The Indian M&E industry, at the current growth rate, will still take 15 years to get to 100 billion dollars, said Star India CEO Uday Shankar, at the CII BIG PICTURE SUMMIT 2012.
(Uday Shankar is currently , president of Walt Disney Company APAC and chairman, Star & Disney India. He will step down from this current position on December 31)
SPECIAL ADDRESS: Uday Shankar, CII BIG PICTURE SUMMIT 2012
It is one of those rare occasions where the whole industry has come together to look at the big picture. What is even more important is not only that we trying to paint a big picture, but we are also trying to paint a bold picture because of the tangible goal that the industry has set for itself: ‘A 100 billion dollar media and entertainment industry’. Let’s see where we are and how difficult it is to get there.
We are a 15 billion dollar industry today, which includes television, films print, radio, digital media – growing at around 14 or 15 per cent a year. This, by some accounts has been impressive – benefiting immensely from the tailwinds of GDP growth of the last decade.
At this rate, we will still take 15 years to get to 100 billion dollars. Obviously we want to get there much faster. The question is: Why and how do we do that?
The benefits of pursuing this dream are obvious to the industry– larger size should lead to bigger profits, bigger share holding value and more wealth. It is easy for the industry to get motivated about the goal.
Today, at $15 billion as an industry, we are about half the size of Google – a 10-year-old company ($26 billion revenues) Let’s not even go that far: if the entire Indian media industry was a company, it would rank 7th or 8th in India!
Media and industry is a globally growing industry – but our participation in that eco-system is zero and India is hardly factored into the global thought process of technology or content.
In the late 90s – when I first went to IBC in Amsterdam I remember that the first thought that struck me as a young television professional was the complete lack of attention for Indian visitors.
No matter how early you made the appointment – the people one got to meet were hardly ever the most senior people. They showed little patience or enthusiasm. I notice how – 15 years later, because India is now a fast growing market, there is a clear shift in their focus. I do not frequent the IBC – however, with striking regularity I get invitations from technology and product vendors.
However, it still has not changed as much as it should. Media Technology is still not developed keeping India in mind. They are still not keen on developing products for the country, which is not the deal with China or the United States for example.
Similarly, even in programming – Hollywood studios are keen to sell to India. However, because it is not meaningful in size – there is no customization in any aspect: sales, product contracts or content – to suit the needs of the Indian buyer. Not being able to sell to India has no material impact on their top lines. As a result, we are not able to fully exploit the potential of that content. Taking this argument a bit further – Hollywood content is sold in two categories as premium and basic. That classification in India does not work.
But explaining it to them continues to be a struggle and there is no third bucket for the Indian consumer. Not having the scale does not give us a top seat at the table – our ability to manoeuvre business discussions the way we would like to is severely constrained. The question naturally follows: How do we achieve this scale?
To start with – we are drunk on our own volumes: largest number of newspapers in circulation, largest number of television viewers at 400 million, 100 million digital consumers. Digital in particular – is an indictment of our creative and strategic limitations – we have 600 million mobile screens and yet we do not have a unique content proposition for the medium.
So, our ability to convert that into corresponding value is disappointing – of course some of that value will come through economic growth but there is nothing that stops us from creating more value out of our volume today.
And do remember, even at these volumes our reach as a percentage of population is not spectacular: we still have 100 million households with no television, their time spent on it is abysmally low when compared to global standards, 350 million people read the newspaper – but that tells how many do not read!
Scale brings with it not only value but also greater reach. One place to look for scale is to gaze outside India. Our friends in the pharma sector have shown how this possible: 50 per cent of the pharma sector revenues come from outside of India. These are from developed markets like US, developing ones like Brazil and newer markets like Africa.
Our media and entertainment industry serves – what is arguably the world’s toughest media market: catering to a diverse culture, language, value systems and sophistication of tastes. If a pan-Indian broadcaster acquires the expertise to speak to an audience in over 5 or 6 languages, why should it not allow us to go beyond the Indian Diaspora?
However, whether it catering to an audience beyond Indians or just scaling for the domestic market – we all know that it is not that simple.
