As a keen observer and enabler of change in the Indian M&E sector for nearly three decades, Media Veteran Jyoti Deshpande, CEO, Viacom18, President – Jio Studios and Co-Chair, FICCI Media & Entertainment has her task cut out for herself in a postpandemic world dominated by new challenges. In a candid interview with Pickle, she underscores her key priorities and grand vision to help the Indian M&E sector navigate towards becoming a $100 billion industry
Jyoti Deshpande is an industry veteran with over 3 decades of experience in the media and entertainment business. On September 30, 2021, Jyoti was appointed as CEO of Viacom18 to drive its transition into a truly integrated media company across broadcast, OTT and content studio businesses spanning general entertainment, movies, kids and sports across languages. This makes her the first woman leader to be named CEO of a Big 4 media company in India. She also serves on the boards of Network18, Balaji Telefilms and JioSaavn. Jyoti joined Reliance Industries in 2018 as President, Chairman’s Office – Media Platform & Content. Over the last four years, Jyoti established Jio Studios as a key player in the entertainment value chain. In her previous company, Jyoti had successfully built a formidable media & content distribution business and pioneered ErosNow’s early entry into the OTT space. In her new role, Jyoti will grow Viacom18 in the backdrop of digital disruption while bringing synergies across all RIL media investments. An industry captain, Jyoti also serves as the Co-Chair, Media & Entertainment Committee, FICCI, again the first woman leader to hold this position. She has featured among Fortune India as well as Business Today’s 50 Most Powerful Women in Business lists, both of which celebrate the journeys and triumphs of women who not only impact their organization but are also thought leaders in their industry. Jyoti believes in the power of positive thinking and practices Vipassana meditation. She’s an avid movie buff and equally follows cricket and tennis passionately.
Congratulations on acquiring a new leadership role as the co-chair of FICCI M&E Board. As you have witnessed the rise of M&E at close quarters for three decades, how do you see M&E evolving in postpandemic world? What is your major objective in terms of pushing the growth of the Indian M&E industry in near future?
Thank you. It has been my good fortune to be part of a paradigm shift in the M&E industry for almost three eventful decades—from the analogue to digital era in the nineties, to the proliferation of the mobile internet driven by the Jio revolution, to the subsequent digital/OTT explosion and now looking curiously ahead at a life in the Metaverse. The pandemic has definitely pushed more households to accelerate digital adoption, be it for education or entertainment. Multi-device platform agnostic consumption of content (and therefore data) is here to stay. It would be safe to say that the change is permanent. The only constant is that technological advancements continue to increase the relevance, importance and demand for content and story tellers.
During pandemic, TV became connected and interactive; films released online; news went hyper-local; 390 million Indians gamed online; and over 150 billon songs were streamed. Besides, subscriptions of OTT scaled to 40 million households, and digital media cemented its position as the second largest segment of Indian M&E. Our M&E sector should reach pre-pandemic levels in 2022 itself.
My major objective would be to work with the government and the Indian M&E industry champions to ensure that the sum of the parts is greater than the whole and we have a sustainable path to becoming a $100 billion industry which is currently less than $28 billion in size. This has been our dream for a while, as we straddle changing dynamics of traditional and new media, in the backdrop of a complex regulatory environment.
Indian media and entertainment sector’s positioning at Dubai Expo later this month is one of the first physical global outings for the M&E sector since the start of the pandemic. What is the message we will be conveying to the world?
India’s message to the world is that the digital era has made it a level playing field and India is no longer playing catch up. We are well on our way to becoming the largest credible marketplace in the world with over 800 million internet users and over 600 million upwardly mobile middle class which is larger than the population of most developed countries. This is a consumer wallet no brand or service can ignore. With consolidation in the Indian M&E sector, our message to global companies in the media value chain is that we are open for business and strategic collaborations to spoil the Indian consumer for choice and tap arguably the most lucrative market in the world.
Post pandemic, various verticals of the M&E sector (TV, Film, OTT, AVGC, Radio) have strengths, status quo, weaknesses… some have more growth pointers than others… how do you view it?
India is unique in the sense that it feels like several diverse countries lie within this one great nation. We still have more than 300 million internet dark households who we are targeting to convert through 4G/5G. Only about 66% of households own a television set in India. As the top end of the urban mass and rural rich households pivot to a more digital multidevice multi-platform content consumption pattern, and cord cutting begins, I firmly believe that there is still headroom for new households to come into play in both traditional and new media in what is a rapidly developing nation of young people. Cinema and Print have been hardest hit in the pandemic while digital has been the biggest beneficiary.
As consumption explodes across media, moot question remains on the ability to drive up subscription ARPU and persuade the Indian consumer to part with a share of wallet by building a compelling value proposition. Ad ex has grown by close to 40% in the last year surpassing pre-pandemic levels. Monetization is still largely dependent on measurement metrics which may or may not be updated frequently enough to effectively and/or accurately reflect the rapidly changing consumption patterns. Again, this is an area where industry leaders and government can play a pivotal role. Transparency in monitoring and measurement with common currency within the remit of consumer data privacy can really help attract more dollars to the Indian M&E sector. Tax credits to encourage shooting across various states in India can be another incentive.
The Indian Cinema industry is currently facing its biggest growth challenge. Since you have immersed yourself in this space, especially when it comes to increasing its global footprint, what steps can we take to increase India’s exports in the M&E space?
