In the last two decades of its existence, Technicolor India has grown from a relatively small outfit with a few hundred people to a veritable giant in CG animation production having over 6,000 artists and technicians driving the world’s largest standalone studio. Bringing scale and consistency to the animation business on the back of innovative new approaches drawing strength from ideas challenging the status quo, Technicolor today has the world’s premier portfolio of visual effects brands, services, and creative innovations. Pickle chats with Biren Ghose, Country Head, Technicolor India
Spending 10 years at the helm of Technicolor India, Biren Ghose, who joined the company when it was still a small outfit known as Paprikaas Animation, has played an instrumental role in its transformation into the bellwether for the animation visual effects gaming and image-making industry that it is today. A leader, who considers himself “a naturally creative individual”, Ghose firmly believes in “creative thinkers” rather than “good workers”—an approach that has helped Technicolor India scale new heights on the back of cutting-edge technologies that are fast transforming the movie making landscape in India.
A keen participant in Technicolor’s transformation process to emerge as the most trusted and most efficient and reliable partner in creative business, what better brain to pick than Biren Ghose to get further insights into the CG industry. So, we decided recently to catch up with him to know about his views and perspectives on Technicolor’s journey so far, contribution it made in the M&E sector and where the company is heading. Here are the excerpts:
As someone who has been at the helm of Technicolor India for the past one decade, tell us about your journey so far? BG: The 10 years at the helm of Technicolor India seem to have just flown by in a delightful collage of sounds, sights and celebrations. I joined the company when it was the joint venture, Paprikaas Animation, majority owned by the Technicolor Group, which was later bought out to make it a 100% Technicolor company.
Technicolor India was the group’s first foray into CG animation in India. At the time, DreamWorks animation already had a dedicated feature film unit. The TV team was working with clients like Nickelodeon on high end TV series. This along with the work for EA for their iconic FIFA game became the ‘kernel of an idea’ that would over time help build this into the world’s premier studio for episodic TV animation. The goal was always to make India a robust hub for Technicolor in the computer graphics animation arena.
MPC was already the London HQ brand that Technicolor had owned for some years and one of my first tasks after joining the company was to create India’s 1st global VFX studio to advance their global ambition. I joined Technicolor as I shared the belief of our CEO, Fred Rose and President, Tim Sarnoff that we could make something extraordinary by combining India’s talent with Technicolor and MPC’s world class tools and technologies.
Technicolor India has grown into the world’s largest standalone studio and that our games business serves the world’s most sought after publishers for their AAA titles
The company was back then a relatively small outfit with a few hundred people. Fast forward to today! Technicolor is a veritable giant in the production of episodic CG TV animation and holds an advantageous prime position when any of the biggest and most technologically advanced shows are being considered by any of the Hollywood majors.
What’s more astounding is that we have grown into the world’s largest standalone studio and that our games business serves the world’s most sought after publishers for their AAA titles.
Technicolor has helped bring scale and consistency to this business and India has been a key ingredient in this formula helping the group and its clients to achieve this scale
What enabled this transformation is too long a list to spell out in one interview but at a high level, the following are some of the attributes that made the success we see today:
• Focus on Creativity and Artist Development – artists want to work on the best shows and hone their skills to greater heights.
• Clients find the multi-location – the workflow and communication make them believe it is THE ROOM NEXT DOOR!
• Extending World-Class Pipelines, Workflows & Methodologies to India – connecting it to group locations in LA, London, Vancouver, Montreal, New York, Paris, Amsterdam, Chicago and Shanghai increase the “real time” shared production paradigm.
• Creating the Cultural Alignment – Between Technicolor’s family of brands and its highly pedigreed roster of clients
• Scale and Intensity of High-end Projects – clients prefer to work with a partner that can operate at a scale without any decrease in quality or productivity depended on the Technicolor pedigree to take this chance in a new locale
• Financial and data security are a key consideration in ensuring global productions guard against completion risks.
What are the major contributions made by Technicolor India in terms of impacting the global CG industry? BG: Technicolor’s contribution to this industry is both qualitative and quantitative. Technicolor has helped bring scale and consistency to this business and India has been a key ingredient in this formula helping the group and its clients to achieve this scale. For all of the group’s studios in the US, Canada, Europe and China, Technicolor India is the engine under the hood!
Technicolor is home to the world’s premier portfolio of visual effects brands, services, and creative innovations. With locations that span the globe and service offerings tailored to the specific creative and storytelling needs of each project, we power premium content. Our diverse family of VFX brands includes: MPC, The Mill, MR. X, Mikros MPC Advertising, and Technicolor VFX. Each studio has their own unique approach to help storytellers create out of this world experiences.
What is the secret behind Technicolor India managing to achieve this huge scale? BG: Strategy is an organic rather than a mechanical process. Indians tend to think with our hearts (as well as our heads) and so it’s easier to understand this phenomenon! We don’t plan in the traditional linear manner paying attention just to the excel sheets. We do not follow the traditional way in which other local studios are set up and run. Like in all changing businesses the historical expertise and age-old templates are being rapidly devalued in our growth story. Discovery is key and our mantra of continuous evolution is possible as we go beyond the traditional ‘expertise’ to new idea-rich artists and technicians who challenge the status quo and innovate with new tools, technologies and ideas.
For an example, Technicolor’s Genesis is our new Virtual Production platform. This enables filmmakers to make better creative choices much earlier in the production process leading to high-quality outcomes. Using a game engine platform to emulate live-action film production in a VR space, Genesis helps to conceptualize each frame even before the shoot or CG shots are executed. This will substantially increase the potential to scale up locations like India as the iterations are reduced through a far more specific pre-visualization of the shot.
Our intellectual property, as a services business, is our best practices and production technology even more spectacular and artist-friendly. We do not have a singular way as the only way to produce the imagery expected of us. We are anti-dogma. We rise to the complexities of each project. We not only rise to it, but rise with it.
The way Technicolor has successfully achieved scale in creating innovative employees is really commendable. What is your thinking behind talent acquisition? BG: Over the years in the VFX and animation business, we know that there exists a significant and unsolved challenge of getting the best out of our artistic talent. I believe this is because of the way we have been managing the industry for over a 100 years that creates ‘good workers’ rather than ‘creative thinkers’.
We have achieved scale at Technicolor India by constantly building our leadership team that is encouraged to innovate and try new approaches, in turn, they must encourage those within their teams. As this simplification takes place at the front-end of production, it allows businesses in India to build up greater scale of production.
Our clients and partner studios see the way we think, act and celebrate our spirit of constant renewal and attempts to be increasingly brilliant. This is what makes us amazing. When I joined, one of our key clients told me: “It’s perfect – please don’t change anything”. In hindsight I realize what he meant was, don’t change our dynamics, our winning ways, our culture of synchronous teamwork, but let those values and that culture create the change together.
It has been famously said that in the production services of animation, visual effects and games “our business is talent”. There are hundreds of thousands of folks in India that graduate in what is loosely called animation. These “schools” cannot produce production-ready talent.
Our success is to make India continuously productive and competitive within our group through the right mix of investments and innovation and to invent new paradigms in software and workflows for our art form. India is a partner in all aspects of this evolution
Notwithstanding this, Technicolor India has grown to a team of about 6000 artists and technicians. Additionally, we work with a preferred network of vendors which amounts to several hundred additional artists almost throughout the year.
Students with restless minds and bodies, far from being encouraged and leveraged for their curiosity and their youthful energy are ignored and there is a stigma attached to those who do not follow cookie-cutter methods! The dogmas of this past method of educating people and developing their skill sets is totally inadequate in an age of rapid change. We have to think and act anew in the business of creativity where ideas, visualization and initiatives are of paramount importance. These senses have to be rejuvenated and encouraged to experiment and grow. We need each artist to work to a level of confidence and to sell their own ideas and creativity and hone it in the process.
I believe that over time we have become really savvy in identifying potential. When we interview an artist we look at their abilities based on some of the work they have previously done and determine how quickly they might be able to upskill their levels to become productive within our world-class team. This process has matured across all the disciplines that it takes to produce every single frame of film that we create.
Modelling, texturing, rigging, lighting, compositing, FX are all crucial skills that need a very different intrinsic ability from a generation of artists trained at the workplace. When I joined Technicolor, we decided to hire people into our company’s academy and make them production-ready internally. While this adds hugely to the cost and complexity, we believe it’s less of a distraction than having to set up and run a school on our own. Besides the workforce in-house, today there are almost 4,000 amazing artists that we have trained in our studio that have gone on to help grow the industry in our country and beyond.
India is eminently placed to be the no. 1 global service provider when it comes to VFX and animation and CG disciplines
We are proud of the contribution we have made to this sector and believe that as we capitalize on our past learnings we will be able to take our proprietary training methodologies to even greater excellence.
Work-life balance is the key to rejuvenation of the creative professional. Our HR in each of our services, plan and execute employee engagement programs that are second to none.
As an example, Housefull, which is Technicolor India’s annual party, has become legendary as an institution. It demonstrates to clients as well as to global management, the passion and excitement with which Technicolor India plays as hard as it works! It is a celebration of the year’s work and is evidence of the youthful passion and creativity through the choreography, music, attire and dancing like you couldn’t imagine.
