Below is the summary of the first chapter of Mapping Digital Media: India (2012), a country report by Vibodh Parthasarathi et al. for Open Society Foundations, London.
News channels continue to be mainly financed by advertising; though niche news channels like Biz News have been pay from the beginning, few leading general news channels have turned pay. In the advertising-driven milieu of private news broadcasting, audience numbers hold the key.
Proliferating platforms, expanding the consumer base
Nevertheless, all this does not dilute the fact that over the past few years, as the number of news channels (in all languages) has increased, so has their viewership (though not so consistently in the past few years). In specific South Indian languages, the trend has been more visible; for example, there are 16 news channels in Telugu. Digitization has enabled print media to launch more editions and garner more readership. Television channels and print formats now deliver news (both published/aired and new content) through the internet and mobiles, thereby expanding their offers. The print media, especially regional ones, has expanded its base, as new readers tend to gravitate toward print versions, while the older and more literate move on to online and mobile formats.
More offers= additional choice= diversity of news?
Thus, digitization has impacted choice, especially in television and the internet. Viewers on digitized reception platforms can demand channels and pay for them. Similarly, Twitter, social networks, and blogs have allowed internet users, limited as their present number is, to watch and follow news. This has been aided by news outlets, through their various platforms, offering particular news in different forms, namely blogs, SMS updates, opinions, large explanatory pieces, videos, audios, etc. In fact, consumers have begun to exercise choice; although long used to free-to-air news channels, they have begun to pay for them in certain geographies. The continued expansion of DTH homes at a blistering pace is another indicator of this trend.
However, the relationship between more offers, additional choice, and diversity of news is still unclear. Some experts feel that the multiplicity of television channels has not directly resulted in differing content as most channels air similar content. Other studies have shown some variations among channels, websites, and other news platforms.
Enriching media content, limiting customization
News offerings on mobile digital media, though on the rise, are yet to make a mark on the overall news ecology and news audience/readers; despite having opened another platform for news delivery, the choice of news on offer is not wider than that of other platforms—mobile digital media have not been able to develop niche content for specific audiences. Leading language news outlets have ventured into the online space, but besides enrichment of media content with audio and video clips, there has been no dividend in terms of news quality or variety. Mass market, rather than niche, news themes like elections, sectarian conflict, and scandal remain the biggest drivers of viewership on all platforms. Updates from financial markets and sporting events are the only kinds of news mobile users are willing to pay for, though here again customization of content is limited.