In television for example we will need lot more content and will come not only by scaling production but a fundamental transformation of the eco-system – resources, talent etc: all have to evolve dramatically. For example – the production infrastructure in Mumbai studio space, access to talent is creaking and is unable to keep pace with the demand. However, it is not a problem that the industry can solve in isolation – it requires intervention from municipal corporations, State government, Central government and perhaps even the initiative and support from other states.
Similarly, look at distribution – for years this industry has reeled under the impact of analogue. Finally the needle has moved when the government understood the needs for digitalization and passed an act to enforce this. Again – we are seeing how important it is for all state Governments to actively participate in this endeavour. The nature of the business is such that it is wide-spread and far-reaching in its relevance and impact.
For all of this to happen, the entire society – whose interest the government is supposed to represent must help us in this.
Usually, it is easy to make the case to the Government and the Politicians when the benefits to society are clear and immediate. However, if the benefits accrue over the long-term and inflict short-term pain – I am one of those who believe that this is a struggle to get them behind us. So it is even more critical for us to establish a clear case for a 100 billion dollar M&E industry.
Two of the goals that all establishments are worried about are financial resources and jobs. The sheer scale of a $100 billion dollars can generate over 15 billion dollars in taxes (assumption: 15 per cent EBIT; 30 per cent tax rate). Let us look at what that means: it is more than half the current allocation for NREGA (8 billion). The Government has passed the Right to Education act and as part of that efforts on Sarva Siksha Abhayan have been scaled up.
At 100 billion dollars our tax revenues would have been able to fund the entire budget of Sarva Siksha Abhayan (5 billion) or the National Rural Health Mission (6 billion).Perhaps, outside the I&B ministry, the media and entertainment sector is not taken seriously in the economic agenda of the nation. In the best of times it is seen a vehicle of glitz and glamour and most of the times as a source of irritation. At 100 billion dollars the significance of the industry will be difficult to ignore or undermine.
The other big benefit will be in driving employment. For example, today we directly employ at least 80 people when we do a drama on Star Plus and obviously this can be much higher depending on the scale of the show. This is just direct employment – you can imagine the number of people directly and indirectly that can be employed by the M&E industry.
The beauty of the Media and Entertainment is that it does not place massive demands on technical and educational infrastructure. Most of us are born with the creative skills and this can be honed with marginal investment. This is quite unlike creating a pool of doctors, engineers and software programmers.
We all know about the college drop-outs who have gone on to create enduring businesses – be it Microsoft or Facebook. While maybe not at that scale, the number of drop-outs who get embraced by the M&E industry and go on to be successful is a story waiting to be told. So, whether it is the industry or society this is a goal worth pursuing. Before we embark on this journey – we need to achieve clarity of vision and consensus on that clarity. Until that clarity comes in we will not have the commitment to pursue it. 100 billion dollars is a dream, but it is certainly one worth living for.
How do we take the Indian M&E industry to a true B2C business? How do we get 200 million people to pay Rs 1,500 rupees a month (Rs 18,000 per annum) to consume media and entertainment. Overall, collectively as an industry figure out how and what are the maths that can get us to that consumption. That, I think is a game changer for what we want to do
Intellectual property and franchisees: Overall, there is a dearth of what we can do when we look at a massive scale where we can scale up content that spans almost every aspect of the verticals. Today, it is no longer TV and movies. The entire new media is a large space we should look at. From that perspective how do we necessarily do that is critical.
BROADBAND, THE GAME CHANGER
To me personally, Broadband is a complete game changer for this country. It is not going to takeaway anything from this country. There are a fair amount of few naysayers who think that broadband will be coming and television will be out. Broadcasting for the next two decades, given the overall consumption patterns, given the rural penetration and given the overall habits is here to stay. Broadband is going to augment this. To me the interesting part about broadband not only after the technological ones of able to consume what, when and how is the fact that Indian DNA to pay for content is fresh. It is a fresh start mindset when we look at broadband. Nobody is going to pay Rs 6 from Rs 5 to watch CNBC channel in cable. But everybody is willing to pay Rs 100 for an app on broadband for that same channel consumption. Personally, I do believe today in India bandwidth is going to be more valuable than oil. If that is the investment that we can make we have got be hitch our court on that ride as we go forward.
