Features

My media habits: T Gangadhar, Essence president of growth and strategy for APAC

With news and entertainment all accessed via apps, the media habits of T Gangadhar from Essence prove he is no atavist hung up on the romance of print or stuck waxing nostalgic over the joys of appointment viewing

T Gangadhar hopes we won’t abdicate all critical and creative thinking to machines

What are your must-read news sources you can’t live without on a daily basis, and why are those particular media titles so important to you?

“The Washington Post and The New York Times apps. I’m a keen follower of American politics and I find these the most balanced news sources. The quality of their reporting is a tour de force.”

In terms of news consumption – do you prefer, print, television, radio, websites, newsletters, social networks, blogs, apps or something else entirely?

“My news consumption is almost entirely on apps, either on my mobile phone or on television. I’m not one to romanticise the feeling of reading a printed newspaper.”

Do you prefer long-form or short-form content?

“Depends on what I’m reading and how much time I have. If it’s an investigative piece, I prefer the longer, detailed story. Otherwise, I’d like it to be as concise as possible — hopefully, without compromising nuance.”

Can you name your favourite journalist and set out what makes them great?

NYT’s Maggie Haberman

“Maggie Haberman of The New York Times has a unique edge to her writing. She’s one of the few journalists who are redefining mainstream political reporting. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say she keeps the 167-year-old Times relevant in the digital age.”

What piece of journalism has changed the game in recent times, in your view?

“In my opinion, Ronan Farrow’s story in The New Yorker outing Harvey Weinstein is one of the most groundbreaking in recent memory. It’s his piece that helped birth the ‘#MeToo’ movement, inspiring people around the world to shine a light on the ugly business of workplace harassment.”

Are there any titles you have paid subscriptions to?

“The Washington Post and The New York Times.”

In terms of films and shows, is your preference for terrestrial television or streaming platforms like Netflix?

“I haven’t watched linear television in several years, except occasionally for live sports. I’m a streaming junkie and have subscriptions to several services.”

Are recommendation engines a good thing or do they cancel out the joy of serendipity in terms of discovering fresh content not aligned with your previous preferences?

“I don’t mind recommendation engines when I’ve limited time and want to watch something in a hurry. Are they always accurate? Considering I was recently recommended The Emoji Movie, I wouldn’t bet the farm on it.

“Of late, with so much content to choose from, I find myself increasingly relying on suggestions from people I trust.”

What was the best film you saw of late – and can you describe why it made an impression on you?

“I just watched Alfonso Cuarón’s ‘Roma’ and I am gobsmacked by it. I found it to be a beautiful bittersweet story told in stunning poetic style.

“The black and white treatment reminded me of the classic La Dolce Vita. What a terrific debut by Yalitza Aparicio too.”

And what shows do you consider to be event TV, those programmes you just have to watch and can’t contemplate missing?

“For me, the ultimate television event is Game of Thrones. I’d be up at 6:30am on Mondays (India time) to watch the latest episode as it streamed in the US.

“Clearly, the prospect of Cersei Lannister getting her just deserts is strong motivation for deviant television-watching behaviour.

“When it comes to streaming services, I usually polish off a new season of Narcos and House of Cards within the first weekend. I couldn’t get beyond the first episode of the latest season of House of Cards, though.”

In terms of devices, how do you access content most often – on mobile, desktop, tablet, laptop or television?

“My video consumption is entirely on my Apple TV, iPad and mobile phone. Somehow, I’ve never streamed content from my laptop.”

How damaging is piracy and illegal downloads when it comes to the media and entertainment space?

“Piracy is not a victimless crime, as many argue. Media and entertainment is a business like any other, and to lose a big chunk of revenue to piracy can be crippling for people who work in the industry.

“On the other hand, it’s a big signal for content companies to reassess their pricing models.”

And moving on, what’s been your favourite book in recent times?

“I loved The Devotion of Suspect X by Keigo Higashino. It’s an astonishing police procedural that curiously segues into mathematics and Japanese culture.

“I am also a huge fan of Scandinavian crime fiction, especially of the Norwegian author Jo Nesbø.”

So Kindle or hard copy?

“I mostly read off the Kindle app on my iPad. I love reading a physical book but the convenience of storing and accessing a book digitally is hard to wish away.”

And now to music. How do you buy and consume music?

“I have subscriptions to iTunes, Google Music and Prime Music. I’m usually listening to music on my mobile phone.”

Which musical artists appeal to your tastes right now?

“Of late, I find myself listening to Fink a lot – especially Looking Too Closely and Yesterday Was Hard on All of Us.

“I find his sound refreshing and unique. I discovered him on an episode of the television show Suits. Speaking of which, I find television shows a great source for discovering new music.”

Social networks: Hero or villain when it comes to giving you access to content?

“When something is free, remember you are the product. If one accesses content on social networks despite being aware of this reality, one shouldn’t complain.

“What is that saying about cake and eating?”

And are social networks like Facebook and Twitter actually media companies these days in your view, even though that is something they deny – perhaps to avoid further regulation?

“Erm… Considering they’ve tried to acquire streaming rights of sporting events, there should be no doubt that these are also media companies.”

In the digital world, algorithms rather than humans are the media gatekeepers. Do you miss the old days when the likes of journalists, critics and broadcasters played that qualitative role, or have we simply evolved to a better quantitative system?

“To me, it’s not an either-or dilemma. In a time-strapped world, there is value in algorithms – no doubt. They do a decent job of helping me discover content quickly, especially news.

“But I don’t allow algorithms to dictate my consumption. By following a cross-section of people on social platforms, I can still access expert opinion in my areas of interest – advertising, entertainment, technology and politics.”

Finally, what does the future hold for the media space in your view – will artificial intelligence and virtual personal assistants take over to the point where we just trust the machines to tell us what we want to consume, in terms of news and entertainment?

“I hope it won’t be as binary as that. Resisting advancements like artificial intelligence and machine learning is like bringing a knife to a gunfight. If technology can help us save time and effort by not sweating the small stuff, why not?

“Whether that can extend into creating touching human experiences remains to be seen. Oftentimes, the power of stories is as much about the people who make them. I still have faith in human intelligence, and hope we won’t abdicate all critical (and creative) thinking to machines.”

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