Part I of the article can be found here 

It’s time for me to explain now why I feel the most critical impact of Internet on society has been through the impact of Internet on media. Because a media as powerful as Internet is, and having as unique characteristics as Internet has, influences mankind with a multiplier effect than what traditional media influence, in all its forms, has so far been on mankind.

 Importance of real time news in our knowledge economy has grown manifold; and Internet offers true globalization opportunity to these news media organizations.

BBC, in its Superpower series, is exploring the extraordinary power of the Internet – as a global superpower in its traditional sense or as a superpower affecting lives of individuals individually. The recent Google-China dispute highlighted why China is concerned about losing its softpower status to a US firm trusting US federal Agencies for its problems originating from China. Internet can be used effectively to have complete and total mind control of many of its users; at the same time the users are likely to have choices online so that they can trust some Internet media companies more than others in permitting these media companies to have the control of their minds, knowingly or unknowingly, temporarily or for longer durations.

The unique characteristics of Internet continues to make it more and more powerful, probably more powerful than any other single tangible entity in the world. Many consider Google as a softpower. That’s a result due to our reliance on Internet for information. The power of Internet as a softpower not only is much more, it’s also comparatively more permamnent  than transient power enjoyed by Google. The problem is, Internet itself can not be counted as a single entity in the softpower equation as an influencer; although actos within it like The NYT or The BBC or even Xinhua (in Chinese context) may enjoy that status in future.

The impact of Internet as a true globalization force is probably understated. It’s actually through media again. More of it would surely follow as more and more people get connected (nearly four-fifths of the world are yet to be online), and go through the quick online learning phase to know whom to trust on the online media space. It will therefore be natural to expect vested interests, having immense business or monetary or military or technological prowess, would always be interested in controlling leading media sites on Internet to have some control over the minds of the users.

In a local context, there’s a Bengali film made by Satyajit Ray in 1980 titled Hirak Rajar Deshe (In the land of the diamond king). The movie talked about an invention called ‘Jantarmantar’, a chamber for brainwashing for the people who don’t fall in line with the power-lobby. 

Google therefore becomes more of a media company with every passing day than a leading Internet technology company to the Chinese policy-makers as they justify their decisions to have a tab on it. To most of the world and to most of its users, that’s how Google is perceived, as the Gateway to all the World Wide Web’s media-content. It essentially controls media in all its forms – be it communicating media, informative media, or participative media, from the consumer side alone, by directing consumers to their desired destinations out of available universe of content. For online media, Google is more than what Wal-Mart is for physical goods, where consumers come to find what they need.

So I see great future, following the poker model and not for the chess-board model, for great newspapers having great online delivery models. At the same time, I am not sure about business sustainability of many other newspapers not having neither global nor local expertise. In the Indian context, many of the popular news portals like rediff, indiatimes, sify must be wondering nowhere as matured readers move to other sites for many of the services these sites offered, but didn’t champion in any. The future of many online versions of newspapers in India and in many other countries look equally uncertain. It’s a question of time. There may be a time when there will be newspaper circulations, but they won’t be able command ad-rates proportionate with their circulations or in comparison to similar online viewership sites for news content.

There will always be exceptions as exceptions prove the law. The Hindu in India has the chance to be The Guardian in Indian context by having larger share of online readers beating papers like The Times of India having much higher physical circulations. In the Indian context, it’s indeed unfortunate that India, a nation or more than 1.1 billion populations, is yet to have a truly global online media company.

China that way proved lucky due to its linguistic uniqueness. One may alternatively argue that global players playing responsibly in a highly competitive market; there’s no need to have local media players for nationalized control of mind share. That largely depends on the context of the situation.

There must be many other nations like India, having lots of traditional media companies, but none having the ability yet to transfer online to be globally reckoned in its local relevance or global scale. That’s the untapped market that truly global news organizations/media companies can capture eventually.

It may be a slow process, but Internet has often proved us wrong in terms of its speed. With disruptive technologies, we tend to overestimate its potential in the short term but underestimate same in the long term.   

Underestimating the force of media or financial sustainability of companies affected by present digital anarchy therefore can prove wrong over time as media, real strong media companies, be it creators of media-content or its delivery partners, can eventually emerge to be the real big winner of the Internet wave.  The same changing dynamics of Internet-led evolutions that so long caused the downfall of media companies is likely to offer unparalleled opportunity of true globalization to media organizations as users mature online.  Google is the best example in hand.

A more powerful Google may not always lead to weaker bargaining power of others in the value chain. As Internet users mature, consumers would be more proactive in their preferences in selecting their source of media and news than leaving it to Google, however good Google may be.  

Google may show the path, but the final destination will be selected by the consumer. The globalization opportunity that Internet offers to media organizations, more so to real time newsmedia organizations is unique. Sooner or later, many of these reputed news media organizations  would acquire softpower status as Google did. Consumers braced Google early as it’s low in the learning curve in Internet-media (as a low hanging fruit), higher order media organizations higher up in the value chain of content creation may take longer time as consumers globally need to learn about them and be convinced about the merits of following them.

Therefore it still is prematured to state what is likely to be the most critical impact of Internet on society in future. However, whatever that be in future, it will be through the impact of Internet on the media – be it the way we create it, be it the way we participate in its creation or be it the way we consume it.

Ranjit Goswami is a Professor at Indian Institute of Foreign Trade, and is on Twitter

Be Sociable, Share!