I have to say overall, that in terms of creativity we do have a long way to go. We have seen that kind of creativity in the last twenty years. If you look at Television, some soaps have gone to segmentation of reality and most of them are license and formatted shows. Look at any and every aspect of our business and if you look at comparing anywhere else in the world where growth triggering happens is really when the creativity has gone to the absolute next level of growth.
Events and ground events has tremendous amount of scope. I call it experiential entertainment. Genuinely in our country given our lack of infrastructure in most Indian cities to get out of the city or to do anything else or spend your money on anything else other than being a couch potato is almost negligible because there is anything out there. The appeal for us with a little bit of infrastructure and little bit of creativity to experiential entertainment is going to be an extremely promising one to trigger growth. And, that’s a pure B2C model. It is not advertising dependent and it is not piracy dependent. Because, you cannot pirate it.
Education is a realm of many aspects and outside of the media and entertainment business. But, in India compared to most other markets a combination of education with people who understand this business best. Today in India outside of the infrastructure and getting people to schools is really how we teach them. As content creators and platform operators we know that better than most people. If there is a way we can harness education and entertainment and make it edutainment there is a tremendous opportunity.
We cannot underestimate the power of rural India. It looks like the bottom leg of the 600 million people but with the absolute resurgence of entrepreneurship in this country , with the resurgence of land and the wealth creation that the rural land will create combined with agriculture which is going through its next revolution we are going to find a lot more spending power in those places than never before.
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.
It was a very unique experience as Toonz had never conducted a virtual event before. Everything was planned and executed in about a month’s time, says Hiranmayi Narayanan, Festival Director, Animation Masters Summit 2020 hosted by Toonz Media Group
Toonz Media Group has had an unwavering commitment towards the art of animation, and has relentlessly strived to further the growth of animation in India. It is as part of this mission that Toonz conceptualized Animation Masters Summit. The first edition of this event was held 21 years back soon after the establishment of Toonz in 1999. The event has grown and transformed itself into a major platform for not just animation, but for the entire entertainment industry to converge, celebrate and promote diverse art forms as well as artists.
The five-day event (July 20-24) had sessions by masters from various fields in the media and entertainment industry across the world. This includes senior cinematographer Ravi K Chandran, who is famous for the works in movies like Virasat, Black, Dil Chahta Hai, and Kannathil Muthamittal, to name a few. National Award-winning composer Shantanu Moitra is also taking another session.
Academy Award-winning character animator Sajan Skaria, who worked in movies like Finding Nemo, Inside Out, ACE Eddie award winner Fabienne Rawley (Zootopia fame), animation director, and illustrator Chris Appelhans and Cinzia Angelini, a freelance animator and story artist, was also be part of the master sessions.
For the first time in two decades, Animation Masters Summit was virtually organised by TOONZ amid Covid-19 Pandemic? How was the experience?
It was a very unique experience as Toonz had never conducted a virtual event before. We did not have a lengthy planning phase. Everything was planned and executed in about a month’s time. The organizing team worked meticulously with passion and dedication. We paid close attention to details and also had a strategy for managing any unexpected circumstances. In the end, the Summit turned out to be better than we had expected and we’re both proud and humbled by that. Our speakers were amazing and they contributed towards the success of the Summit.
You had successfully managed to bring India and North America with prized masters? How did you manage timings?
While bringing in speakers from North America/Europe, there is always a challenge of time-zone differences. For any North American speaker, sessions were scheduled for 9:00 am or 9:30 am Indian time, which is about 9:00 pm in California. To us, this was the only time that seemed neither too early for the Asian audience nor too late for the speakers/American audience.
The most touching part was Legend of Indian Animation award to Arnab Chaudhuri…
Arnab Chaudhuri has been a twotime Master at our Summit (1999 and 2016). Toonz has also worked with him in various capacities. His creative vision remains a very integral part of Toonz and the entire creative fraternity. His passing away in December 2019 came as a shock to the entire media community and the loss is irreplaceable. He is a true legend and we wanted to honour him in a befitting manner by conferring the Legend of Indian Animation award this year on him posthumously. His family graciously accepted this gesture. Through this award, we hope to keep his creative spirit and his great work alive.
Who are the Masters that attracted the audience the most?