The opportunity to be a co-founder with Ronnie Screwala and UTV (now Walt Disney India) and launch broadband streaming platforms (in 1999) in local Indian languages was my baptism by fire in this industry
What drew you to the media and entertainment sector? What keeps you going even after serving the sector for two decades? BG: I consider myself a naturally creative individual and have been involved in innovative projects from the beginning of my career. Having been given the chance to create a consumer durable startup at the age of 26, I have invariably been involved in the journey of taking the spark of an idea from blank pages, to insights, to execution. As a marketer, this has always entailed understanding the consumer and finding those moments of serendipity that would help win the battle for their minds and hearts. In my projects with USHA fans and sewing machines; working at Kingfisher and McDowell’s, etc I was always involved in media from the other side of the table. As someone commissioning and approving the creative, I have always actively partnered in the storytelling for our consumer brands.
I crossed the floor into the media business in 1999 when I sought to come back to India at the giddy heights of the dot com wave. The opportunity to be a co-founder with Ronnie Screwala and UTV (now Walt Disney India) and launch broadband streaming platforms in local Indian languages was my baptism by fire in this industry.
I believe that it’s not where you work but who you work with that is a key driver for me in my professional pursuits. The thought leadership that Ronnie provides in Indian media, and then working with global stalwarts like Kishore Lulla of Eros and later with the likes of Tim Sarnoff at Technicolor; Mark Benson and Christian Roberton at MPC have helped me to continuously frame and reframe my professional context with their passion, guidance and intellectual honesty.
The level of maturity among Indian companies in the media and entertainment industry is rapidly improving to the point where the players can now appreciate when to compete and when to collaborate.
With government trying to boost the growth of M&E sector, what is your take on India emerging as a digital and M&E hub? BG: India is eminently placed to be the no. 1 global service provider when it comes to VFX and animation and CG disciplines. We are well-placed to enable the world’s content creation and serve producers and studios with digital imagery. We have fully demonstrated our prowess in the contemporary disciplines and are working with emerging technologies like immersive media that need even more firepower!
Given the current growth rate of the animation & VFX industry what I would like to see is that while the media industry grows from Rs. 1.9 trillion to Rs. 2.35 trillion in the next 2 years & the animation services sector is slated to grow from 8% of the total to 11% of the total in its current trajectory per the published reports, this does not reflect the true potential of what the country can achieve.
Given the recent boost to the digital audiovisual industry by the Ministry of Commerce & Industry and its identification as a champion sector, there is an immense opportunity to boost exports exponentially. I see that with the right impetus and incentives for this sector and animation and VFX services alone can be a Rs 1 trillion sector by 2025.
As a leader, what are the different kinds of opportunities do you see emerging in the Indian M&E space? BG: The tools to create stories are exploding. I see this as a paradigm shift, because we are in the age of immersion—the age when people are their own heroes & participate in their own adventures.
The digital world has transformed the 100 years of making movies with a camera. The innovation has taken the magic from the front of the camera to extraordinary heights of what goes on inside and behind it! This is where we at Technicolor India are blazing new trails at scale.
Today’s world is about taking something you love and turning it into a billion-dollar idea! We have taken a media start-up in India from its humble beginnings and are focusing on being a company that has rapidly scaled to Rs. 10 billion. In the process, we have become the bellwether for the animation visual effects gaming and image-making industry.
The thought leadership that Ronnie provides in Indian media, and then working with global stalwarts like Kishore Lulla of Eros and later with the likes of Tim Sarnoff at Technicolor; Mark Benson and Christian Roberton at MPC have helped me to continuously frame and reframe my professional context with their passion, guidance and intellectual honesty
Scale vectors at Technicolor India
Talent – finding the appropriate dynamic for internal upskilling of Indian talent to bring them to world-class artistic levels. Proprietary methods and content Technicolor Academy (internal only).
Technology – no company as heavily in animation & VFX in India to set up high-end technology infrastructure to levels of investment and sophistication so that their clients and artists have the best.
Production savvy – how do you manage resources and juggle between multiple projects in different phases of execution? India had acquired a dodgy reputation for on-time delivery. We made sure this was the gold standard to enable scale.
Culture – we remain rooted and grounded through all of the business acceleration we see across the business units. It’s not what we say about who we are or our way of doing business but how we practice it on a daily basis. This unique feature makes the team pull together as one.
WOW FACTS – TECHNICOLOR INDIA 2018-19
Film & TV Snapshots
MPC has over 21 Movies in progress at a time
MPC Worked on over 25000 shots + 1250 builds + 10 movies
75% of the global compositing is done in India
Internal Academy for film VFX produced
311 graduates over 41 batches almost 100% absorbed!.
World’s biggest Compositing & Assets team of 735 artists
Mr.X VFX working on 28 shows – 14 Features + 14 Series
Mr.X currently working on movies like Franklin, Hellboy, Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, Pet Sematary and series including Vikings – S6, American Gods S2, Knightfall -S2.
Film and TV VFX has over 2000+ world-class artists in India
Animation & Games [Annual snapshot]
Delivered 2745 minutes of animation
Created 3911 assets
Working on shows for Walt Disney
Animation; DreamworksAnimation TV;
Nickelodeon; and others
Alvin & the Chipmunks season 4 is the longest running show
Delivered 1623 minutes of Games animation
Created 9772 Games assets
Working with EA on FIFA for the past 10 years
Clients include Ubisoft; Sony; Activision; Rockstar; Gameloft; & many others.
Billed over 40000+ man-days
Team of approx 400 artists [India’s largest]
Work across 10 disciplines (modelling, composting, etc)
600+ projects completed
Comp. Supervisor won most prestigious VES Award
Won 4 awards for the acclaimed VR project, Last Goodbye -)
Worked on 26 Superbowl commercials
Won a Cannes Lion, ADC Gold, Creative Circle, British Arrows and many other awards.
The world is continuously stunned by the enormity and complexity that goes into a single 90minute VFX driven animated movies such as Disney’s TheLionKing. Technicolor’s MPCfilm which has a huge team in Bangalore besides LA, London and Vancouver created the entire VFX with Director Jon Favreau and the Disney team.
Hold your breath as we give you only the highlights. Making this movie entailed: Capturing 240,000 photos, 1490 final shots, executing the highest ever photoshoot mission, producing 66 Sets covering 150 Sq. km [that’s an area bigger than South Korea or Greece!], 921 Various Species of flora and trees, 42+ hours of reference footage, 17 heroes, 63 unique species of fauna, 847,013 Dailies, 7975 Animation Submissions, 6182 Final Comp Submission, 18,000kms travelled, 676,578 Bugs [insects not glitches!],100 Billion blades of grass and all this was done by just 1250 people. You will agree that this is a breath-taking labour of love!
This enormous “canvas” has been made possible because we at Technicolor continue to pioneer new methods to reimagine storytelling.
Creativity needs Technology and the India team, working with our global ecosystem of studios and within their pipelines, can deploy the right mix of training and excellence in multiple disciplines. Accordingly, we have grown to become the world’s largest team for film VFX in disciplines such as Roto-animation; Tracking; Assets & Compositing. Additionally, our teams in Rotoscopy and Paint where India is now overall is gaining huge momentum.
Our success is to make India continuously productive and competitive within our group through the right mix of investments and innovation and to invent new paradigms in software and workflows for our artform. India is a partner in all aspects of this evolution.
Biren Ghose, Country Head, Technicolor India, Behind the scenes
What is your idea of perfect happiness? BG: A balanced life
What is your greatest fear? BG: Economic forces that disrupt what I have helped create professionally and personally
What is the trait you most deplore in yourself? BG: Impatience
What is the trait you most deplore in others? BG: Lethargy
Which living person do you most admire? BG: Bill Gates
What is your greatest extravagance? BG: Buying music
What is your current state of mind? BG: Pivoting towards the next 10 years
What do you consider the most overrated virtue? BG: Blind obedience to any cause
On what occasion do you lie? BG: When I buy more wine and the fridge is already full!
What do you most dislike about your appearance? BG: Waistline!
Which living person do you most despise? BG: Varies from time to time
What is the quality you most like in a man? BG: Humility
What is the quality you most like in a woman? BG: Assurance
Which words or phrases do you most overuse? BG: Amazing; Yes; Let’s do it; Wow!;
What or who is the greatest love of your life? BG: My wife & daughters – my parents, sister and my wife’s family.
When and where were you happiest? BG: It depends when you ask me – as of today it is today!
Which talent would you most like to have? BG: Formula 1 driver
If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be? BG: My weight!
What do you consider your greatest professional achievement?BG: Having mentored a generation of amazing managers and inspired a generation of young professionals.
Where would you most like to live? BG: New York
What is your most treasured possession? BG: Family.
What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery? BG: Losing a child, spouse or parent
What is your favorite occupation? BG: Music.
What is your most marked characteristic? BG: Humor & Energy
What do you most value in your friends? BG: Accepting each other as they are. Those you can pick up from where you left off without regard to what life has done to each of us in the interim. Sincerity. Forgiveness.
Who are your favorite writers? BG: Shakespeare [his diversity of genres & appeal to the common man!]
Who is your hero of fiction? BG: Atticus Finch from To Kill a Mockingbird
Which historical figure do you most identify with? BG: Leonardo da Vinci
Who are your heroes in real life? BG: Eric Clapton – for the way he renewed himself artistically & through personal rehabilitation
What are your favorite names? BG: Ragini, Radhika & Deepika
What is it that you most dislike? BG: The status quo. [Standing still is sliding backward!]
What is your greatest regret? BG: That I was not born in 1995
What is your motto? BG: “It is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness”
India and Canada have huge opportunities in the entertainment sector and the audio visual co-production treaty can lead to positive changes, says Apporva Srivastava, India’s Consul General in Toronto
India’s Consul General in Toronto Apporva Srivastava has urged filmmakers to make use of India-Canada audio visual co-production treaty.
