The Fine Print

New trends in government advertising spend in print media

30 November, 2020

IN THE DECEMBER 2014 ISSUE of The Caravan, we took a deep dive into two repositories of data that capture different dimensions of the media landscape. The first was the Department of Advertising and Visual Publicity, which oversees the central government’s advertising spend—and has since been renamed the Bureau of Outreach and Communication. The second data repository was the ministry of corporate affairs, which stores information filed by companies for compliance purposes.

Six years later, we revisited both to see how the needle has moved on some of the media practices outlined last time. In this time period, the country has faced severe economic challenges, which has only been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, and a considerable shift in the ideological moorings of the media ecosystem. The rise of the news channel Republic TV, known for its propagandist content, is a case in point. We were interested to see how print businesses were faring against this backdrop.

The BOC data shows the central government’s spending on print advertising has declined significantly in the last two years. Yet, the government’s tendency to use this spending as a political lever persists. And even though the Modi administration has been allocating more spending on Hindi and other vernacular newspapers, the overall spending still skews towards urban, English-speaking audiences.

Since 2014, the digital media has made considerable gains. This, along with the government placing fewer ads in publications, is a huge blow for media houses for whom print is the centrepiece of their business. We analysed the regulatory financial filings of six major newspaper publishers—each of which also has a digital presence of varying degrees—to see how they are faring in the midst of this media churn. The six media houses are Bennett, Coleman and Company Limited; HT Media; DB Corp; Jagran Prakashan; Kasturi & Sons; and the Indian Express.