This year’s line-up of Masters and speakers was excellent and each one is a real veteran in their field. Therefore we had more or less the same number of audience members tuning in for all the sessions.
Will some of the AMS sessions be available online — especially for students and also for practitioners?
As of now, the highlights of sessions are available on the social media handles of Animation Masters Summit as well as Toonz Media Group.
Tell us more about the online education initiative VIZDEM announced by Toonz in the inaugural?
This is an online education platform dedicated to creative art forms. Besides animation, motion graphics, VFX, etc for college level students and professionals; fine arts courses like painting, sketching etc will be offered for school students via Vizdem Junior. This is a joint initiative of Toonz and Bangalore-based Native Puppets – an online animation academy. The USP of Vizdem is mentors who are all professionals or ex masters from the industry and one-on-one mentoring for students. The Vizdem app is being currently developed and will be launched in the near future.
Whether one likes it or not, India will soon have level playing field in policy and regulations for the media and digital platforms. This is very clear from signals left by policymakers in various sessions. After years of dilly-dallying, there will be light touch regulation beyond the self-regulation call by the industry.
NO GO LIST
Technological changes will outpace regulation, so it would be optimal to create a negative list (No Go list). Like how Singapore has done. Outside this list, any platform can function without other regulations.
NO & YES
Many in the industry don’t want regulation (specifically on content) in the OTT space. However, they have no issues with regard to investments, protection of investments, piracy and digital platforms.
The Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, Ministry of Finance and NITI Aayog are on consensus to grant infrastructure status to the broadcasting sector. For this, stakeholders should arrive at a common understanding on what infrastructure will be covered and definition of infrastructure. Once infrastructure status is granted, broadcasters and distribution platforms will be aided with affordable financing options.
COLLAPSED BY COVID
Industry leaders estimated that Media and Entertainment Sector in 2020 will shrink to $15 billion from $20 billion in 2019 because of COVID-19. Around 20% of workforce may lose jobs, impacting nearly a million people.
The film, television and online video services industry in India generated a total economic contribution of $49.8 billion and 2.6 million in 2019, says a report by Deloitte, Producers Guild of India and MPA. The report indicates a growth of 61% in these sectors.
OTT ON DEMAND
The demand for content streamed via OTT is increasing day by day in India. Today, India ranks number two in digital video consumption in the world. With 8.43 hours of consumption per person per week, the second-most populous country is way above the global average of 6.8 hours. Can you imagine Amazon Prime has reach in 4000 towns and cities in India?
Sixty per cent of video streaming worldwide is on mobile devices. The game changer for the media and entertainment sector in the coming days will be 5G. Also, mobile and video gaming will be a huge market in coming years.
MADE IN INDIA
The Indian M&E industry is the biggest in the world by output, with over 5 lakh hours of television content made every year, 80,000 newspapers published daily, and more than 2,600 feature films produced each year – 98% of all these outputs are shaped and made in India.
THRUST ON TRUST
Businesses will have to develop consumer trust in brands, as “trust” will play a major role in post pandemic world. This will require businesses to build social platforms based on freedom of speech.
To accelerate filmmaking and fillip to the Indian media and entertainment sector, Government of India is coming up with incentives in all sectors, including TV serials, filmmaking, co-production, animation and gaming.
It is not OTT versus cinema theatres. But OTT and theatres coexist together. Some of the biggest proponents of OTT are waiting to watch movie in big screen. And Christopher Nolan’s Tenet is their first choice.
Unlike a few countries like the UK, which has done a $ 1.5 billion to the creative sectors, India as a country might not be in a position to do so at this point of time. Indian M&E industry sought help from the government to provide access to capital. The organized verticals within the media and entertainment industry require capital today.
The actors and technicians still don’t feel safe to come on board for shooting. Everyone wants to make a creatively good product. So when we are working on a film, if the creativity quotient is removed and are only constantly worried about sanitization and other stuff and your whole mind is of that, then you will not creatively come out with a great product.
There’s no doubt today that Indian cinema is India’s soft power and that our films are seen in over 100 countries. Thanks to OTT platforms like Netflix and Amazon Prime, it is instantly visible and experienced now.