She said this while speaking about India-Canada opportunities in the filmed entertainment space during the webinar session for the formal inaugural of the India’s participation at Toronto International Film Festival.
India’s virtual participation at TIFF is organised by the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting in partnership with Confederation of Indian Industry.
Stating that India and Canada are natural partners “because we share a truly unique relationship,” Srivastava added: “We are both vibrant democracies. We are wedded to rule of law, we share Commonwealth traditions, we have similar parliamentary model and we speak the same language. In today’s world, Canada and India are two multicultural societies which truly value and cherish diversity.”
“We are bound together by strong people to people ties, we have more than 1.6 million strong Indian Diaspora, 700,000 Indian citizens live and work here 250,000 Indian students in Canada. India is now the source of largest source of migrants and international students in Canada. These factors make Indian movies a great draw in Canada.”
According to the diplomat, we need to work with Toronto International Film Festival with a huge Indian participation next year to celebrate 75 years of Indian independence.
“Fortunately, we have Mr. Cameron Bailey, TIFF Co-Director who’s a great friend of India and he is passionate about Indian cinema. Indian films have been a regular feature at TIFF,” she said.
She also called for interactions between Indian and Canadian screenplay writers, directors, producers so that they can take advantage of the India-Canada Co-Production Treaty.
“We need to create awareness about shooting locales in both India and Canada with each other,” she said.
When popularity on social media becomes a yardstick of measuring success, trolling, fake news, doctored posts and a lot of propaganda and promotion becomes the norm
BY AMIT KHANNA
Technology has opened up absolutely amazing possibilities of mass communication and personal engagement. In the past few years, we have an unprecedented situation in human history where almost 5 billion people are just one button away from each other. According to Statista, a global media research firm, 4.57 billion people were active internet users as of July 2020, encompassing 59 per cent of the global population. China, India and the United States alone contribute 70 per cent of these users. Another billion are online occasionally.
Virtually everyone using the Internet is active on one of the many leading social media platforms. Even as hundreds of millions wake up to a good morning message from friends and family, an equal if not more are busy spewing venom ad nauseum.
This democratization of media has challenged decades of conventional wisdom of communication. Anyone anywhere anytime can express an opinion, criticise, endorse, abuse, applaud and contradict others. Social media, an omnibus term for all applications and services which allow one to one, one to many and many to many interactions has upset the status quo in politics, diplomacy, news, arts and entertainment and, of course, interpersonal relationships.
Unfortunately, while billions of people are “posting” on social media constantly, they are not ready to face the consequences, social, political, cultural, economic or psychological. So now, a blame game has begun on the insidious ramification of an always-on society. But, most are blaming platforms, websites and applications for their own inability to handle the cataclysmic change in our lives, real and virtual. It is we who are irresponsible in our comments on social media.
The transition from traditional media to social media engagement has been rather swift. Unlike the known power paradigm of newspapers and broadcasting, social media is anarchic. In a peculiar democratic way, it gives the control of not only what to say but when to say it. Look how YouTube has given an outlet for millions of people an opportunity to showcase their talent. Or how Wikipedia has become a source of information and Google fountainhead. A fountainhead of digging out even the tiniest fragment of news from obscurity. User generated content is the bedrock on which social media giants have been built. When individuals post on various topics, an inherent bias is likely. When popularity on social media becomes a yardstick of measuring success, trolling, fake news, doctored posts and a lot of propaganda and promotion becomes the norm.
Since the last few years, there has been a constant chatter about politics, specially elections being influenced by fake news and social media manipulation. In fact, now apps and platforms are often unfairly accused of being partisan and manipulative. What most people do not realise, leave alone understand, is that the rules of a networked society are being written every minute and virtual anarchy for a while is a foregone conclusion. No media or journalist ever talks about their political biases or their editorial slant, yet it’s an open secret who stands for what. Why blame social media for similar biases? After all, journalists take refuge under freedom of expression all the time.
Has journalism ever been truly independent? The answer is “no”. What is unpalatable to traditional media and its practitioners that their relevance and importance is getting usurped by tech upstarts. Not only that, these Internet-driven companies are the new corporate giants. With billions of dollars’ net worth and hundreds of millions of subscribers they are also an integral part of our day-to-day life today. The problem gets compounded, as it did, when traditional media like print and TV started a symbiotic relationship with social media a decade ago. A newspaper covers a story based on a message from someone, it gets quoted on social media and TV runs endless debates on this source-based information. Another network picks it up and starts a fresh debate. Welcome Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp , Snapchat, Tik Tok et al and the virtual world is on fire. This de-value chain gets started with different linkages but, ultimately, all participants use one another to further their own interest.
Like two parasites, both are now feeding on each other and only spewing out malcontent for the gossip-hungry consumers. Nothing spreads more or faster than malice or panegyric. With millions of trolls on all sides of all divides, viciousness is a foregone conclusion. Now, armed with bots or other smart algorithms, even AI, one can get millions of likes or dislikes in a matter of hours. Trolling is big business. Fake news be damned. Blame game has a billion progeny. “The first rule of social media is that everything changes all the time. What won’t change is the community’s desire to network,” says social media expert Kami Huyse.
Thanks to the Internet, each person with marginal views can see that he’s not alone. Conversely, the majority reasserts its position more emphatically through social media. Platforms are not here to balance views or change public discourse. In fact, there is a direct correlation between a surfeit of news and falling standards of public discourse. Social media amplifies good and the bad. Social media is about discovery. When users find one another via social media, they respond. No wonder tweets, posts, pictures, some original, mostly photoshopped or forwarded fill terabytes of virtual space every minute. Likes, hates, emojis and memes are reinforcements of personal or collective emotions, negative and positive alike.
The ongoing Sushant Singh Rajput case is just one example. Every political or social issue has a 360 degree maelstrom triggered by social media. It’s not that social media is always harmful. It has successfully given voice to marginalised people, brought forgotten issues upfront and connected forgotten friends. For many, social media is the only shelter from the humdrum of life. Without social media, social, ethical, environmental and political ills would have minimal visibility. Increased visibility of issues has shifted the balance of power from the hands of a few to the masses. The flipside is the amount of vitriol generated on social media.
Personal agendas drive a lot of the commentary on these apps.
Social media is slowly killing real activism and replacing it with ‘slacktivism’. While social media activism brings an increased awareness about societal issues, questions remain as to whether this awareness is translating into real change. It is not surprising that governments all over, irrespective of political ideology, want to control social Internet-based content and apps. Even heads of governments and opposition leaders are haranguing on Twitter.
As we have seen in recent times, mainstream media is obsessed with sensationalism, eyeball grabbing breaking news and rhetoric. While screaming anchors lead the charge on TV, it’s a motley group of cheerleaders who lead the troll armies. Many public figures who owe their existence to social media are up in arms when the same social media is used to demolish them. Facebook and Twitter and such like apps run a legitimate business with well-publicized business policies. As long as they follow the rule of law, how can anyone accuse them of being partisan. It’s their platform, their business, it’s for them to decide the rules of use. Are all journalists and media free of bias. Can I, as a citizen or organization, force a publication or TV channel to give me space and time and be equitable in their coverage of politics.
Let the first stone be cast by the one who has not used (abused?) media/social or otherwise.
Amit Khanna is media guru, poet, lyricist, writer, filmmaker and historian. His latest book Words, Sounds, Images (published by HarperCollins India) is ambitious and encyclopaedic in scope, a first-of-its- kind book that presents the history of media and entertainment in India – from the times of the Indus Valley Civilization right up to the twenty-first century
(This column by Amit Khanna was originally published by IANS)
Now event organizers and Facebook Page owners in 20 countries around the world including India that meet the platforms partner monetization policies can start charging for online events enabling millions of small business to make money on Facebook
Facebook has created a new events feature that would enable businesses to launch online events on their Facebook pages free of cost except for payments made via Apple’s IoS App. Facebook has mentioned that it doens’t take a fee from purchase made via Android version of the App.
From now on small businesses, creators, artists, educators and media publishers can generate revenue from holding online events on the Facebook platform. Facebook Pages can host events on Facebook Live to reach broad audiences, and the platform is testing paid events with Messenger Rooms for more personal and interactive gatherings.
“Today we’re launching the ability for businesses, creators, educators and media publishers to earn money from online events on Facebook. Now Page owners can create an online event, set a price, promote the event, collect payment and host the event, all in one place,” said Fidji Simo, Vice President, head of Facebook App in a blog post.
Simo said Facebook requested Apple to reduce App Store’s 30 per cent commision but they refused.
“We asked Apple to reduce its 30% App Store tax or allow us to offer Facebook Pay so we could absorb all costs for businesses struggling during COVID-19. Unfortunately, they dismissed both our requests and SMBs (Small and Medium Businesses) will only be paid 70% of their hard-earned revenue. While Facebook is waiving fees for paid online events we will make other fees clear in the product.”
Simo’s post stated that Facebook saw live broadcasts from pages double in June 2020 compared to the previous year. “In our most recent State of Small Business Report with OECD and World Bank, we found that access to cash continues to be the most common ongoing challenge for SMBs. Only 19% of surveyed businesses were getting any financial help (down from earlier in pandemic). Many businesses are struggling and every cent matters. Shifting in-person events to online is costly enough that businesses shouldn’t have to worry about fees charged by platforms.”
