Archive for January, 2008

The media and the stock market collapse

22 January 2008

Indian stock markets plunged by 7.4 per cent on Monday, and closed another 4.97 per cent down on Tuesday. The fall, much more precipitous than other Asian and global markets, left small investors nursing their wounds and mourning their phenomenal losses, much of it notional.

As the stock markets had soared, the Indian media had thrown all balance to the winds, painting the “India Story” as one which would never end. When the fledgling Reliance Power was making its initial public offering last week, television stations were offering advice on how to open demat accounts.

Little wonder first-time investors are blaming the media in an indirect sort of way for not cautioning them enough, for painting so rosy a picture that they thought there was no dark side.

The BBC’s Karishma Vaswani quotes one first-timer:

“I thought this (the stock market) was somewhere I could put my money safely and grow it, rather than putting in the bank like my dad did,” said Gauravi Sharma.

“My parents had never invested in Indian shares, they said it was unsafe. But I thought, after everything I heard on TV and in the news, that this was the right place to put my money. Now I’m not so sure.”

The shortest route to a journalist’s heart…

21 January 2008

The shortest route to a journalist’s heart still continues to be through the liver, in the perception of bureaucrats and politicians.

Ajith Athrady brings glad tidings in Deccan Herald:

“The Union Ministry of Information and Broadcasting has hiked budgetary allocation norms to entertain journalists.

“It has enhanced the quantity of wine that can be served to them on rare occasions–doubling the existing quantity. Not just that. Journalists can also expect to get premium quality spirit as the per-head monetary provision too has been hiked.

“Ministry insiders explain that the old norms were evolved long time ago when there were only a few brands available in the market. But economic reforms have changed that situation and now the market is flooded new brands. A sign of changing times?”

Entries invited for Miskloc cine festival

20 January 2008

MEDIA RELEASE: Do you really feel that filmmaking is the most splendid activity of the world? Would you gladly meet people who have the same hobby; would you watch movies with pleasure; would you happily get new acquaintances, and would you really measure your strength in filmmaking with somebody?

Films, exhibitions, performances, discussions. Do what thousands of people did in the previous years and come to participate in the programs of Cinefest!

Come to Miskolc, where in the course of a unique event you can participate in hundreds of programs and–on the top of that–all these are free of charge!

The rules and conditions are the following: The director of the entry film must be under the age of 35 when shooting the movie, and the completed work has to be finished after 1 January 2006. We are waiting for applications from all over the world. There is no charge of application. The screening of the competition films–previously chosen and accepted by a pre-jury–will take place between 14 and 21 September 2008, in Miskolc.

The prizes of the festival will be donated by an international jury. The works will be rewarded by categories; there will also be a main prize of the festival and lots of special prizes. The total amount of the money prizes is 8,000 Euros.

You can choose from five categories when apply: long feature films, short fiction films, documentary films, animation films, experimental films. Otherwise, this year our Special Competition  Category is “Women in Picture”.

Application form on the internet and the regulations can be downloaded from: www.cinefest.hu

Can the media be as amnestic as its audience?

14 January 2008

How much of a memory should the media have? Should it take each day eagerly and feverishly as it comes and rush into judgment regardless of what it reported/opined in the previous day? Should be it be a beacon of balance, proportion, and perspective, even at the risk of alienating its audience?

Santosh Desai, former adman and MD and CEO of Futurebrands, in Tehelka:

Sachin Tendulkar scored a century (in the Sydney cricket Test against Australia) and CNN-IBN asked its viewers if he deserves the Bharat Ratna. Barely three months ago, it was asking if Sachin should retire; Rajdeep Sardesai himself led the charge on that one.

“It is clear that journalists take the role of building monuments and then tearing them down with increasing seriousness. The absence of any tempering memory is striking—it is as if one is responsible for one’s opinions only for the day. Tomorrow, as someone has had occasion to say, is another day.”

Read the full piece: Presenting: A brand new opinion, every day


The launch that showcased a thousand slips

12 January 2008

PRITAM SENGUPTA writes from New Delhi: The unveiling of the Nano has fetched the kind of publicity Osama bin Laden would kill for.

Purple prose hailing the new peoples car, breathless editorials brazenly brushing aside environment and traffic concerns, mushy interviews with the man himself, over-the-top opinion polls have all greeted the “world’s cheapest car”.

But, has anybody driven the bloody car?

Welcome to the age of hype as journalism. Welcome to the age of who cares as long as we can get into their media plan journalism. Welcome to the age of the details don’t matter, the spectacle is the story journalism.