Even before the pandemic began, the Indian film industry was suffering from under-penetration of cinemas with only six screens available per million people compared to 125 in the US. The situation has turned worse with the shutting down of single screens during the pandemic. Despite highest number of tickets sold as well as the largest number of movies produced across languages (2000+) annually, low ATP or average ticket prices, have historically plagued our market. I do believe that India will now see production of ‘larger than life’ visual spectacles that will first cross over pan nationally before crossing over to the world. The visual medium is largely becoming language agnostic where audiences are willing to consume compelling content in dubbed or subtitled versions. There are more than 75 countries that regularly consume Indian content. A framework for viable cross collaborations between Indian and international talent, state-of-theart production values where cost is supported by commensurate tax breaks and mainstream distribution and marketing of the same is what is needed to export our stories to the world.
How can we capitalize on our 2,000+ films, 800 TV channels, 50 OTT platforms, 650 million smart phones, and 400 million gamers to grow further? Is it enough to take Indian M&E sector to reach its $100 billion growth target? With $10 trillion Indian economy envisioned in 2030, can audio-visual sector has the potential to achieve 2% share in the economy going forward?
This is indeed a solid foundation to build a path to the $100 billion goal. While consumption grows in geometric progression, we need to work together to weave a framework for monetization that is robust and sustainable, be it directly from consumer wallet or from advertising. Our stories have to be relevant and entertaining to a global audience. Again, the key competitive advantage India will have is that the traditional parts of the media value chain will not decline as fast as it happened in developed countries while the new media will grow just as fast. The US M&E sector is 5-7% of their GDP in any given year so there is no reason why we cannot achieve 2% of the GDP in the next 3-5 years.
India is celebrating 75 years of its Independence in 2022. What is your vision for the Indian M&E sector in the next 10 years?
Ten years from now, the Indian M&E sector should be at least 5% of our GDP. The Indian M&E market should have driven up ARPU on the back of prolific consumption to be a top three market globally competing with US and China. ‘Make in India and Show the World’ mantra driven by Indian storytellers and tech companies would unleash the true power of the Indian Mythoverse into the Metaverse. Technologies change, distribution platforms change, devices change, operating systems change – what never changes is the demand for content, the demand for a compelling story and a talented storyteller. The next 10 years will see a large crop of young story-tellers crossing over globally.
How do we create a startup ecosystem, providing new canvasses – like the Metaverse– bringing stories to life in new forms?
Technological advancements, education, training and development and large-scale production and post-production facilities are the need of the hour. Many traditional story tellers even today do not understand the power and possibilities of basic VFX, let alone the Metaverse. Creators are only limited by their own imagination. Institutionalization and democratization are required so that India and Indian story telling can play to scale.
There is a growing concern for ethics and morality of technologically driven advancements in the digital media space…How do we tackle this?
Ethics is too vast a topic to be straddled in a short answer. It can cover something as basic as parameters for censorship across different platforms like Cinema, TV or OTT, to something as complex as data privacy of a consumer who leaves a digital footprint with every click, to the unexplored use cases in the Metaverse and what it may do to our moral fibre or our mental health, especially of young India. What should be policed and what shouldn’t? How can governments have a nimble intuitive regulatory framework that is effective for consumer protection as well as not detrimental to business? Another topic worth discussion is the M&E sectors responsibility towards the issue of sustainability. We haven’t even scratched the tip of the iceberg here.
Tomake ‘Make in India, Show the World’ successful, we need to have a mechanism for our IPs created out of India. What are your thoughts on this issue?
Of course, protection of copyright is a pivotal spoke of the flywheel. It is estimated that last year India recorded over 6.5 billion visits to piracy websites, third highest in the world after US and Russia. As the various windows of exploitation collapse to offer consumers the ultimate choice to legitimately watch what they want when they want it, on the one hand we will need to work with the government to enforce stronger consequences to piracy that are effective deterrents and on the other hand we need to create technological barriers to piracy with further advancements.
Nearly 120 million Indian women—more than double the population of South Korea—do not participate in the workforce despite having secondary level education. Does the media sector provide outlets for them?
Once again this is a vast topic and one that is close to my heart. As per the Global Gender Gap Report 2021 published by the World Economic Forum, India is ranked at 140 out of 156 countries with a score of 0.625 (out of 1). Why girls in India don’t enter the workforce after being neck and neck with boys in education, why women drop out of the workforce midway through their career? While some of it is voluntary choice made by the women themselves, some of it is circumstantially thrust upon them due to deep-rooted cultural biases that continuously reinforce stereotypes. For this to change, men must equally be included in the conversation about women empowerment, and there needs to be a seismic cultural shift in the attitude towards preconceived notions and role definitions of men and women at home and at work.
I already see this happening due to greater exposure and awareness driven by the social media explosion. Starting with a bank account and financial independence sought by women. Winds of change have set in motion slowly but surely. The media and entertainment sector has seen a systematic increase in women workforce in the last several years. There are still only a handful of us at the leadership levels in M&E, but it’s surely growing. Women leaders in this sector (and others) are rigorously mentoring other women on merits and paying it forward to give this movement the momentum it desperately needs, as I am doing in my own organization.
Biren Ghose has been playing a crucial role for over two decades in transforming the India’s digital creative industries. Prominently featuring in all global media markets and events across the globe. Biren’s amazing professional journey and experiences give us useful insights into his incredible mind and vision for the India’s Animation, VFX, and Gaming [AVGC] industries.
