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Guardian Media on St Vincent Street, Port-of-Spain.

• ↓Traditional media must embrace digital transition and produce better content

• ↓Former TV GM calls in media houses to pay for surveys to access critical data

• ↓Ad agencies say traditional media still the most trusted source for information

Over the last two years there have been major restructuring at the privately-run media houses as the economic realities of changing technology and a shrinking advertising market hurt their operations and have left them fighting for their economic survival.

COVID-19 has simply exacerbated an already challenging economic environment but media veteran Bernard Pantin has asserted there is still a place for these establishments to remain viable if they have the relevant data to make decisions.

In an interview with the Business Guardian, Pantin indicated: “There still remains a place for traditional media, and this will continue, but it needs to be supported by data.”

According to Pantin, traditional media companies need to spend money immediately to get an appreciation of the true media audiences at this time.

With data, Pantin argued products can be tweaked, true audiences can be discovered and the impact and revenues can be maximised as a result of engaging the right information.

Pantin pointed to the main source of revenue for legacy media companies, advertising income, which has been suffering for the last five years, concurrent with the economic challenges impacting T&T.

It is estimated over the last ten years total advertising revenue fell by close to 50 per cent, with television (TV) advertising falling by 60 per cent and radio by 33 per cent.

Pantin posited that while the decline in the T&T economy contributed in a major way, “the local media companies have to take responsibility for their role in their own demise.”

The former media boss indicated that this is so due to the lack of data. Pantin added that the last formally commissioned media survey took place in mid-2014.

He highlighted: “Since then, the local media houses have not been able to agree on a time for the next survey. But the reality is that in more recent times, they look at surveys in terms of cost.”

Pantin continued to note that this short-sightedness and explained why the radio and TV business “has declined by more than $150 million in the last five years.”

But this does not mean people do not want to consume content produced by traditional companies, which is indicative of its viability, as demand is still present.

Sarah Inglefield, CEO of the advertising agency Ogilvy Caribbean said: “Ogilvy Media Influence’s recent global survey of over 200 reporters and editors found traditional media outlets are still the most trusted sources of news over paid, direct-to-consumer and social channels.”

Inglefield added that traditional media houses must focus on delivering unique and engaging content to retain their audiences. She noted that the content must add value.

The President of the T&T Publishers and Broadcasters (TTPBA) Kiran Maharaj also echoed this sentiment. Maharaj told the BG that audiences of traditional media companies are reading a lot more. Therefore, she noted that it was incumbent on legacy media houses to create “content that would travel well”.

According to Maharaj, content that travels well includes stories that have appeal and a hidden perspective. She added that this means that journalists and editors need to look beyond the Caribbean as the reality of living in a global world positions local content within a larger context.

The Managing Director of Guardian Media Ltd (GML) Brandon Khan also explained to the BG that legacy media in general, remains a powerful tool that continues to influence public behaviour and shape opinion.

Khan said that high fixed costs, negative industry growth and highly competitive pricing characterize traditional media companies in T&T and around the globe.

He argued: “These entities are now tasked with reshaping antiquated strategies that were the backbone of these institutions only a few years ago.” According to Khan, in order to be successful in the future, these strategies must include reducing fixed costs while ensuring that content is highly competitive.

Guardian Media is the parent company of the Trinidad Guardian and the Business Guardian.

The CEO of One Caribbean Media Ltd (OCM) Dawn Thomas, agreed with Khan. Responding to questions posed by the BG, Thomas said: “Legacy media needs to align their organizational structure with the revenue reality of their respective markets while striving to maintain the quality of their editorial output.”

Additionally, Thomas remarked that a review of all of the processes within which these companies are engaged is required with the aim of maximizing efficiencies. Depending on the size of the media house, Thomas contended that, “there may be a need to pursue partnerships with other players in the market since there may be helpful cost synergies that could be achieved.”

Thomas noted that with the growing consumption of content on digital platforms, innovative strategies must be developed to monetize content distributed on all social and digital media platforms.

She posited that, “legislative support is required to stop the Tech companies from exploiting the local content being generated.” Thomas added that the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the situation where advertising revenues of legacy companies are being swallowed by increased competition from global tech giants.

However, Thomas said “the industry was already under tremendous pressure due to years of economic decline.”

Meanwhile, Khan said that digital media is a new content distribution channel that empowers consumers further, by providing content on demand, consumer feedback, participation through the creation of content.

He highlighted: “With the increasing acceptance of digital products globally, coupled with the Covid Pandemic, which has accelerated the rate of digital adoption, traditional media has been forced to re-look and rethink its’ role within the media landscape.”

Khan also explained that media companies must also seek out and adopt strategies that marry the traditional with digital to ensure product relevance, consumer adoption and loyalty.

He remarked that the COVID-19 pandemic, while accelerating adoption of digital products, has also had the beneficial effect of increasing television viewership, radio listenership and consumption of newspaper content around the globe as well as in T&T.