AROUND THE WORLD
While Indian content reaches 100 countries with streaming platforms, smaller countries like South Korea, Israel, Turkey have bigger media businesses with their content travelling globally. Indian films and TV dramas do not travel globally because of the ambitions set are small. The immediate priority is to focus on India’s content to be consumed globally.
“I’m very fond of saying that my country has as diverse locations and post production facilities. You need only one visa to see it all for tourism and one visa for shooting,” said TCA Kalyani, Joint Secretary (Films), Ministry of Information & Broadcasting, while speaking at the e-FICCI FRAMES Summit
TCA Kalyani, Joint Secretary (Films), Ministry of Information & Broadcasting, said that the government will soon be announcing incentives under the champion services sector. “We are going to announce the SOPs for filming in India and we have got the Health Ministry’s clearance regarding the same,” she added.
Addressing the e-FICCI FRAMES Summit ‘The Economic Impact of the Media & Entertainment Sector: A post-COVID-19 Lens & The Way Forward’, Kalyani said that Media and Entertainment industry has always adopted a host of technological advancements. “We have a huge capacity for domestic consumption. In pre-COVID times, more than 2 million cinema tickets were sold on an average, daily. With social distancing norms, even half that number would be great for starting the business of film exhibition. There has also been a steady growth in content export, investment in production facilities and technology in animation, VFX, etc.,”she added.
Kalyani further said that the pandemic has appended all assumptions of usual business for the global economy, but it has only sharpened the market trends that were already visible before the health crisis, such as the increasing demand for digital services. For the Media and Entertainment industry, this means faster transition to digital mediums and more pressure to compete for consumers as well as for advertisers and subscription revenue, she stated.
She added that the incentives under the champion sector scheme will be open to not only film shooting but also for TV and web series filming. Foreign filming in India since 2016, Kalyani informed, has contributed nearly US $ 64 million with 76 completed productions so far.
“I’m very fond of saying that my country has as diverse locations, whatever you want to see in a film, whether it is the mountain, the river, the sea, the island, the desert the crowds and post production facilities, you name it, we have it and you need only one visa to see it all for tourism and one visa for shooting.”
Speaking about the internet revolutionizing the entertainment sector, Kalyani said that India has enabled digital transformation by increasing economic freedom for the traditional Media and Entertainment businesses to operate. They are also nudging the industry for a better quality of service. The best example for this is that the OTT segment has grown phenomenally during the pandemic, she added.
The Media and Entertainment sector through innovation consistently has the potential to create jobs, especially in new areas of animation, gaming, etc. “The government has allowed 100 percent FDI in film content productions. This sector has the potential to create thousands of jobs including opportunities for the skilled and semiskilled workers,” she said.
Citing the Prime Minister’s India Global Week 2020 address, where he said that India is laying a red carpet for all global companies to come and establish their presence here, Kalyani said that very few countries will offer the kind of opportunities that India does today. “We have opened doors for filming in the country, easing the permission process, a single film visa and we are also going to streamline and facilitate single window clearance systems,” she said.
“The M&E industry is one of the champion sectors, enabling the vision of our honorable Prime Minister to achieve a $5 trillion economy,” she said. “We will be announcing the incentives under the champion service sector shortly. India has enabled digital transformation by increasing economic freedom for the traditional M&E business,” she said.
“So opportunities exist for great visuals, well written scripts and award worthy acting, but what the Internet has taught us is that consumers want every type of story. The government has allowed hundred percent foreign direct investment in the filmic content productions. This sector has the potential to create thousands of jobs including opportunities for the unskilled and semi skilled workforce. The incentives under the champion sector scheme will be open not only to film shooting, but also for TV web series filming and foreign filming,” she said.
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
Addressing FICCI Frames 2020 virtually, Amit Khare, Secretary, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, Government of India, said the demand of 26 per cent FDI limit for news aggregators is being looked into by the government
In order to provide a level playing field to print and digital media in India, the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting is considering limiting to 26 per cent Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) for news aggregators, which have seen accelerated rate of growth driven largely by investments flowing in from countries like China.
Addressing FICCI Frames 2020 virtually , Amit Khare, Secretary, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, Government of India, said the demand of 26 percent FDI limit for news aggregators is being looked into by the government even as the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting believes in playing the role of a facilitator and educator rather than a regulator of the Media and Entertainment Industry.