Like the iPhone in the United States last year, the Nano has been decreed a success even before the assembly line can be readied for manufacture. And like a Harry Potter book, half of whose hold depends on the secrecy its author and publishers can double from the previous instalment, we have had TV channels describing the route the car took from Poona to Delhi, and schoolboy newspapers cackling about the Z-category security that accompanied it.

But at least, thousands of buyers could touch and feel Steve Jobs‘ claims the day it was launched; thousands more could sample J.K. Rowling‘s concoction.

The Nano?

We just have to swallow and spout the manufacturer’s line hook, line and sinker. Or else, we could be out of their media plan. So we have to take Ratan Tata’s word that it lets out less fumes than a two-wheeler (oh, yes, tell me another) and that it won’t clog up our roads (oh, really?).

Sure, the Nano it looks cute, the colours are snazzy, and yes, it’s a proud moment for a desi company that has put out some of the most dangerous vehicles on our roads, like the Sumo and their godawful mini-trucks, to have stuck to a “promise” and delivered a car with a sticker price of Rs 100,000.

But, brother, how does it move? Isn’t that what a car is all about?

You scribble a line to see if a pencil (cost Rs 2) writes well. You check out a couple of vegetable wallahs before you buy kotambir (Rs 5). You try a pair of hawaii chappalls (cost Rs 200) to see if it is comfortable or not. Why, we sample sweets and savouries before declaring them tasty or not.

But you see a one lakh rupee from a safe distance and pronounce it a hit?

Hit it may well be and, for the sake of the Tata Motors stock of which I have a few, I hope it is. But where is the balance, the line between paid advertising and, well, unpaid advertising?

OK, it could accommodate Ratan dikra as he swung in for the launch. But can it carry papa, mama, chunnu and Bunty comfortably? Will its adhesive stuck parts withstand not-so-ideal conditions as the ramp at a five-star hotel? Do those very basic shock absorbers have it in them to haul you out of potholes for years on end?

And, since we are talking of a car, lest we forget, does its motor run well?

I guess we will never know till some auto magazine gets another sneak peak, and we all know what that means. But couldn’t we have been spared the instant verdict?

If an inexpensive price tag is all that matters, we’ve got it—even Tata’s PR people wouldn’t have done better.

Also read: 11 similarities between iPhone and Rajnikant

Photograph: courtesy tatapeoplescar.com

At last, an Indian video production textbook

12 January 2008

With television booming in India, and news and entertainment channels being launched every other day, expertise at video production is increasingly in short supply. It’s a void that journalism schools and mass communications programmes at diploma, under-graduate and post-graduate levels, are trying to fill, but they are hampered by the lack of relevant literature suited to the Indian milieu.

The few textbooks that are around are foreign publications, priced in dollars and largely out of the reach of most students. Moreover, most foreign books are highly segmented, and cover different aspects of production in tiny niches in separate books, making it difficult for students and teachers to purchase and refer to multiple books.

Filling that vital blank is VASUKI BELAVADI, a reader in communication at the Sarojini Naidu school of performing arts, fine arts & communication at the University of Hyderabad, whose book Video Production (paperback, 352 pages, Rs 325) , published by Oxford University Press, will soon be out.

Video Production is a step-by-step guide on making effective video programmes and provides an in-depth coverage of all aspects of video production, pre-production, production, and post-production. Throughout the book, the key concepts are explained through numerous illustrations, exhibits, figures, exercises and anecdotes.

“Beginning with creating an understanding of visual grammar for video production, the book goes on to discuss the parts of a video camera, the roles of the personnel involved, and the three phases of video production. It moves from the conceptual to the practical, discussing in detail scriptwriting, lighting, sound, and editing; single-camera and multi-camera production processes; and the techniques involved in electronic news gathering and electronic field production. Video and broadcast technology and the various delivery options available in India and abroad are also discussed in detail.

“The book will be very useful to students who want to specialise in video production and will also serve as a reference and guide to those interested in taking up video production independently.”

Prof Belavadi, formerly on the faculty of Manipal University of Communication and Tezpur University, has worked with Eenadu Television, and has been on the staff of several Indian newspapers.

Email the author for further details: vbsn@uohyd.ernet.in

Al Jazeera: Media predictions for 2008

11 January 2008

Forget the news, you can’t believe the ads either

9 January 2008

The selling of the news columns in Indian newspapers, a pernicious practice that deliberately blurs the distinction between independently generated news and paid advertisements, has assumed pandemic proportions with language publications unabashedly apeing the market-leader The Times of India, which pioneered the move.

But, it now turns out that even paid advertisements are no longer what they seem in the Times group. Very often, they are tied to the group’s investments in select companies. The news and advertising exposure these companies get in its publications, boosts their stock prices, that swells the bottomline of the investing company.

