In the age of digital newsrooms, media and information literacy is needed more than ever. In his new book TV News 3.0, Zafar Siddiqi calls for new solutions and provides an insider’s guide to launching and running news channels in the digital age, based on his experience of working in Pakistan, Africa and the Middle East.
The book, TV News 3.0, is an addition to the small range of English language literature specifically on the media in Pakistan and might be of interest to students of journalism or mass communications. It was launched in London on Tuesday.
“The World Economic Forum actually has the fourth industrial revolution with technology and they call it 4.0 and from that, I named my book TV News 3.0,” said Siddiqi at the book launch. “In television, 1.0 is when television was invented. It was when the whole family used to sit together and watch this little black box for news.”
He remarked that there is a lot for students in the book. “From my experiences of launching a channel and finding an investor, to learning about journalism, newsrooms and editing, this book has it all,” said Siddiqi.
Lawyer Farooq Bajwa also believes that the book will prove to be helpful for students. “Pakistani universities, especially those teaching mass communications, should add this book in their course outlines,” said Bajwa.
“Zafar has managed to create a book that gives people information on how to follow in his footsteps and become owners of TV channels,” said Richard Ellis, the managing director of Blue Magpie Books, which is TV News 3.0’s publisher. “He has done it in a remarkably entertaining and readable way that I think will help the general reader understand the world of TV news, which is very fascinating.”
Siddiqi is a chartered accountant by training and was with KPMG for 18 years but he branched out into television and started Telebiz, a private production house that created business shows. Many people in the industry today started their careers at Telebiz.
After Telebiz he started CNBC networks in 18 countries and most Pakistanis will be familiar with another of his endeavors, SAMAA TV.
The 270-page book is a quick read because Siddiqi is not a convoluted writer and expresses himself simply and clearly. Chapters are dedicated to investment and finances for television channels and digital earnings, managing and setting up newsroom teams, distribution or satellite mechanisms and technology such as cable operators, convergence between TV and digital and the nuts and bolts of coverage.
As he has travelled widely and over his career met international media industry players, there are stories and lessons peppered throughout the text. He also goes into anecdotes of his own experience in Pakistan, which tends to be the most interesting material. There are also polite but honest self-reflective moments in which he shares mistakes made and how disasters were managed. Students of journalism or mass communication benefit also from the histories of the industry’s development, both in Pakistan and abroad, that he highlights where trends emerged or directions changed.
These are some highlights:
Studios & lighting
Siddiqi dedicates a chapter to the details of how to set up a studio and what kind of technology is needed. While this may be taught at universities or people learn on the job at media houses, what he has to say is worth reading because it covers every single job description for people involved at this level of production. It even has stories of his experience such as how he brought the first autocue machine for a private company to Pakistan in the 1990s (the only other one was at PTV).
Finances & lessons
The chapter on financing a television channel and setting one up is full of honest appraisals of his own experience. His track record with the CNBC franchise in the Middle East seemed to indicate the same thing would work in Pakistan. “I had no issues with persuading institutional investors to back me,” he writes. “Although the channel [CNBC Pakistan] proved to be a disaster in financial terms (its audiences were so small that official its ratings were zero), it was a good experience to get an international network into Pakistan.” Siddiqi candidly admits that the lesson learnt was to never take a niche channel into a country where ratings are considered primary and where the buying power of those watching the station is not considered to have any value.
On the future
The book has 14 chapters with the kicker at the end in which Zafar Siddiqi tells the story of how he asked four questions of Claire Petulengro, a UK clairvoyant and astrologer descended from Romany gypsies. He spends a lot of his time planning and strategizing, reading trends, forecasting and experimenting. Ultimately, he is realistic that only time can tell for many aspects of the industry that we worry about. But for what it is worth, he asked Petulengro the questions: What will news presentation look like in 2030; will AI or robots be doing the news; will audiences use special spectacles for VR news; how will a majority of news consumers get their news, on mobile, TV or laptop.
This chapter is buttressed by some hard numbers that confirm what we sense is a future trend for emerging formats. For anyone planning a career in the media industry it is worth going through the trajectory Siddiqi traces for subscription video on-demand (SVODs in the industry). For example, SVOD subscribers in the Middle East and Africa are forecast to jump from 11m in 2018 to 26.5m by 2024. Over this period annual revenues are forecast to reach $2.3b in the Middle East, he writes.