Leader Talks: Mutate Or Perish, Says Vikram Dhar, CEO, DMT Media From His 30 Years Of Advertising Experience
Vikram Dhar, an economist from the London School of Economics has had an extraordinary career in the field of media for over 30 years now. From working for traditional media companies like Gulf News to a flourishing career in Broadcasting, he has done it all. And when he caught himself being too mundane he decided to kick start on a new journey in Digital Advertising.
Today he gives us a little sneak peek into his world and shares with us his new experiences in the digital industry.
Vikram, thank you for taking time out for this interview. Can you tell our readers about your background and your career progression over the years?
I came to Dubai as a 23-Year-Old novice, to the Al Futtaim Group’s Economic Advisers Office as a Commercial Executive, in July 1977. It was an era of great expectations with the Ruling Family having grandiose plans for Dubai becoming the centre of the World. Thank God I have had the good fortune of witnessing this vision becoming reality. In 1986, Gulf News was being relaunched and I was headhunted by the new management team at GN to head their Sales and Distribution Dept. The new GN team then went on to create history by becoming the dominant newspaper of the region in a short span of 6 years. In 2005, GN decided to expand in alternate Media vehicles and I was given the task to spearheading the new Broadcast division. Gulf News Broadcasting launched in August 2006 and soon became one of the leading FM broadcast networks in the UAE FM Radio scene. I left GN in Oct 2015 to set up my own Media Consultancy.
You are an Honours in Economics from the prestigious London School of Economics. How did you land up in the media world?
My entry into Media was more accidental than by design. There was an opportunity and I grabbed it with both hands. My education served me well both in terms of understanding logistics, costs pertaining to having an inhouse distribution division, marketing of products, product placement and most importantly building relationships with retailers and corporate clients.
You started your career in the Dubai media city even before the term existed? How was it working in the media back in the ’90s? What do you think have been major factors in contributing to this exponential growth of the media city?
I started my career in Media in Dubai with Al Nisr Publishing – GN (not in Media City). When I first came to Dubai, the newspapers (Business Recorder & Emirates News) were B4 size cyclostyled sheets stapled together. Then Khaleej Times and Gulf News were launched almost simultaneously in April & Sept 1978. The ’80s & ’90s were an extremely exciting time for Media (especially print) with innovations taking place rapidly in technology, marketing, and sales strategies in this sector. The growth of the UAE in population and business and the stature of Dubai as the hub for the GCC significantly contributed to the vibrant print media industry.
There were 4 major contributors to the growth of print media during this time:
- The rapidly growing economy and population
- The absence of News Television, Cell phones, and Digital Media
- The first Gulf War
- Cricket in the UAE (Sharjah)
Dubai Media City was launched in 2000 as a response to the growing stature of Dubai as the regional Hub. Once again, the vision of the Ruler of Dubai, his Highness Shaikh Mohd. Bin Rashid, was key in recognizing that Dubai had a pivotal role to play in Media.
You’ve headed the Gulf News Broadcasting for over two decades. What are your thoughts on its evolution, especially the radio industry? Will it still fit in the media narrative in this constant digital world?
GNB (Gulf News Broadcasting) was launched in 2006 with 2 services in English (Radio 1 & Radio 2) in collaboration with Abu Dhabi Media. I directed the acquisition of the frequencies and managed the business till Oct 2015, (almost 10 years). In the ’80s there was only Dubai FM 92 and Capital Radio (AUH) offering FM services in English. (both owned and operated by the respective Emirate Govt). There were also services in Arabic from different Emirates run by the local Govts of each Emirate. Towards the end of the 90’s first Channel 4 (104.8 FM English) and HUM FM (1062. FM Hindi) were the first privately owned commercial FM operations. Commercially run private FM Radio came into its own in the 2000s with the launch of networks. This included ARN (9 services), Channel 4 Group (5 services), Abu Dhabi Media (8 services) GNB (4 services), and a host of private operators with one or 2 services each. Almost all services are music format stations in different languages. Recently, (since 2017) there has been a consolidation of networks with most single-language operators either shutting shops or selling out to larger networks.
With the world getting glued to screens & visual content, more so with the COVID-19 situation, brands are increasingly parking most of their marketing budgets on digital mediums. How could the traditional media- newspapers, radio, outdoors, etc. withstand this erosion?