Pickle chats with Biren Ghose, Country Head, Technicolor India and Vice Chairman, CII National Committee on Media & Entertainment.
India is participating at Berlinale’s European Film Market. India’s spotlight is its digital creative industries…
Berlinale and European Film Market is an established global platform for germinating and exposing the latest in audio visual content and filmmaking. In addition to critical acclaim, our films, talent and locales have achieved a premium status in the global film firmament. Even more significant is India’s rapid rise to eminence as the “digital engine room” for the world, when it comes to production of movies, episodic and short film content. That’s the emerging India edge. It is with this growing confidence and pride that we are positioning India as the “wind in the sails’ of content creators through technology enablement. As technology has democratized consumption so also has it helped to consolidate production.
What’s trending and something we bring to Berlin – is this new breed of creativity – a potent and youthful combination of talent, technology, and tenacity. These 3Ts are becoming a key force through the digital transformationof our film industries leveraging Animation, VFX, & Immersive Media.
The Government of India has identified the audio-visual services as a champion sector. This is a recognition given to industries where 3-4 X growth is a strong potential given its potential to catapult jobs and exports. With the right impetus the services sector for Animation, VFX and Games [labelled the AVGC sector] can double its growth rate and make it a Rs. 1 trillion sector by 2025-26.
The technologies and toolsets to create stories are exploding. I see this paradigm shift as we enter the ‘age of immersion’— a surreal paradigm in which people are their own heroes and participate in their own adventures! The digital world has made content a transcendental phenomenon and today’s audio-visual sciences have elevated the art of content creation to image making beyond the constraints of the camera. The chimeric possibilities in digital content creation now enables the storyteller to overcomethe stresses and travails of live action and avoid multilocation, large crews, inclement weather and other production imponderables and instead use new tools and methodologies leveraging computer graphics.
How has India transformed in the visual effects space.. Definitely it is not just the backroom or back office stuff that happens out of India…?
I’ll give you an analogy. As a big fan of the sport, in the Formula 1 race, you experience the pinnacle of global automotive technologies that make massive performance strides annually.The top teams includeMercedes, Renault,Ferrari, Aston Martin. Besides the skill of the driver – engineering the car from drawing board to split second pit stops are unbelievable feats. India’s Tata Consultancy Services for over a decade have been involved in elements of what Ferrari F1 does in that domain. This demonstrates the importance of what goes “under the hood” and that’s what animation and VFX are doing to games and movies and streamers. Companies like MPC and The Mill are in the world of films, dedicated to that same purpose – to work with the creatives in the world’s biggest studios – to design, develop and deployment a technology stack to ensure that the digital augmentation needed in those productions are like the F1 to the film world. Hence this emerging India prowess is a game changer akin to the analytics, the real time simulation and the digital assets needed to take split second decisions in a F1 race. AVGC entities demonstrate that same dynamicof making creative and technology choices that need to be managed in real time!
India has built momentum and scale and it’s not just the simple work roto work that gets sent here, the studios have been able to rise to global standards to deliverend-to-end work across full shots and sequences for the most complex productions.
As the world looks at geographical hubs for all kinds of technology facilitation to scale their businesses –India has become that hub in aerospace, automotive, retail, healthcare, finance, biotech, etc and similarly “image making”now aspires to join that group by harnessing Indian know how tobecome the #1 service provider for the global M&E industry.
India is currently deploying economic diplomacy as a strategy to reach out to the world…How do we do this in the media world…
Ultimately this question is about value creation and value addition. What is economic diplomacy as a strategy? How do we align the expectations and balance strengths across geographies for a win-win solution? We are a global participantin storytelling. Our Indian embassies in every country are constantly presenting India to the world. A lot of cultural representation of India is showcased in a very traditional manner. Contemporary storytelling is not just about what we create just for a broadcast channel. Indian storytelling must leverage every interface that takes place globally and our trade consuls can play a large role in this outreach effort. AVGC content can help demonstrate and enhance the understanding of the New Indiain a manner that captures the global psyche.
In the digital world today, film makers think globally. What AR Rahman did for music was to contemporize it. His awesome compositions fused elements of Indian classical,Western classical, Jazz, Soul and made a new popular music that has won global acclaim. That’s the magic of expanding our reach through this amalgam of a wide variety of influencesthat could make the Indian Film industry a more powerful global force.
What do we do in festivals and markets like Berlin?
We are coming to demonstrate how Indian content is a perfect test bed for the world. We have 400 million youth in India. Additionally, in our country, our national releases must cut across languages; religions; state rules; etc.There is no bigger test bed for content effectiveness! We are millions of people who speak different languages, have different traditions, different religions, different likes and dislikes and we tell different stories!We are the best case study on how to create content that has a universal appeal! We need to ensure we take those insights and mount fresh content on an international scale!
Recently, Government of India, in the Union Budget has announced formation of AVGC Taskforce…
In the same way that big movie ideas are all about the execution, similarly, making a national policy, is all about making development plans that can be translated into tangible and lasting outcomes. We are delighted that the government of India [in the Union Budget 2022] has announced a task force for AVGC. I am hopeful that the recruits to this task forcewill think about this as a missionand make it a national priority. This shall look at an industry wish list and work to achieve it in a partnership between academia, industry and government.
Where are we heading in the digital creative industries…
I am calling filmmaking as image making! Its future has already been disrupted — because of new technologies, tsunami of data and a billion pieces of content that we are all surrounded by it’s a tough task for sure.