Facebook said a one-time access charge is collected when guests register to attend. “Enabling an admission fee is done through the event set-up process and requires you to sign our terms of service and have a payment account on file”.
Simo said to support small businesses and creators, Facebook will not collect any fees from paid online events for at least the next year. “For transactions on the web, and on Android in countries where we have rolled out Facebook Pay, small businesses will keep 100% of the revenue they generate from paid online events.”
Once your Facebook page has cleared monetization review, Page owners can move forward with creating their event. For the time being, online events can only be created on a computer.
Event organisers can select one price per event. Once an event is published, the event organisers will not be able to change the price.
Paid online events are currently available to eligible Facebook Pages in the following countries: Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Czech Republic, France, Germany, Hungary, India, Italy, Mexico, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Singapore, Spain, Sweden, Ukraine, the U.K. and the U.S.
You can join Fidji Simo for a Facebook Live with entrepreneur, fitness business coach, and mentor, Rachel Holmes on Tuesday, August 18 at 9:00 AM PT. (India time August 18, Tuesday 9.30 PM).
Till now it was a dream. Now it has become closer to being real. Our students will have the flexibility to study Python and Performing Arts together. Subjects like Dance and Design which once were to be pursued as a hobby, can now be a mainstream subject from sixth grade to PhD.
We are talking about the New Education Policy unveiled by the Ministry of Human Resource Development, Government of India. The nine-member team lead by space scientist Dr Kasturirangan authored the New Education Policy (NEP) which has brought in a massive mind shift in mainstreaming creative and performing arts education in the country.
A casual chat with Ashish SK, an industry veteran in animation, gaming and VFX space who has been propagating this idea with a zeal of a crusader resulted in this week’s lead feature on the big picture impact of NEP for media and entertainment industry. There could not have been a better game changing moment for the Indian M&E sector.
Another big moment for India this week was Chaitanya Tamhane’ s Marathi film The Disciple being selected in the 77th Venice Film Festival’s Golden Lion Competition Section. For the first time in 19 years, an Indian film found a place in the world’s leading film festival. The Disciple will also be screened in the 45th Toronto International Film Festival in September.
Saibal Chatterjee’s article explains why it is a best moment for India. Also India’s regional film spread is visible this year at Venice. Ivan Ayr’s Punjabi film Meel Patthar (Milestone) and Sushma Khandepaun’s Gujarati short film Anita have found a space to compete in the Venice Film Festival. The Heritage Online launched by Locarno Pro is one of the best innovative services that has been created in recent times. More than that, it will be remembered and etched in History as this has evolved and shaped during the pandemic. This meaningful initiative aims to bring heritage films to the audiences of online platforms.
“Our new project Heritage Online fills a gap in the audiovisual industry landscape and will foster links between rights holders, VOD platforms and world cinema distribution,” says Heritage Online Project Manager Markus Duffner.
As a strong proponent of Industry-academia partnership for over two decade now, Ashish SK, Founder of Punnaryug Artvision and Screenyug Creation, has welcomed the New Education Policy (NEP) 2020 with open arms. With most of the industry recommendations finding their way into this game changing policy initiatives, Ashish believes that the future of Indian Media and Entertainment industry is set to change forever for good. Here are excerpts from an exclusive interview with Pickle
What impact will the New Education Policy (NEP) have on media education in the country? How will it boost the M&E industry?
The New Education Policy has completely reset the existing system and has outlined the new structure of schooling; autonomy to colleges and independent institutions based on their performance. It will help mainstreaming of creative education and performing arts. Eventually, in the next three to five years, it will provide some level playing field along with sciences and commerce streams.
Today, when people talk about arts, their focus is mainly on economics, literature, life skills, psychology, emotional intelligence and philosophy, while creative arts, performing arts or design always take a backseat because these subjects never found a space they deserved in the curriculums of schools or universities.
The multi-disciplinary system to be set up under the New Education Policy will give an opportunity to the students to combine their Engineering studies with theater, music, drawing, dancing or even sports.
As of now, many parents encourage their kids to pursue performing or creative arts as part of their hobbies. But when the grades of these subjects will be counted in their overall performance, the complete outlook is set to change. This is the way I read it.
When the first draft came in, we as an industry approached certain core groups within schools and universities to help them understand as to why these subjects were important. The team under Dr. Kasturirangan has accepted many of our suggestions, and luckily enough this time the policy document that has come out contains most of our recommendations.
Some universities like Manipal University, Jain University or for that matter Ahmedabad University, along with universities like FLAME and Ashoka, have actually created a multi-disciplinary elective based curriculum approach to help students study Liberal Arts, Arts and Sciences etc, by giving them the choice of pursuing these subjects as their major or minor subjects. I think that’s the way forward.
It will help students to decide over a period of time which subjects to study, as many students are not very sure of what they want to pursue even after they enter college.
Secondly, in the school level education, the new policy allows optional subjects to be pursued from the sixth grade onwards. And I think that’s where we have the biggest opportunity because when kids start learning creative arts, performing arts, design thinking or sports, their chances of enhancing their skills in these subjects is likely to be very high. It is evident from many singing and dance reality shows on TV. When kids between the ages of 7 and 15 start live performances and are able to get a good exposure, they actually grow to become great professionals. And that’s how many legends are born.
Take for example, Sachin Tendulkar. If he had not started playing as at 9 or years of age and continued to do what he wanted to do, he wouldn’t have become a legendry cricketer. It would have been a difficult proposition if Sachin had to go back to school and struggle with the curriculum.
But now, if somebody who’s going to become a future Sachin Tendulkar he will have an opportunity to take sports or music or dance as one of the key subjects where they can improve their skills, and an assessment will be done for their skills in the right way.
However, I see few challenges for most of the schools and universities in the country, including investing into hiring the right faculty and creating the right curriculums. Many of these challenges can be addressed by involving industry experts. I think investment into faculty, building labs, experience centers, art & craft centers and additional infrastructure is something that all the institutions, right from schools to universities, will have to do moving forward. And that’s where I think we will start seeing a true level playing field emerging among sciences, commerce and arts streams.
I think that’s a big opportunity and I am extremely positive. The Indian media and entertainment industry has in the last 25 years hired people based on their skill sets. It didn’t matter to us whether they completed their university, college or school education or they were school dropouts. It was always about what skill they have. Those with skills for sculpting, painting, mimicry, dancing, drawing or singing and music composition are the guys who are likely to lead a studio. But I think it’s an amazing thing if there is a formalization of their education.
The National Education Policy 2020 has given us a framework, and it is now up to the industry and higher education institutions to find ways to collaborate.
If the multimedia, animation, and gaming sectors want to push this agenda, they will have to educate the universities and schools as to what they want kids to do so that they can have a better future in the ever evolving digital content industry.
A digital content economy is getting built world over, if we don’t place our content in that ecosystem, we will be losing out big time. And I think this framework has given us probably a great opportunity to fill the existing gaps. We should take initiative and start interacting with academic institutions at various levels. And we should provide them guidance & know how as to what the industry is going to need in future. We have to actually prepare kids for the next 25 to 50 years. And that’s why the industry should work very closely with academia. We will have to walk the talk.
How do you see the execution process rolling out? How will it prove to be a game changer?
The sooner it is done, the better. Those who have already taken initiatives have not waited for the policy. We already have had interventions in 30 to 40 universities teaching animation, VFX & film making. So, we have already initiated the creative education and design education push in the last two decades and I think it has started bearing fruits. Many people today don’t mind pursuing a career in design, film-making, animation, Visual Effects, gaming or even becoming composer or musician.
Parents who were apprehensive about these career choices are now opening up to the idea of their kids pursuing a career in creative arts, performing arts and design as well. We also feel happy when we get to meet kids of 14 or 15 years of age, who say they want to become an animator, storyteller, director or an actor. With a structured curriculum in place, the learning foundation of most of such kids would be much stronger.
I think the new policy will build a work force, which will combine the traditional skills like language with formal education of creating films or telling stories, or doing animation, gaming or visual effects, along with some entrepreneurial skills.
Our industry works on entrepreneurial mechanics. Because everybody is a freelancer, they come together with their skill sets to make a film, television show, an animation show or ad film. So I think formalization of such an education system that helps students become better professional is going to take India in a very different paradigm, which I think is the need of the hour.
India is in a very unique situation to gain from this because we create video content in at least 17 to 20 languages. We have 1500+ feature films getting created in at least 13 languages. We create television programs in about 17 languages. It’s a unique ecosystem which is selfsustaining.
Many countries have still not been able to achieve this. And then, we have millions of people of Indian origin who are spread all over the world consuming content in multiple Indian languages.
Besides, the new policy will go a long way to help people pursuing folk art or craft, or other traditional Indian art forms. Many people who have been doing it until now have never gone to school. It allows them to go to school and still pursue their passion that could fetch grades. We would be most happy to see over 10,000+ schools and 200+ universities in India include creative arts, performing arts, design & sports as part of mainstream education over the next five years. It would sow the seeds of a new media & content ecosystem in the country.
Many global institutions have set up private schools or courses in India, how will it help us?
Few foreign education institutions have already tied up with universities in India. The quality of education and the infrastructure is really good. But there are only few who can afford it.
As media education was formalized in Canada, US and UK several years ago, many global institutions are fairly evolved and are connected to the industry. So, I think most of these institutions coming to India to create skills or hire are welcome because at the end of the day, our industry has to learn a few things from their experience as well.