During the discussion, Girish Agarwal, Promoter and Director, Dainik Bhaskar Group, highlighted that print media and news aggregator regulations differ from each other. His remarks were in the context of the 26 percent FDI cap on print media, which didn’t apply to news aggregators.
Girish Agarwal added that these discrepancies must be harmonized to create a level playing field for print media and digital news aggregators, as well as radio and podcasts.
Khare also invited M&E industry representatives to provide more clarity on the definitions of various infrastructures included in the proposal to give infrastructure status to the M&E industry. Khare said the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, Ministry of Finance and NITI Aayog are agreeable to grant infrastructure status to the broadcasting sector. For this, stakeholders should arrive at a common understanding on what infrastructure will be covered within this definition.
He also acknowledged that digital media in India is growing very fast and changing the consumption pattern and consumer behavior. Citing the example of 11 working groups formed by the PMO to aid convergence between various Ministries to manage the COVID-19 crisis, he said that the I&B Ministry is trying for convergence of regulation of digital content and digital platforms, which currently fall under the purview of the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology.
Technological changes will outpace regulation, so it would be optimal to create a negative list (No Go Zone) of prohibited activities, just like Singapore has done. Outside this list, any platform or medium can function without other regulations.
Khare said, “From the Spartan world of traditional movie marketing, we have now entered a rather sophisticated universe of digital movie making. While looking at different digital mediums is important, one should not forego the importance of personal touch, as the entertainment industry plays on human emotions.”
He added, “Convergence and coordination of various Ministries is mandatory for the smooth functioning of the entertainment industry.”
Stating that there are different regulatory practices for different media such as the Press Council of India for the print media and the Central Board of Film Certification for films, Khare said there has to be a level playing field for all, including OTT platforms such as Netflix and Disney+ Hotstar, which do not come under any regulatory purview as of now.
Khare said OTT is a subject under the Ministry of Electronics, Information and Technology (MEITY), but Information and Broadcasting wants the content part to fall under its purview.
Khare said, “Instead of bringing everyone to the lowest common, the attempt is to have more freedom to all of them. We must try to regulate or rather facilitate the sector. There is definitely a need for a level playing field among the different media.
But, level playing field does not mean getting everyone under very heavy regulatory structures. In fact, the last six years of the present Government has been focused on doing ease of business and having less but more effective regulation.”
Speaking on the challenges being faced by storytellers owing to the fast evolution of technology and digital media, noted Filmmaker Shekhar Kapoor said that both creators and regulators have fallen behind the fast pace of development in the digital media technology, which has thrown a huge challenge for traditional storytellers like filmmakers. He added that the fast emergence of digital platforms keep him on his toes.
An optimist and a staunch believer in making new beginnings, Gaurav Banerjee, President (Hindi and English Entertainment), Star India, who takes creative calls at the network , sees some great opportunities to turnaround the Indian M&E industry during and post COVID-19 while following his Dharma of keeping the fans entertained
The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted the M&E industry in many ways. How has been your experience of work from home during this time?
It’s been interesting and extremely productive. Honestly, I personally feel that I’m more productive than I used to be in normal times. Having lived in Mumbai since 2004, spending at least two hours commuting to work from home had been one of the major challenges. Now I can spend those two hours far more effectively.
The second thing that has kind of helped is that when you go to office, you end up wasting a lot of other people’s time as well. So, if someone needs to pitch an idea to you, they have to travel distances and then there are security protocols, etc, that take further time.
I personally feel that one must spend time in listening and debating an idea. But often you feel that you can get to the crux of an idea and understand it better and do it faster. So, if it is a video call and you can finish it in half an hour and not 45 minutes then you don’t feel any guilt.
But in a physical meeting there are considerations like the person coming in for a meeting has travelled a long distance, and you feel that you should spend some more time to do justice, whereas in a video meeting, you don’t need to. So, I think it has its set of advantages.
But there are limitations too. I spend most of my time in the creative pursuit of great scripts and you sometimes miss the energy in the room. A lot of people, you know, brainstorming together. We’re trying to get that sort of feeling going on, on Zoom calls with colleagues, but it’s not the same thing. And that’s very hard to sort of grasp. I think that is part of the challenge.