However, just like quantum physics, came in when the classical physics failed, I’m saying that “Quantum Image Making” will turn ageold practices and art forms on its head. Look at what’s already trending in our industry! Production become “virtual production” – this means that real time technologies with game-enginelike tech willbecome popular across all forms of content creation. India is adept at embracing such technological pivotsand can aggressively lead the pack going forward.Venture monies, the spirit of innovation entrepreneurship and the experience of India’sfilmmakers for decades are all potent ingredients that will help catapult the growth of this sector.
The Indian AVGC sector shall become about 25-28% of the total Indian Media & Entertainment industry by 2025
There are visible signs of creators’ economy taking off to a new revenue generation for Mark Zuckerberg’s Meta-owned social media platform Instagram. Of course, for content creators it opens up new paid subscriptions similar to earnings from Patreon, Twitter among other platforms.
To begin with, Instagram has introduced a pilot programme to dry run paid subscription feature to ten of its creators in the US and making subscribers pay anything from 99 cents to $99.99 a month to pay for exclusive content on Instagram Live (real time video streaming sessions) and Stories (photos and video posts that disappears in 24 hours) More creators and new territories will be added in the coming months.
This is a big boost to the creator economy which is estimated in the region of $100 billion dollars, with around 50 million creators around the globe.
Creators handpicked by Instagram for this pilot from USA include @alanchikinchow (actor and influencer), @sedona._ (basketball player), @alizakelly (astrologer), @kelseylynncook (actress model), @elliottnorris digital creator), @jordanchiles (Olympic silver medalist), @jackjerry (gymnast), @bunnymichael (artist and spiritual coach), @donalleniii(XR creator) and @lonnieiiv (digital creator).
Meta Platforms CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced the launch on his official Facebook profile page stating that Meta Platforms is testing out a new “subscriptions on Instagram” service that will permit popular creators on the site to profit from their hundreds of thousands of followers by selling “access to exclusive Lives and Stories.”
“I’m excited to keep building tools for creators to make a living doing creative work and to put these tools in more creators’ hands soon,” he wrote in his page.
For now, the content creators can keep money earned from subscribers and Facebook will not take a cut. In the long run, Facebook will take a percentage cut from the creators.
Subscribers will be identified in purple coloured special badge to creators.
“Creators do what they do to make a living, and it’s important that that is predictable,” said Adam Mosseri, head Instagram in a video shared in Twitter.
Facebook also has a subscription program for creators.
Bob Chapek, Chief Executive Officer, The Walt Disney Company has articulated three strategies for the company, going forward in a memo to employees. As Disney prepares to celebrate 100th anniversary in 2023, Chapek has outlined mission for 2022 — “set the stage for our second century, and ensure Disney’s next 100 years are as successful as our first”. Chapek has identified three areas for Disney — Storytelling, innovation and relentless focus on our audience. Here’s how the memo reads
As we begin the New Year, I want to share our mission and the strategic pillars that will be key to our success—but first, I want to start 2022 on a note of gratitude for all of you, your talent, dedication, and optimism during the most disruptive time in our company’s history.
Thanks to you, we are weathering the pandemic and emerging stronger than ever. Over the last two years, we continued to tell the world’s best stories, reorganized, and accelerated our transformation to better serve audiences and guests. We looked inward during a time of social disruption, saw how much was left to do, and made significant change. And of course, we underwent a leadership change—and I am enormously grateful for the tremendous foundation Bob Iger left us.
You achieved those things during a once-in-a-century pandemic, and I want to acknowledge those whose roles require them to be in the office or one of our parks, as well as those working from home while managing at-home learning and gaps in childcare. I also appreciate your patience as we begin reopening our offices. Our long-term goal is to provide greater flexibility, and your leaders will be in touch as plans evolve.
It’s ironic that this disruption is happening as we prepare to celebrate our company’s 100th anniversary. For nearly a century, we have defined and redefined entertainment, created countless lifelong memories, and delighted fans and families around the world. It’s a legacy that is simply unrivalled—and a welcome responsibility for us to build upon.
And so I believe our mission for this year is clear: set the stage for our second century, and ensure Disney’s next 100 years are as successful as our first. To do that, we will focus on three pillars.
First, storytelling excellence. What makes Disney so unique is that the stories we tell mean something to people. They inspire, give hope, bring us together, illuminate the world around us, and create memories. That is Disney magic, and we must continue to set the creative bar higher and higher. To that end—and in addition to all my other creative meetings—I am establishing a new standing monthly meeting with our senior creative leaders to discuss the opportunities we face as a storytelling enterprise. This will encourage collaboration, sharing of best practices, and stimulate cross-studio ideation.
Second, innovation. Since Steamboat Willie, we have been the world’s foremost innovative storytellers. That must continue as technology evolves, giving our creative teams new canvases like the metaverse on which to paint. We should be especially innovative as we seek to bring stories to life in new ways—particularly if they enhance what many call our “franchise ecosystem,” which is one of the things that sets us apart.
And third, relentless focus on our audience. We are a big company with many constituents and stakeholders, all of whom have a place in our decision-making. But at the end of the day, our most important guide—our North Star—is the consumer. Right now, their behavior tells us and our industry that the way they want to experience entertainment is changing—and changing fast thanks to technology and the pandemic. We must evolve with our audience, not work against them. And so we will put them at the center of every decision we make.