Also, a lot of new technology is developed while you’re creating the new age content. So, the making of every movie or show itself is a part of the learning process, and that’s where you learn from the masters and take things forward. So I think the presence of good foreign institutions is definitely good for India. If such institutes form a partnership with formal universities it would help them a lot. Even if they’re part of individual institutions or Indian studios, it is still a win-win partnership.
The new structure allows universities to grant a certificate to students if they complete their first two semesters in a year. If they complete two years of formal education, they get a diploma. And after completing another two years, they get a degree. I think it is a great model. Some of the kids who are very sharp with their skills, even with a certificate or a diploma will make it to the studios in India. I’m very confident about that.
If the new policy transforms the assessment system of students—which was earlier based on written exams at the end of the semester—to the one based on what they can deliver with the skills that they possess at that point in time, it would be an extremely good benchmark.
I think under the current system, when fresh graduates join a studio they have to undergo a huge amount of unlearning. And then we have to orient them to the project or to the environment of the studio. It takes almost six months to one year before they really start contributing to the show, or a film. I think that gap would definitely get reduced and the industry would benefit immensely from it.
Do we have access to talent for education in performing or creative arts?
There are two ways of looking at it. When the universities are not teaching the subjects of filmmaking,design, animation or visual effects, many studios or big production houses open their own outfits for training so that they can have an access to talent. But with the new policy in place, it gives you an opportunity to partner with a university and formalize it.
I think they need to work with the closest university and establish a partnership with them. You also need to structure it in a way that students can have a choice to go to the university to study the subjects that are covered in the campus and still able to spend most of their time in the studio where they can actually have a practical learning, a kind of hub and spoke model. In this way curriculums can be developed, and by the time the students pass out, they will definitely be ready to join the industry. I think there is an opportunity for our industry to formalize education, because although, you know, the film industry is 105 years old now, most of the professionals have learnt on job.
Do you still see a need for a Centre for Excellence in Animation, Visual Effects, Gaming and Comics sector? It was talked about but not executed…
We definitely need a National Centre for Excellence for AVGC. In addition, we also need to add Immersive technology & Immersive content creation to this list. Unfortunately, even after nearly a decade and a half long demand such a center has not taken shape. But there is a connection between this and the New Education Policy & I still believe it will now happen.
I think that when something futuristic is suggested, it always takes a long time to shape up. In 2005, we recommended the government that we should have a National Center of Excellence for Animation, Gaming, Visual Effects, and Comics. In 2009, we had a private universities bill. Subsequently, the industry started working closely with the private universities who had a little more autonomy. And today, we have around 30 to 40 universities who have created these curriculums in the last 10 years and have started implementing them. So, it makes great sense to create such Centers of Excellence, much like IITs for animation, gaming, visual effects, comics, AR/VR etc. We should not dilute that agenda because there is a huge scope of creating entrepreneurs and research in the space of media and entertainment. It allows us not only to create software, but also to create technology for media and entertainment. We are still hopeful that it would come up in the best possible way, which would benefit India at large.
At some point in time there was probably a direction from the government which said that all the Master programs should be taught by the PhDs. But when the industry is nascent and does not even have undergrads, how can we have PhDs teaching. I think with this new policy there will be universities now that will open up to create PhD scholars in the space of media and entertainment, creative arts, performing arts, design, and sports. We are waiting for some of these things to happen because research in our industry is something which is truly lagging. If the Media & Entertainment research can add value to our industry – India will emerge amongst the top three Media and Entertainment exports nations. More over the Media and Entertainment exports in the next 10 years will be amongst the top 5 sectors contributing to the Indian GDP.
Most of our Doctorates in media studies are done in global universities…
There has been almost non or very little research even on the kind of music ‘gharanas’, composers and lyrics writers we had in the last 50, 100 or 200+ years. The film music in the era between 1950s and 1980s is mind boggling. In fact, every Indian will always be connected to the music of that era. 1980s to 2000 was a different era and 2000 onwards, it’s a different era. I think we have a lot to offer but somebody needs to put the research and analytics together to see how it’s impacting our society and strengthen the image and brand India. In many other countries, India is known for its films. They definitely know about Indian film content and great actor from India. IIFA has done a good job in promoting and positioning this Indian soft power.
I think that’s where we need to really see us heading. If you see countries like the US, Canada, UK, France, Japan, and South Korea, media and entertainment is probably amongst the top five or six industries contributing to the economy through export. We have 105 years of history. We are great storytellers but still very inward looking. I think the time has come that we actually take steps towards creating original intellectual property, and while creating IP export to bring in more business to India. Currently India is more focused and known for providing creative services and software services.
Should these institutions be in clusters?
I think the cluster formation for media and entertainment in our industry is very important because a group of skills together can create what needs to be delivered. M&E is unlike other production pipelines like car manufacturing, vaccine manufacturing or FMCG manufacturing where you have a manufacturing pipeline, machines and people and people manage those machines to deliver the same thing again and again. In the media and entertainment space every single scene is different – every frame created in a scene is different, which is delivered with a different composition of ideas, technologies and skills.
As we move forward, the complete process will have to actually be at the places where the clusters are. And luckily in India, the clusters are in Mumbai, Pune, Chennai, Hyderabad, Bangalore, Cochin, Trivandrum, Ahmedabad, Kolkata, Chandigadh, Patna some parts of Lucknow and North East. We have some films produced in Odisha and in Chattisgari films are now being created in Raipur. We also have a Punjabi film industry in Chandigarh and NCR is very strong in terms of news networks. So, the complete ecosystem of media and entertainment along with the news delivery happens out of these places. Hence the clusters at these places with a proper infrastructure will boost the industry in many ways.
When it comes to developing academic facilities, there are certain things that would go as per the curriculum, but there are many things that people do have to learn from ideation to script and script to screen and all the other nuances by being associated with the live projects. I give you an example of Whistling Woods International, because I was involved with the institute right from the beginning. The way Subhash Ghai and the team set it up was right in the middle of the industry. And not a single week passes there when a person who has created film, written film or acted in a film is not visiting the campus. Most of the learning comes from these live examples.
Do you see existing media professionals pursuing Academic career. This can also be a new career option for people who have lost jobs? Do you see media professionals getting to academics in future?
It’s a very pertinent question. I think meritorious people should actually join a career in academics because they’re so good with their subjects that they can teach extremely well. I think we should encourage them to become professors or teachers because they can deliver that subject in the best possible way. I also think the profession of teaching needs to be given its due respect. The status, dignity and recognition to the teaching professional must be enhanced and highlighted.
I think more young people need to make teaching as a career choice especially in media and entertainment sector. Even though I run studios, I send my core team members to become faculty for four or five years in universities and education institutions where I help setup Media and entertainment verticals. They are given a choice to go back and forth to have industry as well as academic exposure. This formula works the best for our Media and Entertainment industry.
Do you think that the new media policy offers more open and flexible programs?
Whatever I have read in the new policy so far, it seems to be fairly open. It talks about graded autonomy. With this kind of autonomy and the academic-industry connect, one should be able to solve any problem. I think it’s time for India that we should be able to find solutions through research, innovation, collaborations and partnerships between industry – academia for our problems within India. At the end of the day we Indians are great story tellers, our stories exists for over 5000 and 7000 years. We are known for creating best IT solutions. The right foundation – making use of the New Education Policy 2020, we can aim for the best and work together to achieve the same.
Artificial intelligence research outfit OpenAI Inc. recently made the latest version of its GPT-3 general-purpose natural language processing model available in private beta, and its capabilities are astounding early testers. Input any text, and GPT-3 would complete it
In July, OpenAI, an artificial-intelligence research lab based in San Francisco, began allowing limited access to a new software called GPT-3. It is being claimed as by far the most powerful “language model” ever created. GPT stands for “generative pre-trained transformer”
A language model is an artificial intelligence system that has been trained on an enormous corpus of text; with enough text and enough processing, the machine begins to learn probabilistic connections between words. In other words, GPT-3 can read and write well.
GPT-3 is a machine learning system that has been fed 45TB of text data, an unprecedented amount. Training allows it to generate written content: stories, code, legal jargon, all based on just a few input words or sentences. And the beta test has already produced some jaw-dropping results.
However, after some initially promising results, GPT-3 is facing more scrutiny. The model faced criticism recently when Facebook’s AI head Jerome Pesenti called out bias coming out of a program created with GPT-3. The program was a tweet generator; anyone could type in a word and the AI would come up with a relevant, 280-characters-or-less sentence.
But these issues are expected to be rectified soon. Once it is officially launched, GPT-3 could be enormously useful and it is expected to change the way how a lot of things are being done now.
Machines that can understand and respond to humans in our own language could create more helpful digital assistants, more realistic video game characters, or virtual teachers personalized to every student’s learning style.
GPT-3’s flexibility is a big advantage. Matt Shumer, the chief executive of a company called OthersideAI, is using GPT-3 to build a service that responds to email on your behalf — you write the gist of what you’d like to say, and the computer creates a full, nuanced, polite email out of your bullet points.
From a single sentence, or even a few words, it can generate a full five, well-written paragraphs. It unleashes a lot of creativity.
GPT-3 was trained off of 175 billion parameters from across the internet, including Google Books, Wikipedia, and coding tutorials etc.
GPT-3 is the third generation of OpenAI’s Generative Pre-trained Transformer, which is general-purpose language algorithm that uses machine learning to translate text, answer questions and predictively write text. It works by analyzing a sequence of words, text or other data, then expanding on these examples to produce entirely original output in the form of an article or an image.