Fortunately, I have been at Star for a very long time, as you know, and that is true for a large number of my colleagues as well. So we definitely know each other really well; there is a long history that one can fall back on. And I think that is deeply helpful. At the same time, I also think that when you meet someone new in person that’s a much better opportunity to have a lot more communication and a deeper understanding. So I think that is a fair challenge. But hopefully we would find a way of connecting better and deeper as we get out of this crisis.
From your perspective where do you see the industry heading from here?
I am the person who spends all my time looking at programming and taking a lot of creative decisions. So, I think it’ll be interesting, and it will definitely be different. I don’t believe for a second that the post COVID world will be the world that used to exist before COVID happened. I think we will end up creating something new and something different.
I think the challenge for each one of us—for our companies and for the industry—is to figure out that how this new and different that we create is better. I think that’s what a lot of us are trying to solve. I think there are some challenges which are apparent. First of which is that giant scale physical production is very hard to do in this environment right now and will probably continue to be a challenge going forward. I think companies like mine where in the past we have never hesitated to have a real massive crew and huge set pieces like battles, for example, will shoot and plan it now very differently.
It will hopefully look even better to viewers. But the way we will go about making it will be powered a lot more with CGI. I think once this massive shift happens, it will really accelerate the opportunity to adopt new technology in production in a very big way.
I think the second thing that we are definitely seeing is the advantage of having a deep pipeline—how many ideas do you have in your funnel? How many creative people are you working with? How many scripts are in the mix? How many productions? We’re working together and working across different parts will become very-very important.
Thirdly, I think one of the challenges for us, as as a creative company is, can we do something so that we are not kind of get a little bit locked up in our own loop and away from the larger world and concerns and issues that our viewers face.
The issue of COVID-19 is so enormous and it has affected all of us equally and in so many different ways that perhaps it is not possible to keep it out of our stories. And, therefore, in this there is an opportunity to reduce the degree of deafness that creeps up into a creative industry which is small and is largely still in Mumbai, especially Hindi. How do we overcome that is something that we can do better on.
As COVID-19 is going to be the new normal, how is the Indian M&E sector trying to find new ways to function in this new scenario?
We have deeply contributed to the creation of SOPs as an industry across the board. It’s something that is important, and it’s evolving every day. We are talking to the best health policy experts. We are deeply in conversation with the government and with various bodies like the producers and the artists associations. So it’s a deeply collaborative process. And it’s a process that we have created and strongly participated in.
We want to ensure that we do our level best to keep our cast and crew safe. I think more than any other responsibility, this responsibility is of paramount importance. It’s very hard to do it there. It’s a real challenge as nobody truly is fail proof. There are no textbook on it yet. But I think we can continuously learn from our experiences in order to succeed. Thankfully, we are not the first industry which is starting back again, internationally. A lot of work on this front has happened—some of it in Europe, some of it in Australia. We’ve looked at that and are learning but it’s very hard.
How do you see the Indian M&E industry doing in terms of creating world-class productions?
When people compare it to the global standards, they say that it’s much easier to shoot outside India than in India now. I come from a humble television background, and before that I was associated with news industry. All my work has been in India. All the production that we do for television is in India, which is a lovely country to shoot in. We have, of course, few challenges. But I think if you look across the board, I think those challenges are there in every industry. Therefore, there is no reason to believe that we cannot be a world class production destination. I think our ambition should be to become world class, and we need to get there as soon as possible. But the question we need to answer first is that are we learning? Are we thinking on making improvements? The answer is absolutely yes.
I think a lot of recent shows have set higher production benchmarks than what used to be before. The quality of these shows has started sort of reshaping this agenda in the last couple of years. And I think that’s a good step forward. It puts in face a couple of things—the quality of the talent has become better and a lot more time and effort is going into just writing better scripts.
New institutions, new frameworks have come in, and those are good. They will ensure over a period of time, far better quality products coming through from our country. So we are learning. I think a lot of journalists are a little impatient with us. But I keep telling everyone that this industry is roughly 20 years old. The next scale of development of investments is about three years old. So, be a little patient and we’ll hopefully turn this into something that all of us can be deeply proud of.