When you look at the entertainment landscape, I believe Disney stands alone. We have the world’s most creative storytelling engine along with the world’s most beloved brands and franchises—which we can bring to life in ways no one else can. We have a portfolio of distribution platforms across the world—including powerful streaming services—with the ability to reach audiences anywhere, anytime. We have the #1 news organization and the most trusted brand in sports. We bring people together and make magical memories that last a lifetime at our parks and on our cruise ships. We have a unique ability to impact culture and connect with people on deeply personal levels. And we have you—the best team in the business.
I couldn’t think of a better combination, and I could not be more optimistic about our future. I look forward to setting the stage for our next century with all of you, and to making the unique brand of magic that only Disney can.
India and Vietnam has signed a Letter of Intent to collaborate in the field of digital media, paving the way for further strengthening the partnership between the two countries.
2022 marks fifty years of diplomatic relations between the two countries, the ministry said.
Information and Broadcasting Minister Anurag Thakur and his Vietnamese counterpart Nguyen Manh Hung signed the document (On December 16, 2021) that envisages the sharing of information and experience in establishing policies and regulatory frameworks on digital media and social networks.
The LoI also envisages conducting capacity building and training programmes for media professionals and officials in the two countries, the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting said in a statement.
“The Union Minister of Information and Broadcasting emphasized that the deep relationship between India and Vietnam was further strengthened with the recent visits of the President and the Prime Minister of India to Vietnam, and meeting would shape the bilateral cooperation in the field of new technologies and challenges, such as the ‘infodemic’, which all countries are grappling with during the COVID-19 pandemic,” as stated in the press release issued by the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting.
Anurag Thakur informed Vietnam’s Minister of Information and Communication about the Digital Media Ethics Code being implemented by the Government of India since February 2021.
Hung invited Thakur to Vietnam and talked about enabling journalists of both countries to access information about the socio-economic developments in each other’s nations for wider dissemination of success stories and stronger people-to-people ties.
Meet Anurag Singh Thakur, the young Union Minister ofInformation & Broadcastingand Youth Affairs & Sports who exuberates an air of confidence in the idea of new India, has expressed his vision for India’s media and entertainment industry on various platforms
A firm believer in India’s potential in original content creation as well as job creation in vernacular language production, even before taking charge as the Union Minister of I&B, Anurag Singh Thakur did not mince words when he stressed at FICCI Frames 2020 that Indian M&E sector should “build an ecosystem that nurtures talent and growth” by unlocking the “potential of original content creation, simultaneous job creation and investment in the vernacular language segment of the entertainment industry”.
46-year-old Anurag Singh Thakur took charge as the Minister of Information and Broadcasting in the aftermath of the mega cabinet reshuffle of the Narendra Modi government in July In addition to I&B, Anurag Singh Thakur has also been appointed as the Sports and Youth Affairs Minister. He previously served as the Minister of State for Finance and Corporate Affairs (31st May 2019 to 7th July 2021). He is a 4th term Member of Parliament (Lok Sabha/Lower House) from Hamirpur, Himachal Pradesh.
According to him, original content creation presents immense opportunities for growth and could bridge the divide between Bollywood and Hollywood.
He also believes that India has the potential to create “creative incubators that identify and groom talent in graphic design, sound animation and visual effects,” and capture its fair share of global visual effects, animations, graphics and sound market.
Acknowledging transformation of the Indian animation sector, he said there’s still a lot of scope for improvement. He called for the media and entertainment industry to champion the cause of Atmanirbhar Bharat. “If we could tell stories that project new India and its products through our media, it will support our allied industries and sectors,” Anurag Singh Thakur said.
“It is a known fact that our media drives consumer choices and consumerism. Can we project our soft power such as Yoga, Ayurveda, ancient medicine, science, performing arts, crafts, textiles, and so on through our M&E platforms? I think there is a huge potential to showcase India’s soft power. I think this is an opportunity for all of us,” he added.
On the opportunities arising for creating employment and growth in the digital media sector, he said, “If we look at the last three years, we have seen a sea change as far as the digital media is concerned. With the use of technology, we have increased our reach in remote areas also. Even elderly people are not hesitant in using various digital platforms. This has provided a lot of opportunity.”
Anurag Singh Thakur is an avid sports lover and has contributed immensely to sports in the capacity of a sports administrator. He has served as the President of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), President Himachal Pradesh Cricket Association (HPCA), President Himachal Pradesh Olympic Association (HPOA), President Hockey Himachal, President Himachal Pradesh Table Tennis Association and Associate Vice President Hockey India. He is credited with building the world famous Dharamshala Cricket Stadium which is considered as one of the most picturesque stadiums in the world.
In 2019, he was awarded the Sansad Ratan Award for his outstanding performance as a Parliamentarian, becoming the only Member of Parliament from BJP & North India to be coveted with this honour that year. He was conferred with Champions of Change 2019 Award for significant contributions towards social welfare, particularly in the field of Healthcare, Education and Sports, becoming the only Union Ministerto be awarded with this honour that year. He has also been recognized as a “Young Global Leader” by the World Economic Forum.The Global Fundmade Anurag Singh Thakur their ‘Global Champion’ in the category of Public Health for raising awareness and building a multi-stakeholder initiative about Tuberculosis under the theme ’TB Harega, Desh Jeetega’.
He also served as the President of the EU-India Parliamentary Friendship Group, President of the FICCI Indo-US Parliamentarians Forum and India- Germany Parliamentarians Forum.
