Never let a good crisis go to waste. That was true during the 2008 financial crisis in Europe and the USA, and again during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The pandemic and following economic slowdown have been especially hard for media organisations. One donor, Luminate, described the current crisis as an “extinction event” for media.
In Myanmar, the impact seems to be even worse and is better described as an annihilation. MDIF reports that in Myanmar, half of the respondents saw a “75% drop in income” compared to 40-60% elsewhere. The immediate impact was felt in a reduction of advertising income and a freeze on print production, temporarily or permanent.
After an initial jump in donor support thanks to COVID-19 emergency funds, I expect donor funding to be reduced as well, just like after the 2008 financial crisis. Developmental aid is in essence tax dollars, and in economic downturns, the limited tax revenue will be spent at home in the first place.
In addition, tax dollars that do make it abroad will increasingly be spent in the form of economic impulses instead of developmental aid. Over the past 10-15 years, economic support to Asia has increased 13.5 percent and social aid decreased 11 percent.
On the upside, the need to diversify revenue has never been clearer. Media researcher Emily Goligoski, advises media to have at least 5 to 6 different revenue streams. When one, or a few streams, are negatively impacted by environmental changes out of your control, you still have 3 or 4 streams left.
In this crisis, revenue from advertising, print subscriptions or sales, branded content and events slowed to a trickle overnight. Digital subscriptions and donations increase in importance at the same time. This sped up the digital transformation of media in developing countries.
Myanmar only has affordable Internet for a few years, but this extinction (or annihilation) event propelled the digital transformation of media tremendously. Legacy media that haven’t embraced digital so far, get on the bandwagon ASAP, or risk fossilization.
The business-savvy media organisations even identified and embraced new forms of revenue that didn’t exist before the crisis.
During workshops by Deutsche Welle Akademie and Global Ground Media, mid-August in Chin State, the participants from two community radio projects identified new business ideas from paid programs and social media advertising, to language training and online shopping.
The staff and volunteers of Phualva FM and Falam Community Media in Chin State during sustainability workshops in August 2020.
One participant from Falam Community Media, for example, mentioned that the youth is bored because the schools are closed. So there is a demand for online training or small in-person workshops on a range of topics.
And a volunteer from Phualva FM mentioned that many people from the area got stuck abroad when COVID-19 hit. The station received questions about the required documentation to return home. The station could help migrants with obtaining documents or set up a helpdesk with the support of NGOs.
Other ideas included selling content to national media during the travel restrictions, conducting baseline studies for development organisations or government agencies on the COVID-19 impact, and a job agency to help the newly unemployed.
Also, advertising is expected to pick up later this year and we’re already seeing increased advertising from large brands like Apple’s ‘Creativity goes on’ ad. Other sectors and topics like health (healthcare, pharmaceuticals, healthy food), productivity at home (from coffee and noise-cancelling headphones to ergonomic furniture), domestic travel, insurance, mobile or online payments, and education will also lift off soon.
This is the time to dig into your online following and get to know your audience better. New digital readers and listeners, allow you to know your supporter while they were in the dark before reading your newspaper. Use this opportunity, and perhaps the lull in printing operations, to analyse your Facebook following, website visitors and online community donors.
That information will come in handy when deciding next steps. Which advertisers are interested in reaching your audience or segments in your audience? What issues do your readers face and what role can you fulfil in solving those issues? Just because you started as a media company, doesn’t mean you need to stay within that lane. If there are training opportunities, services you can offer or products people need, why not go for it?
If this crisis taught us one thing it is to spread your eggs over multiple baskets, be flexible and jump on opportunities when they come along.
And when you’re at it, hire a business-minded person on staff. This doesn’t need to be a journalist. Someone with entrepreneurial experience in another sector can bring unique insights that journalists may overlook. The best teams include the holy trinity of editorial, technology and business staff.
And instead of laying off reporters, try to retrain them to multimedia or digital journalists. It’s time to make the jump to digital.
Anrike Visser is the Founder of Global Ground Media and a media viability consultant.