NBTC needs a sharper vision of the future
Shifting trends in advertising and viewing are rocking the TV industry as the competitive sea turns red
The National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission has been criticised over many matters, but its failure to alert bidders on digital TV licences a few years ago about major shifts in viewer and advertiser habits has barely been mentioned. Some digital TV operators are struggling due to those changes, which have made advertising income a lot harder to come by.
Advertisers are increasingly showing a preference for high-definition channels, whichleaves holders of non-HD licences fighting a losing battle. This is in addition to dramatic fluctuations in the ratings, caused by skewing viewing habits. The licences were sold to bidders at high prices that apparently did not take into account these two crucial income-generating factors. Advertising money across the media landscape grew at an average annual rate just over 5 per cent between 2010 and 2015. While that growth outpaced the rise in both Thailand’s Gross Domestic Product and private consumption, it didn’t help small-time broadcasters or those who were new to the game. Major free-TV operators like Channel 3 and Channel 7 still claim the biggest share of the cake, and only a few new players have been able to mount anything resembling a challenge.
The “ocean is blood red”, to use the business metaphor for fierce competition, with everyone in the TV trade fighting for slices of an advertising cake that hasn’t grown as quickly as expected. Fast-evolving information and digital technology and the sprawling influence of the social media have neutralised mainstream print media and now pose a serious threat to the conventional broadcasting business as well. Advertising expenditures set aside for conventional TV are not rising as quickly as forecast, with more and more advertising shifting to YouTube, other websites and the social networks, and also to the increasingly ubiquitous video screens seen along urban streets. Count as another looming factor Facebook Live, by which that sharing site enables anyone to become a broadcaster anytime on any subject, the only restrictions on content involving legality and common decency.
No one could have fully predicted what was going to happen in Thailand, so the firms that bid on digital TV licences must share the blame with the NBTC. However, the regulator is supposed to be forward-looking enough to have some sense of what’s coming. The commissioners, after all, were selected largely in the belief that they were better informed than most people when it came to which direction the technological winds were blowing.
The current state of affairs in the broadcasting landscape must serve as a key lesson for all. Entrepreneurs should know that advanced technology can bring benefit one day and then turn against them the next. Regulators, either those working for the state or independents, should be better at predicting future trends in the industries for which they are responsible. Their success should not be measured in terms of managing to sell horses at high prices when the railroads are coming, but rather being able to foresee the arrival of railroads and preparing accordingly, in ways that foster progress and development.
The NBTC was born out of concern that letting politicians regulate broadcasting and telecom frequencies would invite corruption and cheat the general public out of assets that fundamentally belong to everyone. It is obvious now that the commission’s responsibility doesn’t stop at fair regulations and the allocation of frequencies. It must also constantly monitor technological advances and be able to guess what’s coming next so that it can ensure no one gets left behind in the whirlwind.