The Path finder: Jyoti Deshpande

By Pickle  May 18, 2022
The Path finder: Jyoti Deshpande, Pickle Media

As a keen observer and enabler of change in the Indian M&E sector for nearly three decades, Media Veteran Jyoti Deshpande, CEO, Viacom18, President – Jio Studios and Co-Chair, FICCI Media & Entertainment has her task cut out for herself in a postpandemic world dominated by new challenges. Deshpande expresses her gratitude for making India the country of honour at the 75th Cannes Film Festival as the country commemorates its 75th year of Independence, and she outlines her key priorities and grand vision for assisting the Indian M&E sector in its journey to becoming a $100 billion industry

Jyoti Deshpande

Jyoti Deshpande is an industry veteran with over 3 decades of experience in the media and entertainment business. On September 30, 2021, Jyoti was appointed as CEO of Viacom18 to drive its transition into a truly integrated media company across broadcast, OTT and content studio businesses spanning general entertainment, movies, kids and sports across languages. This makes her the first woman leader to be named CEO of a Big 4 media company in India. She also serves on the boards of Network18, Balaji Telefilms and JioSaavn. Jyoti joined Reliance Industries in 2018 as President, Chairman’s Office – Media Platform & Content. Over the last four years, Jyoti established Jio Studios as a key player in the entertainment value chain. In her previous company, Jyoti had successfully built a formidable media & content distribution business and pioneered ErosNow’s early entry into the OTT space. In her new role, Jyoti will grow Viacom18 in the backdrop of digital disruption while bringing synergies across all RIL media investments. An industry captain, Jyoti also serves as the Co- Chair, Media & Entertainment Committee, FICCI, again the first woman leader to hold this position. She has featured among Fortune India as well as Business Today’s 50 Most Powerful Women in Business lists, both of which celebrate the journeys and triumphs of women who not only impact their organization but are also thought leaders in their industry. Jyoti believes in the power of positive thinking and practices Vipassana meditation. She’s an avid movie buff and equally follows cricket and tennis passionately.

Congratulations on acquiring a new leadership role as the co-chair of FICCI M&E Board. As you have witnessed the rise of M&E at close quarters for three decades, how do you see M&E evolving in postpandemic world? What is your major objective in terms of pushing the growth of the Indian M&E industry in near future?

Thank you. It has been my good fortune to be part of a paradigm shift in the M&E industry for almost three eventful decades— from the analogue to digital era in the nineties, to the proliferation of the mobile internet driven by the Jio revolution, to the subsequent digital/OTT explosion and now looking curiously ahead at a life in the Metaverse.

The pandemic has definitely pushed more households to accelerate digital adoption, be it for education or entertainment. Multi-device platform agnostic consumption of content (and therefore data) is here to stay. It would be safe to say that the change is permanent. The only constant is that technological advancements continue to increase the relevance, importance and demand for content and story tellers. During pandemic, TV became connected and interactive; films released online; news went hyper-local; 390 million Indians gamed online; and over 150 billon songs were streamed. Besides, subscriptions of OTT scaled to 40 million households, and digital media cemented its position as the second largest segment of Indian M&E. Our M&E sector should reach pre-pandemic levels in 2022 itself.

My major objective would be to work with the government and the Indian M&E industry champions to ensure that the sum of the parts is greater than the whole and we have a sustainable path to becoming a $100 billion industry which is currently less than $20 billion in size. This has been our dream for a while, as we straddle changing dynamics of traditional and new media, in the
backdrop of a complex regulatory environment.

Indian media and entertainment sector’s positioning at Dubai Expo later this month is one of the first physical global outings for the M&E sector since the start of the pandemic. What is the message we will be conveying to the world?

India’s message to the world is that the digital era has made it a level playing field and India is no longer playing catch up. We are well on our way to becoming the largest credible marketplace in the world with over 800 million internet users and over 600 million upwardly mobile middle class which is larger than the population of most developed countries. This is a consumer wallet no brand or service can ignore. With consolidation in the Indian M&E sector, our message to global companies in the media value chain is that we are open for business and strategic collaborations to spoil the Indian consumer for choice and tap arguably the most lucrative market in the world.

Post pandemic, various verticals of the M&E sector (TV, Film, OTT, AV GC, Radio) have strengths, status quo, weaknesses… some have more growth pointers than others… how do you view it?

India is unique in the sense that it feels like several diverse countries lie within this one great nation. We still have more than 300 million internet dark households who we are targeting to convert through 4G/5G. Only about 66% of households own a television set in India. As the top end of the urban mass and rural rich households pivot to a more digital multi-device multi-platform content consumption pattern, and cord cutting begins, I firmly believe that there is still headroom for new households to come into play in both traditional and new media in what is a rapidly developing nation of young people. Cinema and Print have been hardest hit in the pandemic while digital has been the biggest beneficiary.

As consumption explodes across media, moot question remains on the ability to drive up subscription ARPU and persuade the Indian consumer to part with a share of wallet by building a compelling value proposition. Ad ex has grown by close to 40% in the last year surpassing pre-pandemic levels. Monetization is still largely dependent on measurement metrics which may or may not be updated frequently enough to effectively and/or accurately reflect the rapidly changing consumption patterns. Again, this is an area where industry leaders and government can play a pivotal role. Transparency in monitoring and measurement with common currency within the remit of consumer data privacy can really help attract more dollars to the Indian M&E sector. Tax credits to encourage
shooting across various states in India can be another incentive.