It’s a win-win but guess who loses?

SUCHETA DALAL, India’s numero uno business investigative journalist who cracked open the Harshad Mehta case, and who now runs the personal finance magazine MoneyLIFE, throws light on a new strategy of the group that “tears down every shred of the wall between editorial, advertising and public relations”, and takes readers and investors for a royal ride.

***

By SUCHETA DALAL

If you are an investor who depends on India’s largest-selling economic newspaper for unbiased news, then you must know and understand the concept of “private treaties” (PT). Since The Times of India (TOI) far outsells every other English newspaper and The Economic Times is by far the market leader in the economic news category, the concept is of universal interest.

Although PTs sound like agreements between two sovereign nations, they are, in fact, pacts between the Times of India group and approximately 100-odd companies, under which TOI buys shares of small and fast-growing companies. The list is expanding rapidly.

In an article for India-Seminar on “The changing Indian media scene“, T.N. Ninan, editor of Business Standard, described PTs as “basically the transfer of shares in return for advertising.” He said, Bennett Coleman & Co, which owns the Times of India group of publications, “invests in usually mid-rung companies that are keen to jump into the big league but are perhaps without the big bucks to spend on marketing. The share purchase money is immediately taken back against the promise of guaranteed advertising in Bennett publications—to build the investee company’s brand(s). Part of the deal is even said to be editorial coverage, though this remains unconfirmed.”

Ninan goes on to say, “If true, by definition, this will have to be positive coverage” because “the brands have to be built up, so that the shares bought by Bennett gain in value and can be sold.”

Well, reports of guaranteed editorial coverage are no longer “unconfirmed”, as Ninan put it.

MoneyLIFE has in its possession a document to prove that journalists are being designated as “champions” for PT clients to tailor editorial coverage to enhance the value of these companies and TOI‘s investment.

An e-mail by The Economic Times editor Rahul Joshi (dated 29 November 2007) says:

“At ET, we are carving out a separate team to look into the needs of Private Treaty clients. Every large centre will have a senior editorial person to interface with Treaty clients. In turn, the senior edit person will be responsible, along with the existing team, for edit delivery. This team will have regional champions along with one or two reporters for help—but more importantly, they will liaise with REs (Resident Editors) and help in integrating the content into the different sections of the paper. In this way, we will be able to incorporate PT into the editorial mainstream, rather than it looking like a series of press releases appearing in vanilla form in the paper.”

Joshi then goes on to name the PT “champions” for each region, who will “advise” the regional editorial chief to carry ‘stories’ about PT clients. He also designates “trouble shooters” in each region, probably to ensure that no PT client is offended with negative coverage.

While this kind of support for advertisers in the editorial pages is extraordinary anywhere in the world, it is important to remember that there is nothing clandestine about what TOI is doing. The PT arrangement, along with all the “benefits” that would accrue to those who sign up, along with testimonials from successful PT customers such as Nirmal Jain of India Infoline and others is on two group websites. These are www.privatetreaties.com and timesprivatetreaties.com.

In the past two years, TOI has invested over $500 million (approximately Rs 2,000 crore) in 114-odd companies in diverse businesses. It is a private equity firm.

TOI claims that when these companies are mentioned editorially, its investment in them is mentioned. Indeed, one occasionally notes such a mention, but how many investors understand what PT stands for or the relationship that is implied? Moreover, while such a disclaimer may work when a press release is published, will it be followed when journalist “champions” work hard to “integrate the content” to ensure that it does not look like “vanilla” press releases?

Typically, the Times group buys a 5%-10% stake in mid-sized companies that are planning to go public or looking for private equity. The investment can vary from Rs 10 crore to Rs 100 crore. The company agrees to invest an equal amount in advertising in Times publications over a three-to-five-year period at a steep discount to the normal advertising rates.

Most companies that sign PTs are those planning public issues, selling expensive realty projects or looking for private equity. All of them are looking for publicity and an assurance of positive editorial coverage. For the Times, it is usually a double bonanza: significant capital appreciation and tax-free income (since there is no long-term capital gains tax)—on the other hand, advertising revenue is fully taxed.

Investors must know the exact list of Times PT clients (which is available on their website for easy reference) because you are least likely to hear any bad news about these companies. They include:

# Deccan Aviation
# Sobha Builders
# India Infoline
# Emaar MGF
# Celebrity Fashion Ltd
# The Home Store
# Amity Education
# Media Video Ltd
# Vishal Retail Pvt Ltd
# Zicom
# Ezeegol.com
# Avesthagen
# Bartronics Ltd
# Paramount Airways
# Almondz
# Archies
# Future Group
# Thyrocare
# Raja Rani Travels
# Sahara One
# Percept Pictures, etc.

