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Friday, 16 May 2014

Social and traditional media - in conflict, or in sync?

It's fairly well known that traditional media (TV and movie studios, music companies, TV channels) have been wary of the digital medium. They have had cause - blatant large scale piracy of copyrighted materials has hurt their bottomline, and traditional models of listenership and viewership have eroded over years, threatening their very existence. Furthermore, traditional media comes from a position of being accountable and liable for all that they publish - while digital media is home to hastily written (and often inaccurate) articles, wild allegations which border on libellous and freely expressed personal opinions. Moves by traditional media to impose fine torrent users, shut down websites and services that violate copyrights, and lobby for rigorous laws like SOPA have generated a lot of negative chatter online and have hurt their image with their key target audience - the youth.

All of this past history weights down on traditional media when it comes to negotiating the digital world. They have been slow to embrace new models of digital streaming and online storage. And they have been cautious with negotiating the social media jungle too. 

Ironically, traditional media has spent a lot of time battling with the digital medium as its biggest enemy and threat to existence. Now, this is changing, albeit slowly. Powered by social media, the digital world can not only be the biggest ally of media, it's also the passport to a successful future existence. Even in countries like India, where TV viewership dominates the internet world, the digital consumer can no longer be ignored. 

News channels have been quick to adapt to the world of social media, with channel heads and popular anchors taking to Twitter and blogs, engaging with viewers and building their own image. Radio (FM) channels also effectively capitalise on the popularity of RJs and the growing importance of internet streaming.  

Innovative TV shows even create profiles of the fictional characters and use them to build a rapport with viewers and raise ratings. 

With Nielsen recently partnering with Twitter in the US in an innovative experiment that allowed users to click and watch a show directly using a Twitter button, its clear that we will be able to measure the impact of social media on viewing/ listening behaviour - certainly a more robust measurement than other categories are able to do.

Media houses also face several challenges when promoting a show or movie on social media - should they create individual page for each show and movie and fragment their audience? Or should they keep a single fan page? Should they promote the star in a show and benefit from his fanbase, or should that be subordinated as the star is liable to change? 

In any case, it is clear that social media can do much more than just provide an indication of popularity, keep fans engaged, or boost viewership. Social media can also be a fertile ground to develop content that is in sync with viewer expectations, generate new ideas and monetise the popularity of franchises through merchandise, events etc. The genre of fan fiction which is still relatively new in India, can be a happy hunting ground for the next content idea, audience desires for plots and stories, and even the next generation of script writers. 

It would be useful to stop thinking of it purely as a reputation or audience management tool and think of it as a way to build enduring fan bases that can be tapped for future content development and promotion. This is a subtle shift from a reactive to a proactive SM strategy that can prove especially beneficial to media brands.