After originally publishing its GPT-3 research in May, OpenAI gave select members of the public access to the model last week via an API. And over the past few days, a number of samples of text generated by GPT-3 have begun circulating widely on social media.
A company called Latitude is using GPT-3 to build realistic, interactive characters in text-adventure games. It works surprisingly well — the software is not only coherent but also can be quite inventive, absurd and even funny.
The ongoing COVID-19 crisis necessitates a fast transformation of the global economy in order to build resilience against unprecedented challenges humankind faces today. With media & entertainment, edutainment and datertainment set to play a critical role in the new world, Blockchain, one of the frontier technologies embraced by India, will be the key to a decentralized and more transparent future of the world says Alexander Shulgin
Alexander Shulgin is a visionary, investor, composer, entrepreneur, futurist, and a Blockchain specialist, who has 20 years of investment and venture capital experience. He is a unique Russian composer who successfully combines creative work with business. He effectively manages GRUPPA KOMPANIY FAMILIA (www.familia.ru), which specializes in investment and venture capital in Blockchain, media, new media, publishing, and entertainment sectors (BitFury, Minery.io, dotBlockchainMedia, Clickky, Ticketland, AviaSales, QIWI post, SeoPult Group, Garpun, MFM Solution and others.) His personal investments are in sectors: Blockchain infrastructure, e-Sport, and Mixed Reality.
Alexander was for last five years a Member of Expert Council under the Prime Minister of Russian Federation (areas of responsibility are IT and digital economy). In an exclusive interview with Pickle , he provides deep and useful insights into how Blockchain will be a critical technology to reset the old form of global economy, and transform the way media and entertainment is consumed in a post-COVID-19 world. Excerpts…
How are you spending your time during Corona pandemic?
In this context, I recollect a verse from the Bible: “A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together.” I used to travel around the world 330 of the 365 days in a year for my business, but the Corona pandemic in the last five months provided me a much needed break – time for me to reset.
I have been utilizing this time to reflect on new technologies. I have been thinking about the big crisis we would face beginning next February that would last for a few years and would necessitate the global great reset. We have to be strong and build resilience to face it. I have also been contemplating about the emerging new future of mankind. Because technology will change the way a person consumes media and multimedia. This will be the big future of video.
Media and information is set to become a part of the post industrial society. Entertainment, media, edutainment, and ‘datertainment’ will play an important role in the life of mankind. The new economy will switch from hardware to software, driven mainly by entertainment and lifestyle technologies. The media in multimedia entertainment will be in holograms. This will be a new form of entertainment. E-sport with holograms, e-sport with real sport and holograms, etc, will give birth to a new form of media, content, spectaculars and audience.
We will soon have a new generation of people and the creative productions will have to embrace this generation of decentralized natives, which may be called ‘Generation A01’. They will be completely different from the people of ‘Generation X’, ‘Generation Y’ and ‘Generation Z’ which are older generations now. Millennials formed the last generation of the old cycle of generations.
It will be difficult to explain the new generation as to why people use vinyl records or VHS tapes. It will also be difficult to explain them why there is a Senator or a Governor. They will not understand because they were updated from birth like new updated mobile applications . So it is very crucial for us to think about them.
India has endorsed Blockchain among other frontier technologies like 5G, Big Data, IoT…What are your thoughts on this?
I think there is a great opportunity for India. In the next three to four years, India will be among the world’s top three economies. India is innovating and adopting latest technologies. Indian Prime Minister has already mentioned few technologies like 5G, Big Data, Blockchain as frontier technologies. I have great appreciation and respect for him. He’s a very wise guy. Unlike many naive global leaders, he understands that Blockchain technology is not only about crypto currency. Blockchain is not crypto currency. Blockchain is a technology. Bitcoin was invented as part of the Blockchain technology. You won’t find any mention of the term crypto currency in the white paper of Satoshi Nakamoto (who deployed the first Blockchain database).
Bitcoin is electronic cash. But it is not similar to the cash that you can get in the market when someone buys a carpet or gold from you. It is an electronic asset. Bitcoin helps to identify your assets, stores and enables transactions quickly. It is not paper currency. Of course, many people tried to do business in the so called crypto currency. They traded on the exchange—buy, sell—and tried to make some crazier things. It is not related to the nature of this decentralized ledger technology.
Blockchain is a great technological opportunity to tap because our world is headed towards a reset. We need to reset capitalism, the old form of economy. We need to reset the old form of multi-agreements between governments and the people. Our society needs it. Russia is the country of greatest revolutions. Over 100 years ago, Lenin said that when revolution happens the people at the top don’t know what to do. And the people at the bottom don’t want to follow the people at the top who don’t know what to do. So, this is the time for revolution—the right time for
redistribution of capital. There’s so much gap between 26 people who control 51 percent of the global economy, and the millions of poor people who have nothing to eat. Blockchain has the potential to become a great balancer. It’s time to give a chance to decentralized economy which is only possible with the help of Blockchain technology. This asset can be of great value for media and entertainment industry or agriculture. It’s time to embrace this new technology.
How do you think India can benefit out of this and how do you visualize that India should move forward?
With Blockchain technology and decentralized processing, India would yield huge benefits in building Smart Cities and smart future. Media and data will spur a lot of SMEs to build Smart Cities, IoT, drones and industrial IoT.
By using data, India will be the producer of ‘new oil’. This will make India great again. I’m sure that in the decade beginning 2030, India will be ahead of China and will become number one economy of the world. The Indian middle class will be about 24 percent of the global middle class. Now it’s only four. So, it will be short but very productive.
India will become the world’s top economy because India’s huge population will create a lot of data and data is the new gold. India will need to generate a lot of energy to maintain that data. When I was in India for the first time in 2018, India’s energy consumption was equivalent to Argentina’s. However, by 2022, it will be equivalent to European Union’s consumption of electricity. So electricity will be the next equivalent of energy. Therefore India will need effective and low cost energy.
We will need new social pacts and agreements as well. Transparency will be necessary for the new pacts. There is trust deficiency among people. People see a lot of fake news, double standards, and so on. Many politicians say one thing and do another thing. Blockchain would help us build trust, Smart Cities, smart technologies and smart supply chains. It holds immense promise to improve life standards of people.
Fake news is one of the global menaces. Do you think Blockchain has a solution to contain fake news?
Of course yes, because in Blockchain everything is in written form that cannot be changed. In Blockchain you will be able to trace and find out who was the original person who spread the fake news. We can fight misinformation with Blockchain technology. News organizations can create Blockchain networks and track such news.
How do you think Blockchain is going to change the landscape for media and entertainment industry?
Blockchain is set to change everything. It will change how people access content; it will change industrial businesses and, of course, our lifestyle. Media and entertainment is one of the most important aspects of our lifestyle, which is already a two-trillion dollars industry. Blockchain will transform it dramatically. It will change the way the content is created and allow its decentralization. One will be able to create
content while streaming or accessing it. Blockchain is not going to be about distribution of content, rather it will be about accessing it.
Before the digital era arrived, there used to be a Mastertape, which could be used to create limited copies of cassettes, DVDs, CDs, etc. When the digital era came, the Mastertape disappeared because you could make unlimited copies of the same quality and distribute it. However, now distribution of unlimited copies of a film has become more and more expensive because you need to distribute the content in terms of Gigabytes and Terabytes.
Blockchain resolves this issue smartly. For instance, if a new series of ‘Games of Thrones’ is launched there will be only one copy of it which will be in the DotBC standard. This standard is comparable to standards like MPEG or MP3, but it allows unlimited access to smart content. So instead of distributing that one copy of ‘Games of Thrones’ to 100 million fans, Blockchain allows you to give them access to this content. It will significantly reduce the cost of distribution and help the creator monetize every view by the users.
For instance, if you have distributed the copy of the content there may be people who will watch it for just five minutes and don’t like it. But in this case you have already spent heavily on distributed Terabytes.
However, if you give access of the content to the people even if they don’t like it you will save lot of bytes. Also, the data used can immediately give you statistics. It is much like pay for what you watch.
Today, if you put your content on YouTube you”ll be paid by advertisers only if I you have more than, say, 10,000 views. If only 300 people watch the content, they don’t pay you. But the Blockchain will allow you to get paid for even one view that too immediately.
Why are people not able to understand Blockchain?
When you are flying in a plane, do you try to understand how it is flying and the parts it has. I know the rules of aerodynamics, but I still don’t understand the aeroplane. Many people don’t understand how electricity works, but understand its benefits. So you don’t have to understand how Blockchain works. Get to know the benefits.
Blockchain is like Internet. Internet doesn’t make money. What makes money is the applications. The global standards are being formulated. G20 countries are working on the standardization and expected in a year. For Internet, TCIP was chosen as a standard. Then, institutional money came. Similarly, it will be the same here. You will have platforms like IoS or Android. It is in these applications, people will make money.
Can you give certain examples to understanding the benefits of Blockchain when deployed?
Can you imagine famous musician like Taylor Swift, Beatles or any Bollywood singer, when a new single comes 300 million copies have to be distributed. There is so much traffic. Everyone has to own a copy. With Blockchain deployment, there is only one Master and instead of distribution, you will give access. So 300 million people will come to your capsule and they will have access, which smart contract will regulate. Access, territory, free, monetization, advertisement, barter — will be regulated by a smart contract in this capsule.
With this, the singer will be able to understand his/her audience. There are no middlemen. He will understand who likes chorus or who doesn’t. He can create special songs to his fans. The creator can also raise money directly from fans. If you want to make a new series or an album, you can ask 10 million fans to pay 10 cents. You get $1 million to start your work.
