Is Pakistan’s News Industry Headed For An Extinction-Level Event?

Is Pakistan’s News Industry Headed For An Extinction-Level Event?

Some years after side-stepping legacy media as the go-to source for news about current affairs, Pakistan’s digital media business is now facing an imminent collapse itself with generative artificial intelligence (AI) blowing away human resources in creating cutting-edge news reports.

A former ProPakistani chief executive recently wrote about how digital publishers were finding it hard to sustain operations when catering to local readers only.

In my view, those running local media businesses should learn to retain people, master the ads game, and navigate ways for perpetual survival. AI won’t stop due to its limitless feature to evolve at a frightening pace. It doesn’t depend on the proclivities of managerial turmoil often seen at a news desk.

Thanks to generative AI, good publishers unintentionally get swept up in the fray. Websites with more content than ever (like ProPakistani, Dawn, etc.) are getting mixed up in the new ecosystem.

We don’t have a clear theory of this case as a business. The situation has worsened since 2019 when Google’s ads team with its ‘commercial intent’ transformed Google Search from a neutral provider of information to an active merchant of profit-driven content. This was bad as it led to a global settings mix-up and caused misattribution of traffic from platforms like WordPress and other web content management systems. Without getting into much detail which could spark unnecessary debate, the issue remains unresolved as of today.

Local publishers are helpless as Google avoids showing enough ads on Pakistani websites. With viewership unstable and ad-revenue below-par, media houses depend massively on sponsored content or direct selling to keep their overworked workforce on a dedicated payroll.

Higher toxic competition can lead to decreased ads effectiveness. When numerous ads compete for attention within a specific search term or industry, yours may struggle to stand out, resulting in fewer conversions and therefore stunted revenue.

Another reason for a drop in ad-revenue is entry of more competition that has a better marketing team which focuses on hoarding its peers and social media marketing. The best example is how a few readers of ProPakistani have accused platforms like StartupPakistan for blatantly infringing copyright laws by copying original content and generating good revenue as a result of their impressive social media presence. This has become a big problem and dented ad-sales for the big guns. Besides ProPakistani, other big publishers aren’t strangers to such toxic competition.

Some might disagree, but repetitive publication of dry content and ignoring seasonal trends (local politics, global/regional conflicts, lack of opinionated analysis, etc) also make the audience switch platforms to read/watch what they like.

Also, consumer behavior goes through natural shifts with the changing seasons. These shifts impact search queries and ad performance.

All things considered, local journalism faces a triad of existential threats: AI, new (toxic) competition and ignoring seasonal trends. Outlook for what’s left of 2024 and coming few years remains cloudy for ad-earnings, streaming services, digital publications, and the media industry as a whole.

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