Print Media (other than Govt funded Newspapers and periodicals) is fighting a losing battle both in terms of circulation and advertising revenues making them commercially nonviable.
We will see over the next year several print publications shutting down as their digital versions gain traction. The writing has been “on the wall” since 2006, but the realization has come extremely late for the owners of print media. Most print media owners failed to mutate at the pace required to survive. The current pandemic has only accelerated the demise of print media.
The severe recession in the current world economy has impacted all. The resulting decline in advertising budgets globally will impact all media. I believe that budgets will move to digital & visual social media platforms. The worst affected will be print and TV, with Outdoor and Radio also being impacted but less severely than print.
All Media owners will have to mutate, and media planning and offerings will have to mutate significantly away from the 30-sec spot or single-dimensional hoarding to a more 360 approach with major value-added sops for clients.
I also believe that advertisers will move more and more to deal directly with media owners impacting the role of the traditional Media Buying and Planning Agencies, who will also necessarily mutate with the changing market.
Can you shed light on your role at DMT Media? What’s your industry or sectoral focus in brand consultation? How does the company clientele look like?
DMT Media is a consultancy that offers services to Media Owners as well as Advertisers.
Media Owners: Consultancy on how to make bottom lines more attractive. Setting up networks and optimizing resources currently available. Developing Commercial Strategies and tactical selling plans, positioning of the brand, rate cards development etc. Acting as MSR for emerging media networks
Advertisers: Developing 360 marketing plans based on briefs received (offline & online, BTL and one to one) from clients. Buying of Media and negotiating with Media Owners. Supervising the execution of the campaign and preparing post-campaign reports.
Everyone is speculating about the world post-COVID-19. What are the key changes you think the Dubai media city or the advertising industry, in general, will undergo?
The advertising industry will have to mutate with the rest of the world. Different Media verticals will have to pool their resources (advertising inventories) and offer bespoke solutions to clients. Media owners will have to group their offerings, working together and share revenues. Realization rates and overall media budgets will continue to shrink over the next 2 years as the world economy revives. The mantra will be survival, rather than profits. It is unlikely that we will see growth in overall Advertising spends till 2023 or later. Share of spend by Media is unpredictable, but I believe that advertisers are more likely to offer direct value adds to their customers rather than spend on advertising.
While the whole world is buzzing with innovation in the digital space, we are keen to know about the latest happenings in the radio industry. Can you share a few insights on how tech is disrupting the radio?
Radio has mutated towards being a more visual media than purely audio. Most services can now be accessed through digital platforms with video feeds available for most programs either live or through podcasts. Most new studios are equipped with video cameras recording RJ action live. The next step is for stations to have digital footprints rather than FM.
However, this is handicapped as:
- All FM stations are licensed by individual Emirate local Govt.
- Absence of Digital Receivers in Cars.
Content consumption on digital platforms has skyrocketed, especially due to influencers. How can traditional media keep up with the pace and novelty of digital content?
This is more to do with the manner in which traditional media view content creation and dissemination.
More and more content is now being bought by traditional media from independent operators/ influencers. I believe that the days of “influencers” are numbered as reliability & trust becomes more important. “Fake News” will keep traditional media’s trust alive.
While speaking about traditional media, people have gone as far as saying that it’ll be extinct by the next decade. Do you agree? If not, what are the areas where the traditional media has an upper hand that would ensure its survival and growth in the coming years?
No, I do not believe this to be true. Consumption of information, and sources will mutate. The “tried and trusted” traditional media brands like BBC, FT, CNN, Bloomberg, etc will mutate and survive through their digital avatars and will eventually find equilibrium in the changing world.
Lastly, owing to your vast experience in media, what would be the contingency plan for media companies to sail through these tough times? In fact, to add to it, not just COVID-19, but we’d love to have your opinion on what the media companies, both traditional & digital, are doing wrong today, and how can they improve for good.
In all honesty, no one can presently answer this question. In a “Ceteris Paribus” economy, there will be a move to modern channels for information dissemination.
The mantra for all media companies must be “Mutate or Perish”. But this is a mantra that has stood the test of time! Remember the days of the horse-drawn carriage and the invention of the automobile. What is so different about Media?
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