Streaming players have been in some sense the saviours of production houses and die-hard content producers. The risk of uncertain returns on content is being transferred to streaming players as they bear the brunt of the vagaries of audience preferences, says Dr S. Raghunath, Professor of Strategy, Indian Institute of Management Bangalore
A recently released Indian documentary movie on a streaming platform called ‘1232 kilometres’ about the journey of seven daily wage labourers cycling to their village home during the pandemic and the subsequent lockdown received rave reviews. The emotional core of improbable hope with the pandemic as the villain and suspense generated in completing their journey evoked sympathy. In this unconventional thriller it is a general sense of justice that underlies the hope for the triumph of the protagonist and the defeat of the villain.
With physical movement restrained and common viewing arenas such as theatres being passe in the world of virus mutation, the human hunger for entertainment has increased.
The morose, monotonous grind of everyday life encumbered by restrictions on physical movement has made hearts grow fonder for the excitement of watching a movie, web series or a reality show on television channels or streaming platforms. With smartphone brands vying with each other to gain market share, unlike broadcast or cable networks, online services allow mobile phone viewers to watch content on demand. This facilitates binge viewing, the recently popular practice of watching multiple episodes of a single television show in one sitting versus watching an episode a week on traditional networks.
Risk of returns
Streaming players have been in some sense the saviours of production houses and die-hard content producers. The risk of uncertain returns on content is being transferred to streaming players as they bear the brunt of the vagaries of audience preferences.
The subscribers may have subscribed to multiple services to satisfy different content needs. Streaming players therefore have a high customer acquisition costs while the long-term loyalty of customers is anybody’s guess.
They use algorithms to match subscribers to content, thereby offering advantages of customization and delivering it anywhere and everywhere as long as the subscriber has a device. In spite of these differentiating capabilities customers hover around subscriptions to multiple streaming platforms.
Content is king
Content remains the key value driver of streaming players in their current streaming model. Streaming players bring quality content that is ad-free and accessible anytime, anywhere. That has led customers to expect quality and premium content. In fact home grown start-ups in this space like AHA have grabbed market share by offering focused vernacular content.
It is common knowledge that quality and premium content come at a price. Recognizing that remaining a distributor of content has its limitations, incumbent streaming players are attempting to get away from their business and financial dependencies on major studios. Therefore, they are actively pursuing their own local content production. However, producing content can be very expensive while customers continue to prefer watching licensed content.
However, the streaming players are determined to control the streaming value chain by making content original and exclusive. They are making huge investments in content acquisition, licensing and production possibly leading them to substantial debt obligations.With increasing competition, the cost of content is likely to increase. And paying more for an asset could eventually reduce future returns leading to lower margins. Moreover, investments in original content require more cash upfront in comparison to licensed content.
Streaming income in the near future may not always cover the acquisition costs of streaming content assets giving rise to negative cash flow from operations which could in all probability lead to additional debt.
However, the silver lining is about the use of data analytics in understanding customers’ needs, a key strength of streaming players which could create value for third parties. With the imminent introduction of 5G technology and edge computing, video experience can be enhanced with 5G’s higher data rate to support 360° viewing, especially in panoramic content, where 5G provides substantially higher capacity. Streaming platforms can consider adding virtual reality and augmented reality, with gaming and other use cases, which can enhance user experience. Cloud gaming and esports experience are other venues of monetizing as they can be improved by lower latency and higher data rates.
The business model of streaming might expand in the future to include gaming and advertising connected to the profile of gamers.
The bouquet of entertainment could grow richer, wider, and deeper in access and functionality.
International Media Acquisition Corp, the special purpose acquisition company (SPAC) founded by Shibasish Sarkar, with eminent entertainment industry members on board has raised $200 million offering 20 million units at $10 through an initial public offering and lists on the Nasdaq under the symbol IMAQU.
The North Brunswick, NJ-based company aims to acquire its target in the next 12-18 months with a special emphasis on Indian media and entertainment sector, with a focus on North America, Europe, and Asia (minus China). It intends to focus specifically on companies that are positioned to benefit directly from the growth of digitally available content.
The company is led by CEO and Chairman Shibasish Sarkar, the Group CEO of Reliance Entertainment, and CFO Vishwas Joshi, who most recently served as executive director and head of studio finance at Walt Disney Company India. IMAC’s board of directors includes Sanjay Wadhwa, managing director of AP International Group, one of the biggest Indian regional-language IP owners, former co-head of CAA’s global client strategy department David Taghioff, Greg Silverman, current head of Stampede Ventures, and former president of creative development and worldwide production at Warner Bros. Pictures, noted U.S. businessman Paul Pelosi Jr. and Suresh Ramamurthi, chairman of CBW Bank.
IMAC is said to be backed by India’s most powerful and influencing entertainment producers, industry leaders, creative talents and studios. The big league reportedly backing the IMAC venture includes Bhushan Kumar of T Series, the Mumbai Movie Studio, Supriya Yarlagadda of Annapurna Studios, B.V.S.N. Prasad’s Sri Venkateswara Cine Chitra, S. Shashikant’s Y Not Studios, Deepa Tracy’s Storiculture, Vishwa Prasad of People Media and Syed Taher Ali’s Taher Cine Tekniq, filmmakers Mani Ratnam, Rohit Shetty, Imtiaz Ali, Luv Ranjan, Neeraj Pandey and actor Vidyut Jammwal.
