Depressing times for journos
How bad is the recession in the media going to be? We know that print is an endangered species in the US. The Tribune company is bust, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer may close down (or become a web-only operation), the Washington Post is losing money and The New York Times is in financial trouble and constantly in the process of looking for more money from unlikely sources.
Till now, Western media companies – across platforms – have taken the line that India represents the future. Time has tied up with ABP for a local edition of Fortune, the Financial Times has a deal with Network 18 as does Forbes, Associated Newspapers own part of The Mail Today, Disney has made investments in India, Turner (part of Time Warner) is launching a new Hindi entertainment channel along with the Alva brothers, NBC has invested in NDTV, Viacom is a major shareholder in Colors, and so on.
But now, as the recession suddenly spreads further east than anyone had expected, Indian media companies are feeling the pinch and Westerners are beginning to question the wisdom of investing in India.
Nothing more has been heard of the Indian editions of Fortune, Forbes or The Financial Times and my guess is that they are, at the very least, going to be considerably delayed. I doubt very much if Conde Nast, which successfully launched Vogue and GQ in India, will be in any hurry to launch Glamour. I would imagine that the once-imminent arrival of Esquire seems a little less imminent now.
In the TV space, those investments that have already been committed (NBC, Viacom, Turner, etc.) will go ahead but I would be very surprised if any significant new investments are made.
Indian media companies are having a much rougher time of it than anybody expected. I doubt if a single English news channel will be profitable this year and Hindi news channels will be lucky to break even. One English news channel has already been the subject of a distress sale and I would be astonished if we did not see a major churning in the Hindi news space over the next ten months.
Entertainment channels will also be crippled over the next year. Star and NewsCorp have long demonstrated that they can a) see off any competition and b) take losses when required so the Star family is in no trouble. But others will take a close look at their costs. One of the new entertainment channels is already teetering on the brink of bankruptcy and another has yet to live up to expectations. The future of both will be decided in the next few months.
In print, I don’t think the big groups are in any danger as their flagship papers continue to make money. But every group has one or two cash cows (in the case of the Times, the Bombay edition; for the HT, the Delhi edition and Hindustan in Bihar) which support several loss-making publications.
Some of the loss-makers will close over the next few months (Metro Now is more or less dead), others will face cuts in the number of editions and huge budget reductions. In each major group, at least one paper, magazine or edition will die. And struggling publications will be crippled.
This is bad news for journos. Strong editors have held out against redundancies but the weaker ones and the management stooges will be forced to sacrifice journo jobs. Journalists on many of the newer publication are in deep trouble. They are so overpaid that they must know that their jobs are in danger. And yet they can’t move anywhere without taking huge pay cuts.
Worst affected are the top anchors and editors who succumbed to the lure of the market and accepted so-called large pay packets in which much of the compensation consisted of stock options. Those options are largely worthless and likely to remain so for a year or more at the least. One of the option-wallas has departed. More will follow.
It’s a depressing scenario because at the end of the day while the big groups will emerge bloodier but more or less intact, journos will find themselves unemployed and very nearly unemployable.