Covid brings an end to nearly three decades of growth in Bangladeshi print and TV industry. The democratic transition in the post 1990s unleashed a massive expansion of our media, creating thousands of jobs and placing the journalists among the movers and shakers of the country. New print players like Bhorer Kagoj and Janakantha set the stage, to have been consolidated by Prothom Alo, the Daily Star and a plethora of TV stations.
The Coronavirus pandemic sees an abrupt end to the TV growth model, popularised by Etv and CSB and then solidified by the likes of Ntv, Channel I, ATn Bangla and Ekattor. The recent newspaper model of a skeletal online presence and then dumping of whatever is fit for publication in the print pages too looked redundant and may have run its course.
It is now increasingly clear that the mass circulated newspapers may not retain even half of their pre-Covid circulation after the pandemic. They have to make an intensive search for a new monetary model, based purely on online and multimedia expansion. In the post-Covid era newspapers, which can massively expand their online presence and bring much needed depth and diversity in the online reports, will survive and thrive .
But making money will be a key challenge. In the short term, metered pay-wall like the ones introduced by FT and NY Times is the only options. Revenue alone from Google or online ADs from local companies won’t keep a top newspaper afloat. Some of the niche players will survive catering to a targeted audience. They will easily rope in online subscription.
The TVs too need to reinvent itself. They have to make a lot of noise to survive. But if you are too worried about angering powerful people, you are destined to be doomed. There is a sudden growth of a lot of online “angry” and “diverse” live steaming talk shows and they are going to fill up the void TVs have created by not being brave enough.
Increasingly, the TVs are fighting an impossible battle with Facebook and YouTube channels, whose popularity has now lured most of the top advertisers. To survive, television stations have cut cost by retrenching journalists and producers or slashing wages to a mere 100 dollars for an entry reporter. But this is a mass suicide, which only degrade the quality of news and shows further.
What is the path ahead? It is clear media houses which can combine their online, print and multimedia will dominate and continue to prosper. For them, cutting jobs to face the Covid-19 will only compound miseries. You have to be a “behemoth” like the Times of India or “a small but smart niche player” such as The Roar Lanka.
To add to the woes, the old model of perennial launching of new TVs and newspapers by emerging tycoons trying to hedge their business interest appears to be dead. Recent events show a pro-establishment media hardly guarantees your business success or gives you immunity. You have to ensure a massive degree of independence to make your paper work. Anything contrary, will only lead to unnecessary financial bleeding.