According to sources familiar with the matter, other supporters of the venture reportedly include producers and media conglomerates such as Bhushan Kumar of film and music studio T-Series, actor-producer Ajay Devgn, the Mumbai Movie Studio, Supriya Yarlagadda of Annapurna Studios, B.V.S.N. Prasad’s Sri Venkateswara Cine Chitra, S. Shashikant’s Y Not Studios, Deepa Tracy’s Storiculture, Vishwa Prasad of People Media and Syed Taher Ali’s Taher Cine Tekniq.
Despite the pandemic hitting the entertainment industry hard, Pranab Kapadia, Director at Moviegoers Entertainment Limited & Co-Producer at Hope Productions is hopeful of its revival adding that F9, RRR, Bell Bottom, Suryavanshi are the films that will be enjoyed only on the big screen.
What made you venture into Moviegoers Entertainment? Especially after spending over a decade in Eros Entertainment?
It’s been an amazing, fruitful and immensely enriching 13 years for me at Eros. Over the years, Eros became home to me and my colleagues, my family. I started out with business head responsibilities for Europe & Africa but gradually assumed a wider role of President Distribution – International thanks to the trust and faith our then CEO Jyoti Deshpande reposed in me. Through the years, I also had the opportunity of working closely with our Chairman Kishore Lulla who is a pioneer and visionary of the India film industry. He, along with his brother, MD Sunil Lulla guided and empowered me. This gave me the confidence to deliver my best. I always wanted to set up something of my own. When Eros decided to focus on their OTT platform Eros Now, I thought it to be an opportune time for me to explore theatrical and other distribution opportunities through my company Moviegoers Entertainment Limited.
How has been this journey (especially during pandemic times)? There has been a lot of activity in Moviegoers Entertainment in recent times…
Life has changed for everybody since the pandemic, especially for all businesses in Hospitality and Entertainment sector. With cinemas closed and shootings stopped, there was no activity in theatrical distribution. But content was being consumed in a big way on OTT platforms. With the support of industry well-wishers, colleagues and friends, we secured exclusive representation rights to integrate Indian content partners on Super Aggregator Platform Screenhits – a game changing Media Tech company founded by the supremely talented Rose Hulse. ScreenHits TV is committed to provide consumers with a single sign-in and easy-to-use interface that combines their pre-existing streaming subscription services, videos and live channels thereby minimizing streaming fatigue by helping viewers discover and seamlessly watch content across leading streaming providers. We are also in the process of taking Screenhits into India and will soon be announcing a tie-up with leading industry media veterans as our joint venture partners.
You have seen the cinema much closer than many others… From the traditional theatrical distribution to streaming.
Yes. In 2004 with Mujhse Shaadi Karoge, I started my journey in overseas film distribution, while at Zee. I Subsequently moved to Adlabs in 2006 and Eros in 2008. In a span of 15+ years, I have overseen release of 170 films theatrically. Vivaah (2006 Rajshree Productions film starring Shahid Kapoor) was the first film to premiere day & date Transactional Video on Demand (TVOD) same time as theatrical while I was at Adlabs. It was revolutionary and way ahead of its time. Today we hear of Trolls 2 doing the same and breaking records.
Indian films, mainstream, commercial movies have a global footprint. But it has not rocked in box office or as a ‘Bollywood’ genre. Do you think India still is a force to reckon with?
In early 2000s, if you walked into DVD stores like HMV or Virgin Records, you would find DVDs of Bollywood films in the ‘World Cinema’ section along with Korean, French, German language films. Over the last 20 years or so, ‘Bollywood’ has become mainstream everywhere. Go to any market, speak to any buyer, sample any terrestrial TV platform in any country, from LATAM to Russia, Bollywood has made its mark. Our films are being dubbed and subtitled in several languages because our content resonates with a global audience.
How much time will we take to come back to normal days for cinema (to enjoy in theatres)? How do you react to the success of F9: The Fast Saga in box office and does this feel good factor continue in the coming months?
To my mind, there was never any doubt about the survival of cinema. Any webinar with experts from media industry always said this. The argument was much the same when VCRs and DVD players came into every home, some critics were quick to write off cinemas. But upto March 2020, more than 50 per cent of a film’s revenue was derived from worldwide box office ticket sales. Yes, the pandemic has brought the shutters down for cinemas but it is temporary. In January 2021, Tamil film Master (starring Vijay) released and smashed records grossing over US$6mn in overseas. That infused the much needed confidence in producers that audiences eventually want to experience the right film on the big screen. F9, RRR, Bell Bottom, Suryavanshi etc are films that will be enjoyed only on the big screen.
You continue to distribute films in theatres… Is your confidence in theatrical revenue intact?
Yes. For the right type of film, both customer experience and revenue that one can derive from cinemas will be unmatched by other platforms.
What stays and what will change in the movie industry?
With audiences now getting exposed to different types of content, readily available on their fingertips on platforms such as Netflix and Amazon, the demand for good quality content is ever increasing and this means our creative talent will have to work very hard to keep our viewers engaged. Different scripts and subjects which were once considered taboo or non-mainstream are finding financial backers and leading actors to play characters. That is a big change.
Our storytelling and narratives have changed. The whole world is our audience now.
One of your commitments in Moviegoers Entertainment is to become a co-producer with R Balki and Gauri Shinde’s Hope Productions. What are the projects being worked on and anything to share? And why Balki-Gauri Shinde?