A decade ago, a creator would get 5 per cent royalty from music from DVDs. Sometimes, he may not get at all. Today, creator get majority share. In the next decade, the creator will get all.
Take cinema. The producer or the production company has no idea of who their customers and audiences are. Netflix, YouTube, Amazon will never give data to creators. They have centralized data. The content creator will never know who their audiences are. Blockchain is decentralization. This will change.
If you have data then you can barter it with other things. Blockchain will allow this to happen. Let’s say if I need fruit from India, you can give me fruit and I can give you my music. Money is something just to be equal to exchange.
If you are watching a new TV series or a film and you don’t like it, and you watched for five minutes. You just pay for those five minutes. You can also pay for just 30 seconds or three seconds. Now it’s not possible, but that’s the way forward. In Telecom, you pay for the number of call minutes or seconds.
You can co-create in real time, adaptive media will be adapt for your behavior. You will listen to the same song, but with different mixing. With holograms, you don’t need real actors, anymore. You can create a perfect actor, with no ego.
Will Blockchain kill piracy?
Yes of course, because now you will have one Mastertape. No one will have another copy.
How did you get into the world of Blockchain?
I am from music, media and entertainment industry. Blockchain started as a peer-to-peer project in 1999. The first peer-to-peer project was Kazaa. I know the founders of Kazaa and I tried to find more about this technology because I was very angry about piracy. But it was not piracy; it was a peer-to-peer sharing. Later, the US government shut down Kazaa.
Celebrities are hot air balloons, which often reach dizzy height but in a matter of time fall ingloriously into deep abysses of oblivion by Amit Khanna
It’s a magical world. Where you come chasing a dream and then see it come true. You walk in with nothing but guts and grit or a bagful of talent. From anonymity to applause all it takes is one hit. From dingy PG digs to a swanky apartment is a matter of months. From local train to limo the ride is one helluva rollercoaster with more uphill thrills than downhill slides.
This is for the lucky few. The rest wallow in a half-forgotten existence. But these are the rules of fame and you enter knowing the odds. Don’t blame the other players or even the bystanders. When you play this roulette of celebrityhood you know your chances of winning are slim and even if you win one round you may lose the next.
When a million are out competing for the spotlight, a handful will make it eventually. Unlike what some believe and others talk, your dad can get you to sit on this carousel of success but it’s the audience which turns the wheel. The lineage just puts you in the inside lane but in this race it is often the outsider who surprises you with her performance. Gossip columns and sound bites get you a mention or more. It is the ‘public’ which is the arbiter of success at the box office. This makes the journey from the sidewalk to the marquee tough, tiresome and tardy. It’s not for the weak-kneed or fainthearted. Legends are made of those who have travelled this route triumphantly.
Entertainment is as much about art as it is about commerce. As far a studio goes, they are in the business of entertainment and incidentally except for one two or three all, Studio heads today are professionals with no family linkage
I have spent over five decades in showbiz. My family never had or has any connection with the media. There was no attempt to ever derail my progress nor did any of the so-called Bollywood (incidentally a word coined by me) establishment ever sabotage my career. Many before me and after me have made it not because they inherited fame and success or had the Industry lineage. Like in any field in media and entertainment there are second or third generation (occasionally even fourth) actors, producers, directors, writers, technicians, musicians, singers, journalists, photographers, media owners and others who perhaps follow their parents’ calling. As do politicians, sportspersons, corporates, business heads teachers, scientists, doctors, engineers, architects or even masons, carpenters, tailors and farmers, who enter a vocation because someone in the immediate family did earlier and made it perhaps a little easier for them to follow.
However, for every one such family-driven success there are a dozen who achieved success by themselves. Media and entertainment history of a list of achievers who came from outside and the failures from within the Industry. Almost the entire group of offbeat and middle cinema are and have always been “non-family”. Eighty per cent of directors, composers, writers and singers and 90 per cent of technicians are first-timers who came, struggled and made it on their own. Stardom and failure don’t distinguish between caste or creed, insider or stranger.
I am not saying no one is exploited or abused here. Some are, and one’s heart and goes out to them.
Another myth is Bollywood has camps. What camps? A producer or a director or even a star can surely decide who he or she wants to work with. It’s their project, their money, their convenience. Entertainment is as much about art as it is about commerce. As far a studio goes, they are in the business of entertainment and incidentally except for one two or three all, Studio heads today are professionals with no family linkage.
From dingy PG digs to a swanky apartment is a matter of months. From local train to limo the ride is one helluva rollercoaster with more uphill thrills than downhill slides
Businesses succeed when their product is well made, well marketed and well received and not when they play favorites. I have headed two studios in the past 30 years in which we gave breaks to hundreds of newcomers irrespective of where they came from. I have personally been a bridge for many to several whenever they have encountered storms professionally and to a few in their personal lives as well. A number of people who are big names across ideological and creative divide will vouch for this. A number of past and present colleagues are not only still in touch but are often ready to lend a shoulder to cry in your hours of need. Half-truths, heresay, fact and fiction are interwoven seamlessly into a larger than life tapestry of innuendo, doubt and bias. We forget what we call film industry is an amorphous blend of stars, strugglers, media magnates, indie filmmakers, writers and musicians and a million of others.
Let’s look at the top 50 breakthrough films of the last 20 years and you will find all of them were backed by one studio or another. Obviously, relationships, success and yes talent do queer the pitch for in showbiz but that’s true for any other profession. If you look at any studio’s filmography it will include a variety of artistes and others and different genres and budgeted films. I have headed various Industry organisations for decades and I can say with certainty that working conditions, wages and business is far better today than what it was a generation earlier. There is a certain fraternal feeling which still exists. Even in the present crisis this industry was the first to mobilise resources to help daily wage earners. Sure, not everyone has been taken care of but the intent is there. Today insurance and other benefits are available to a large percentage of people involved in this Industry. Indeed, more still needs to be done.
Show Business is a cruel business. It picks up nobodies and catapults them to the stratosphere. Amidst stars, money, fame, adulation. Then for no reason it just takes it all away. Spits out the very icons it creates. Those who have savoured success for extended periods face the same dilemma of emptiness when their play is over. No more party invites, no more mahurats and premieres. No more call sheets. No more work. Forgotten, forsaken, lonely and lost some break more and quicker. So is the case anywhere else where your fame turns its face away. How many painters, performing artistes, authors and artisans have faced similar crisis?
Eighty per cent of directors, composers, writers and singers and 90 per cent of technicians are first-timers who came, struggled and made it on their own. Stardom and failure don’t distinguish between caste or creed, insider or stranger
In the last five decades I have seen the marquee drop names with an alacrity that is ruthless. I have seen the tinsel lose its lustre. Limelight turning a hazy yellow like aging cellophane. Stars turned applause junkies writhing in the pain of withdrawal symptoms. Some fortunate ones change their trajectory and move to the small screen and some find solace on streaming platforms. Some who invested wisely wallow amidst nostalgia in relative comfort. Irrelevance is the most hurtful truth, which afflicts 80 per cent of the film people in the twilight of their lives. Time just makes reining czars disappear in the dark void of failure and oblivion. Heartthrobs and creative artistes face heartbreak and manic depressions. These scene-stealers lie forgotten, sometimes dusted and brought out at obscure award functions and handed trophies as a token gesture. More often lying in the deep abyss of digital archives with their work sprouting sporadically on the vast TV channelscape or Google searches of an eager scholar. It is for them to have an insurance in place emotionally and yes financially always handy.
We are living in a moment economy. Every moment counts. In hyper networked society noise levels are so high that celebrity hunters are going to the extreme to attain their two minutes in sunshine. We always walk the edge. We are easily susceptible to hurt, anxiety, depression, euphoria or even death. No one has yet figured out the safeguards or even the perils of stardom. Celebrities are hot air balloons, which often reach dizzy height but in a matter of time fall ingloriously into deep abysses of oblivion. As writer Michael Humphrey wrote in Forbes magazine a few months ago, Has Generation Famous changed the equation for fame and fandom? If the famous are, usually performing 24×7, the media reporting non-stop turns voyeurs and vultures at will. The hunter and the hunted keep switching places. A thin line differentiates the two. When privacy gives way to isolation, the filament breaks.
As a society, our ‘always on’ online presence is like walking the thin edge. We are easily susceptible to hurt, anxiety, depression, euphoria or even death. No one has yet figured out the safeguards or even the perils of stardom. The performers and their purveyors know the fragility of it all. Let us not keep shifting the blame when the focus shifts. We are all a part of this scenario.
A walk with the stars always ends on Sunset Boulevard my friend.
This column by Amit Khanna was originally published by IANS
Amit Khanna is media guru, poet, lyricist, writer, filmmaker and historian. His latest book Words, Sounds, Images (published by HarperCollins India) is ambitious and encyclopaedic in scope, a first-of-its- kind book that presents the history of media and entertainment in India – from the times of the Indus Valley Civilization right up to the twenty-first century
Having worked in the M&E industry for nearly two decades, Gaurav Banerjee, President (Hindi and English Entertainment), Star India, brings to the table his sharp journalistic acumen along with deep insights into business and creative processes to steer Star India network into a new era of programming where technology, and content with global appeal is set to be the new normal By Natarajan Vidyasagar and Vivek Ratnakar
Starting his career as a TV news journalist at Aaj Tak in 2000 and then moving to Star News where he covered the general elections and a budget show, Gaurav Banerjee, President (Hindi and English Entertainment), Star India, is among the league of extraordinary TV professionals who have redefined TV viewing experience for the masses in India. “Uday Shankar is one of my major influencer and transformative leader in my professional career,” says Gaurav.