It offers “advertising support, branding support and corporate image development.”

PT’s vision is stated as follows:

# We dare to go where no one has dreamt of venturing before.
# We seek advertising clients that no one wants.
# We look for value that no one sees.
# We co-create wealth that no one imagines.

All this is fine from the business perspective of the Times. Where does the group’s “win-win relationship” with PT customers leave the readers/investors? They clearly do not figure in the equation at all. The group indeed tests the limits in what passes off as news, but in the cut-throat fight for the advertising buck, what exactly is an “advertising client that no one wants”? Surely, not India Infoline?

The PT website lists every press release issued on behalf of PT clients. The headlines alone reveal the slant. For instance:

# ‘Skyscrapers all set to change Noida skyline’ (TOI)
# ‘Milk & Honey Towns’ (ET)
# ‘Companies rake in big moolah serving NRIs’
# ‘Sai Info to come up with 18 e-malls by March’
# ‘Airline mergers is bad news for consumers’ (for Paramount Airlines)
# ‘What you get is exactly what you have paid for’ (for Gitanjali)
# ‘Parajia has ability to swing big deals’ (for India Infoline)
# ‘Gitanjali Lifestyle to ride high on luxury’
# ‘Reason to Smile’ (for GTL, earlier Global Telesystems)
# ‘Pantaloons rolls out the red carpet to woo the last minute Durga Puja shopper in Kolkata’
# ‘Bajaj bros resume legal battle over empire’ (this one for Bajaj Hindusthan is particularly interesting) and finally check this one for Osian—’India’s brush with soccer is all set for a change. History is being re-written on a new canvas and the view looks optimistic’.

This unique “win-win” situation indeed works wonderfully well in a monster bull run. While companies and the publishing group are the real winners, the investors are losing nothing at the moment. But remember this is a two-year-old concept and the implications of tearing down every shred of the wall between editorial, advertising and PR will be evident only when things look less sunny for the markets and the economy.

Photograph: courtesy suchetadalal.com

***

Crossposted on churumuri.com

Should cricket reporters applaud their captain?

8 January 2008

India’s cricket series against Australia plunged into turmoil on Sunday when it lost a closely fought second Test match in Sydney after a flurry of dodgy umpiring decisions robbed what little chance the visitors had of drawing the match.

Later, when Anil Kumble ended his post-match media conference with the words “Only one side played in the spirit of the game,” a statement reminiscent of Bill Woodfull after the Bodyline series, the assembled Indian cricket correspondents put their hands together for the captain, who they reported had conducted himself magnificently.

However, Greg Baum of the Sydney Morning Herald found the Indian reporters’ conduct, presumably of not covering the media conference as professionals but as partisan supporters of their country and cause, as wanting as that of the umpires, the referee and the players:

“Everyone was guilty, not forgetting media who forgot themselves at Indian captain Anil Kumble’s press conference and applauded him for sticking it to Australia. Kumble miscounted when he said only one team was playing in the spirit of the game. India’s sportsmanship at times was as lacking as Australia’s when using elaborate ruses to slow the over rate on the last day. India got the rough end of the stick here, but were as sore losers as Australia were graceless winners.”

Read the full column here: It’s time for both sides to shake hands, grow up and move on

One culture’s pinnacle is another’s base camp

5 January 2008

Vir Sanghvi in Mint:

“The new Controller of BBC One, England’s top TV channel, is 40. James Murdoch, who has taken over his father’s media interests outside the US, is 34.

“Is this as true of the Indian media scene? Rajdeep Sardesai and Barkha Dutt are young editors of TV channels. But most of their counterparts in the TV and magazine world are over 50. Both Prannoy Roy and Raghav Bahl are far older than Sardesai. On the entertainment side, Kunal Dasgupta (Sony) and Pradeep Guha (Zee) are in their 50s.

“Print does not fare much better; the vast majority of editors are my age (51) or older. Shekhar Gupta, at 50, is probably the most youthful, but N. Ram, Aveek Sarkar, Vinod Mehta, Aroon Purie, Prabhu Chawla, M.J. Akbar, Chandan Mitra and Mrinal Pande are all 50-plus.

“So are both of India’s most powerful press barons. Shobhana Bhartia, vice-chairperson of HT Media Ltd, Mint’s owner, is 50 and Samir Jain, owner of The Times of India, is probably three or four years older.”

Read the full article: Questioning age-old wisdom

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