The Indian Cinema industry is currently facing its biggest growth challenge. Since you have immersed yourself in this space, especially when it comes to increasing its global footprint, what steps can we take to increase India’s exports in the M&E space?

Even before the pandemic began, the Indian film industry was suffering from under-penetration of cinemas with only six screens available per million people compared to 125 in the US. The situation has turned worse with the shutting down of single screens during the pandemic. Despite highest number of tickets sold as well as the largest number of movies produced across languages (2000+) annually, low ATP or average ticket prices, have historically plagued our market. I do believe that India will now see production of ‘larger than life’ visual spectacles that will first cross over pan nationally before crossing over to the world. The visual medium is largely becoming language agnostic where audiences are willing to consume compelling content in dubbed or subtitled versions. There are more than 75 countries that regularly consume Indian content. A framework for viable cross collaborations between Indian and international talent, stateof- the-art production values where cost is supported by commensurate tax breaks and mainstream distribution and marketing of the same is what is needed to export our stories to the world.

How can we capitalize on our 2,000+ films, 800 TV channels, 50 OTT platforms, 650 million smart phones, and 400 million gamers to grow further? Is it enough to take Indian M&E sector to reach its $100 billion growth target? With $10 trillion Indian economy envisioned in 2030, can audiovisual sector has the potential to achieve 2% share in the economy going forward?

This is indeed a solid foundation to build a path to the $100 billion goal. While consumption grows in geometric progression, we need to work together to weave a framework for monetization that is robust and sustainable, be it directly from consumer wallet or from advertising. Our stories have to be relevant and entertaining to a global audience. Again, the key competitive advantage India will have is that the traditional parts of the media value chain will not decline as fast as it happened in developed countries while the new media will grow just as fast. The US M&E sector is 5-7% of their GDP in any given year so there is no reason why we cannot achieve 2% of the GDP in the next 3-5 years.

India is celebrating 75 years of its Independence in 2022. What is your vision for the Indian M&E sector in the next 10 years?

Ten years from now, the Indian M&E sector should be at least 5% of our GDP. The Indian M&E market should have driven up ARPU on the back of prolific consumption to be a top three market globally competing with US and China. ‘Make in India and Show the World’ mantra driven by Indian storytellers and tech companies would unleash the true power of the Indian Mythoverse into the Metaverse. Technologies change, distribution platforms change, devices change, operating systems change – what never changes is the demand for content, the demand for a compelling story and a talented storyteller. The next 10 years will see a large crop of young story-tellers crossing over globally.

How do we create a startup ecosystem, providing new canvasses – like the Metaverse– bringing stories to life in new forms?

Technological advancements, education, training and development and large-scale production and postproduction facilities are the need of the hour. Many traditional story tellers even today do not understand the power and possibilities of basic VFX, let alone the Metaverse. Creators are only limited by their own imagination. Institutionalization and democratization are required so that India and Indian story telling can play to scale.

There is a growing concern for ethics and morality of technologically driven advancements in the digital media space…How do we tackle this?

Ethics is too vast a topic to be straddled in a short answer. It can cover something as basic as parameters for censorship across different platforms like Cinema, TV or OTT, to something as complex as data privacy of a consumer who leaves a digital footprint with every click, to the unexplored use cases in the Metaverse and what it may do to our moral fibre or our mental health, especially of young India. What should be policed and what shouldn’t? How can governments have a nimble intuitive regulatory framework that is effective for consumer protection as well as not detrimental to business? Another topic worth discussion is the M&E sectors responsibility towards the issue of sustainability. We haven’t even scratched the tip of the iceberg here.

To make ‘Make in India, Show the World’ successful, we need to have a mechanism for our IPs created out of India. What are your thoughts on this issue?

Of course, protection of copyright is a pivotal spoke of the flywheel. It is estimated that last year India recorded over 6.5 billion visits to piracy websites, third highest in the world after US and Russia. As the various windows of exploitation collapse to offer consumers the ultimate choice to legitimately watch what they want when they want it, on the one hand we will need to work with the government to enforce stronger consequences to piracy that are effective deterrents and on the other hand we need to create technological barriers to piracy with further advancements.

Nearly 120 million Indian women—more than double the population of South Korea—do not participate in the workforce despite having secondary level education. Does the media sector provide outlets for them?

Once again this is a vast topic and one that is close to my heart. As per the Global Gender Gap Report 2021 published by the World Economic Forum, India is ranked at 140 out of 156 countries with a score of 0.625 (out of 1). Why girls in India don’t enter the workforce after being neck and neck with boys in education, why women drop out of the workforce midway through their career? While some of it is voluntary choice made by the women themselves, some of it is circumstantially thrust upon them due to deep-rooted cultural biases that continuously reinforce stereotypes. For this to change, men must equally be included in the conversation about women empowerment, and there needs to be a seismic cultural shift in the attitude towards preconceived notions and role definitions of men and women at home and at work.

I already see this happening due to greater exposure and awareness driven by the social media explosion. Starting with a bank account and financial independence sought by women. Winds of change have set in motion slowly but surely. The media and entertainment sector has seen a systematic increase in women workforce in the last several years. There are still only a handful of us at the leadership levels in M&E, but it’s surely growing. Women leaders in this sector (and others) are rigorously mentoring other women on merits and paying it forward to give this movement the momentum it desperately needs, as I am doing in my own organization.

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