A sincere and intelligent person with a penchant for research, his grip on his viewers has been remarkable. He has been successful in combining creativity with business with his choice of programs to help Star climb the ladder of success. It is, therefore, not surprising that in a career spanning nearly two decades, he has emerged as one of the major pillars of the Indian M&E industry with a lot of similarities with Uday Shankar, President of The Walt Disney Company Asia Pacific, and Chairman of Star India and The Walt Disney Company India, who like him had an illustrious career at Aaj Tak and Star News and was greatly benefitted by the sharp acumen of a journalist combined with a keen sense of creativity and business and the ability to feel the pulse of millions of consumers. Gaurav was reporting to Sanjay Gupta, MD Star and Disney India.
Gaurav has worked with both Uday Shankar and Sanjay Gupta closely and is now charged with transforming the network in an era, where new technologies, platforms and shifting consumer choices are increasingly disrupting the M&E industry.
“It’s been a series of happy accidents,” says Gaurav in an exclusive interview with Pickle. “Personally, for me, it’s been a privilege to have been part of this team. And of course, I’ve learned a lot,” he adds.
“Sanjay was my boss for 10 years and I learned a lot from him. But I think the real strength of Star is our team as a whole. And Star has incredible number of very talented people. And I think the fact that we have the best talent in the industry and we have a culture and spirit that allows a lot of that talent to flourish has made us successful.”
Gaurav admits that good work “keeps me inspired and excited” and hopes to “do a few things which will set the framework for a healthier industry”.
The fact that he started his career in a news room has to do a lot with his unique perspective on what viewers want. “In the newsroom when you go in, you don’t really know how that day will shape up. So you just bring in your skills, your intelligence, some of the reading that you might have done. And then it’s about your reflexes, and about what can you add to a story that makes it truly come alive for your fans,” he says while reflecting on his career as a journalist.
He recalls that when 9/11, the world trade center attack in New York happened, he was in the newsroom and Uday Shankar was in the control room, trying to figure out what to do and what perspective to give. “It was really clear that we were witnessing something happening right before us, which is going to change the world forever. That was one real massive moment at the start of my career at Aaj Tak in particular.”
Underscoring his learnings from this incident, he says, “It might seem deeply naïve today, but I didn’t look at weekly rating numbers. And I think nobody actually did except for the senior leadership. But for the rank and file, we were so convinced that we were the best news channel that everything else kind of didn’t matter. I have no idea what the ratings were before that or what they became after that. I have to honestly say that it was an interesting learning.” Gaurav believes that over-thinking the results often undermines what is needed to be done.
Another memory he shares is that from 2005 when he was in the newsroom and Mumbai got more rain that night than Cherrapunji had ever recorded in the recorded history of rainfall in this country. “I was sitting on the ticker when this story flashed. I couldn’t really believe what I was reading.” Star News that day decided to “drop everything else, and just stay with the story. We decided that the agony and the spirit of Mumbai should come alive in our coverage. And I thought that one moment was truly the moment which became the making of Star News.”
However, there is a huge difference in the way stories are conceived in TV and a journalistic thinking of visualizing a story. “Uday Shankar had always been very deeply involved in the creative process at Star. And, we talked about how we could reflect India’s concerns all the time. And how do we show it in a manner that is very, very responsible that inspires people,” says Gaurav.
He adds that one of the big distinctions for Star was its tagline, “Inspiring a Billion Imaginations”, which “has led to some very different programming”.
“A few years ago, we did the show Satyamev Jayate and it was a very unconventional show for an entertainment network. But for Star it seemed like absolutely the right decision. The way we went about doing it, the scale of investments that we put in, the way the scheduling happened, and the way it was marketed put a very different stamp on what entertainment means,” he says proudly.
“We were so proud of the show. We wanted lots and lots of people to see it wherever they could.”
So, what’s next in programming that could prove to be a game-changer for the Indian Media & Entertainment industry? “If we see the current trend, you know, now it’s the documentary series that are becoming one of the trending elements globally,” he says.
Gaurav is also a trained documentary filmmaker, and he admits that “it’s a fascinating way to tell a story… but honestly, we have not done a lot of it. Though we did one interesting documentary last year but perhaps that was more of a one off. It’s something that I have some feeling for personally. Hopefully, when there is a right subject we can do something which is interesting, exciting and meaningful. I think documentaries is something that we can really open up a wide massive Canvas for. And that’s an opportunity that we haven’t really applied our minds to yet.”
On the evolving diversity of content viewing audience, Gaurav is clear that Star sees itself as a content company first. “We are about those stories we tell and the impact that those stories could have on viewers. And I think everything else sort of comes after that. So as far as I’m concerned, I see myself as a content guy first, deeply interested in shows, writers, in the physical worlds that we are creating, and trying to input it into making our stories richer, more diverse, and more contemporary.”
He also believes that everything else is about monetization, different brands and different distribution frameworks that are continuously evolving, “and we need to stay ahead of those curves”.
“We need to understand where our viewers are, we need to adapt as far as technology is concerned. While doing all that we want to be the place where the best writers come with their most exciting ideas. And hopefully we sort of become their partners in taking those ideas and making them very big. So personally for me, the width of brands is very exciting. But essentially it’s doing something similar across the board.” He cites the examples of Star Ananda and Star Jalsa, which he helped launch and he feels that “they’re very similar brands. One speaks in Bangla, the other in Hindi”.
Speaking on the importance of data, Gaurav believes that there are “some insights you can get from data, as a lot of us really like to speak to consumers. And, you pick up themes from there. I think Star is a very, very strong consumer company. And we can definitely leverage that. We are sometimes guided by that, but honestly, that’s rare. Usually it is, you know, your heart beats for a particular story, and in a way that someone is thinking about it or narrating it, and you hope that you’ve got it right. The nature of the business is that sometimes you do get it right and many times get it wrong. And then you have to humbly except and learn something, hopefully, and then move to trying something different.”
With English Channel programming added to his job profile, Gaurav has found an innovative way to address the new challenge of convergence in audiences in both language mediums. “it’s a recent development that has happened and I’m particularly excited about it. We just had the release of Avengers and Aladin. And both those movies did really, really well. The new thing that we have done is that we are putting these movies simultaneously across our network. So they come not just on Star Movies, but for example, in Hindi also on Star Gold. So that’s an innovation that has happened very recently, which is very exciting. It sort of allows the marketing to happen together. And the viewership that we got for Avengers was pretty phenomenal, which was very exciting. And I think there is much more to come, hopefully in the days ahead.”
“One of them I’m happy to share with you will be the premiere of The Lion King. And that was a really, really amazing movie. It did wonderfully well in India as well as globally. It has Shah Rukh Khan and his son doing the voiceover in Hindi. So hopefully there’s a lot that fans have to look forward to,” he adds.
However, there is also a fear in the industry that COVID-19 will have adverse impact in terms of broadcast and TV business. “Our hope, and our strategy is to really try and see that we can keep a big part of the viewership share. And I think if we can continue to do that, we will continue to be able to make big investments into content. Content investments are a strategic part of our business. We do not think about them as what will be right for one or two quarters. We’re taking the long view on this. We continue to remain deeply committed to being the company that is most invested in high quality storytelling and in curating the best possible stories. So I think, there a road bump or two along the way in the next quarter or two. But we’re here for the long haul, and we are deeply committed to content, which is our most critical resource and our biggest strength.”
Gaurav is also in the leadership team to Originals at Disney+Hotstar. With the rise of OTT platforms globally, an opportunity has presented itself for Indian content to move to other markets. However, this is still not happening at a pace the Indian M&E industry would like it to move. According to Gaurav for that to happen “we need to be more ambitious”.
“When we have a deeply local, authentic storytelling style, and bring in a universal insight it makes content travel. I think that’s something that we need to do. Those are the kind of scripts that people like me and others like to commission. But I also think that the challenge with a lot of content that we have done, if I were to be self critical, is that it’s only looking at the Indian market.”
“If we get the insight right, and it’s a universal insight, then it will work very well in India as well and be able to travel across the world,” says Gaurav citing the example of Slumdog Millionaire, an Indian story written by an Indian with the insight which is truly global.
He is hopeful that India can get into that space. “Say for example, in the next three, four or five years, we will be able to tell such stories. We are not the same India as what we were a few years back.”
However, he adds a caveat, that “if we cannot do that in the next five, then yes, we have let go of a massive opportunity. And we need to find a way around it.”
Q. What comes first, creativity or business? A. Creativity. Good creativity leads to great business.
Q. What do you binge watch? A. Haha, I like a wide range of shows and films. So I watch a lot.
Q. Do you read fiction? A. I’m not unfortunately a very big fiction reader, but I should read more. But I do read a lot of current affairs.
Q. Who has the major influence in your life? A. My father and my mother have massive influence on me. Both of them were teachers. And then my father became a public servant and a writer. So he’s always been a massive influence. I’ve had the great privilege of working with Uday Shankar for a very long time. And I’ve learned a lot from him. So he’s a absolute great influence as well. Also, I have a 14-year old son who also influences me to a great extent.
Q. Did you ever visualize when you were starting off that you will enjoy what you’re doing now? A. No, of course not. I always thought that I would probably spend my life in TV journalism