the New York Times, still serve ads to subscribers, raking in from two pots of gold!