I am honoured and delighted to collaborate with India’s finest, most talented, creative powerhouse duo of Gauri Shinde & R Balki. Their unique style of storytelling, creating entertaining content and commercial success out of subjects that are considered taboo, is remarkable. After successfully producing award winning feature films and commercials, collecting several accolades at prestigious film festivals around the world, their production company Hope Productions is now at the cusp of growth and I am excited to lead this as a co-producer. We are working on four films. Two bound scripts are ready. We will be finalising the cast for them and making an official announcement soon. In coming months, we will be making further announcements in terms of projects and our plans going forward.
One of the most interesting services rendered by Moviegoers is on monetisation of film content beyond streaming. What are the avenues open to a producer for new revenue opportunities?
There is a huge area of opportunity for monetising ‘non-theatrical’ rights of catalogue content owned by studios or individual producers. This does not impair deals already done with regard to TV, Digital, Music or Theatrical Rights. (Potential) Outlets include Hospitals, Hotels, Universities, Shopping-Malls, Religious Places etc. Revenues can be trickling but it all adds up. We are currently representing a catalogue of over 1000 films and adding more titles.
Finally, London is your home. How is it to work out of the UK after it has left European Union?
(It) Absolutely made no difference to our business. But at a macro level, there has been a shortage of trained staff for certain jobs because they have returned home either due to Brexit or Covid. Nonetheless, UK always offers great opportunities to the working-class communities and I have no doubt life will return to normal very soon.
Thankfully the localisation business had an upward swing due to a huge demand from streaming platforms as consumers relied on them for entertainment more during lockdown, says Manish Dutt and Krishi Dutt of VR Films & Studios Ltd
Do you miss being at the Cannes Film Festival and Market? For over a decade VR Films & Studios have been regular at Cannes…
Indeed, yes. Virtual Cannes Festival and Market are surely not the same as being physically present there and this is the second consecutive year we missed it because of the challenging situation caused by Covid, though on business front new film acquisitions have been productive and fruitful.
Congrats! VR Films & Studios has done phenomenally well in quarterly results, especially amidst Covid-19 pandemic…
Thank you, God has been kind. In spite of all the Covid induced difficulties and challenges, our FY 2020-21 has been more impressive than the previous year as we have posted more than 10 per cent top line. This quarter April 2021 – June 2021 as well we are hopeful of an impressive 15 per cent growth in the top line as compared to previous years
Has your localisation studio business got impacted by lockdown? How did you manage to change the workflow in your dubbing services?
Thankfully the localisation business had an upward swing due to a huge demand from streaming and TV platforms as consumers relied on them for entertainment more during lockdown. We pioneered our localising systems with “Remote Dubbing” and provided quality output with lots of R&D.
What are your learnings from the operation side of business from lockdown. Do we see this continue in normal times also? Do we go back to pre-Covid times?
We realised with passion and determination, ways and means can be obtained and challenges can be handled effectively. Due to lockdown we had to first equip our team with working infrastructure from home and then innovate the usual dubbing work differently with each talent delivering from their respective homes. It was tough but with lots of effort we had quality output and this turned out to be our USP. We also managed to cut costs without impacting salaries and ensured our team is financially secured as only then each one of us could put in our best effort. We had to survive and gladly we came out stronger.
Theatres were shut and TV platforms were not sublicensing so we made the best with streaming platforms like TVOD, SVOD and AVOD. We had three new releases in this period – Unhinged (Russell Crowe), Target Number One (Josh Hartnett), The Power (Rose Williams) – and are now getting ready with another major Hollywood release, Jolt (Kate Beckinsale).
Post Covid times will be different from pre Covid times as we will incorporate and utilise some of the innovative skills we developed during lockdown, so it will be a beneficial mix of both times for sure.
Have you been able to keep the quality in dubbing the same as that of being done in a studio?
To a major extent yes. We localised some of the best shows during Lockdown for leading streaming platforms, at times delivering more than 400 hours per month and the quality was very appreciated.
Do you see video streaming platforms dominate the film and content space in the coming times?
At the moment they are dominating and will continue to. Times ahead are uncertain but when the situation comes under control theatrical release will come back. Nothing beats the magical release in theatres, the charm to sit in a theatre with an audience and watch a film munching popcorn and samosas. With ad revenue again flowing in, TV platforms too shall make a revival and sub-license films from independents like us.
Have you added new streaming platforms for dubbed services in Indian languages?
We already were localising for the best of the streaming platforms and Covid increased the business many folds as there was a huge demand for localisation during lockdown. We also added some new clients and are in the process of having more on board. We are increasing our dubbing infrastructure as well. We had plans to increase the number of our dubbing studios in 2020 but Covid made us abort those plans then, which we have revived now and we will be adding 10 new dubbing studios in Mumbai which will include Dolby Atmos and Dolby 5.1 mix studios.
It’s interesting to know that you are now into dubbing for Urdu, Singhalese… What are the foreign languages that are in demand now?
Surprisingly there is a demand for Sinhalese, Nepalese and Urdu dubbing from various platforms. Perhaps they are expanding their reach into these territories in the Indian sub-continent with their local languages.
Any impact for your dubbing services for broadcasters — VR Films has been the voice for Cartoon Network, Discovery and other kids channels?
We have been working with the crème de la crème of broadcasters for years and they have remained with us since then. We have constant output for them which has kept increasing and we are in the process of adding new clients too. Hence our expansion plan has started to roll on because of the increasing demand and the Covid situation being managed. From 400 hours a month we are expanding our capacity to nearly 800 hours per month as platforms have realised that to get more subscribers and maximum reach, they would need more hours of content and localisation makes more monetary sense for them.