People have not watched any of the TV serials since March 17. But soon they will be able to watch those serials again on their TVs. How do you think they will recap and pickup the story from where they left off? What’s on your mind now?
I’m happy that you’ve asked this question when we are only four days away from resuming broadcast of TV serials. So, I don’t need to keep any secrets from you. I can tell you honestly. I think the way we have thought about it is that it’s going to be a re-launch of the shows—all the shows. So whether the shows work or they don’t, is not in our hands, that’s in the hands of our fans and we will humbly accept their verdict.
But in our minds, we were clear that we were not bringing back something that people had stopped watching in March. But we were bringing something new. And we were bringing something different. And hopefully we were bringing something better. So the way we thought about it is that this was a forced season break. And now a new season will start, where some parts are what you really like to come back, and then some new dimension is brought in, which hopefully, as a fan, you find very exciting. So let me give you a couple of examples. On Star Plus, we have this incredibly powerful show called ‘Yeh Rishta Kya Kahlata Hai’, which has run nonstop for 11 years. We launched it in January of 2009. Other than COVID, nothing has managed to stop it. So it’s the only break that the show has had in 11 years. So now when it is coming back, we said, okay, we need to do something totally different. And totally different is that the business family has had a massive problem because of the way their business has got fully stuck with no money coming in due to COVID-19 crisis, and they don’t want to let go of their workers. So they are in a big financial crisis. And to overcome that crisis, they need to find a deal with this person who’s deeply conservative. But this person has now run into some trouble with Naira, the most loved character on the show, who now pretends to have a twin sister just to ensure that this deal doesn’t fall through. So we’re adopting our hearts to the great Shakespeare. And it’s something that has never happened on the show earlier. And it’s again contextual; it’s around what people have dealt with in the last several months.
So that’s what we are trying to do on Kasauti Zindagi Ki, which is another really big show of ours. We are bringing in Karan Patel, one of the most loved television actors of the last half decade as the new Mr. Bajaj and hopefully that casting and the rule and the new dimensions to that character that Mr. Patel will excite fans a lot more than what was happening earlier.
So, those are just two examples by which we are trying to suggest that this is not a restart. It’s a fresh start. Hopefully better than where we left off.
Will that mindset be reflected in other shows running on the network—making people connect with each other?
Hopefully, yes. The last three-four months have given us an opportunity to pause and to reflect and to think deeply about our channels, our shows and our scripts. So, we are excited. I think we have not been able to physically do any production. That has only started in the last 10 days or so. But everybody in the team has been working very hard to think about our game, and how can we improve it. So hopefully after all this net practice over the last hundred days or so, when we come out and play a few shots, some people find it exciting.
So will there be surprises of new shows?
Yes, of course. So we are launching a new show on Monday itself. Anupamaa is a show that we are very very excited about. It is the remake of a show that has done very well for us in Bengali, in Maharashtra and in Telugu as well. So we are bringing it to Hindi. We’re very proud to bring it to them. And it’s a story of a 40 plus woman who is a mother, who hasn’t got all the respect that she truly deserves in her own home, and how she now fights for her self-esteem and respect. So that’s the theme. It has sold really well. The script that I have heard has been outstanding. Let’s see, we have some fantastic actors on the show. So I hope fans really like it.
It’s a great thing in terms of reconnecting with people. People will also be looking forward to it. Not only the young audience, but also sizable fans of all these shows in every corner of the country are looking forward to it, and especially people who are above 65-70 yrs.
Yes, my mother is a really big fan and she been looking forward to this. And I know there are many people like her who keep us in business. We’re here to entertain them to take care of their evenings by telling them a story. So that’s our job. That’s what pays the bills. We’re very happy to get back to that and hopefully we get back to it in a very safe manner.
Disney Star has made the first disrupter in announcing the Disney + Hotstar Multiplex, which is a game changing decision. So, where do you think OTT heading?
I personally believe it is about fans. It is about a man’s deep desire and love for the movies. And I think for the time being, stepping out in a theater is not possible. And therefore, there is an opportunity to make movies available directly at home and you create an environment that makes people want to cherish. And I think we need to innovate and this is an interesting innovation in the crisis at hand in the movies world. There are several such innovations that have happened. So for example, international cricket has resumed in the West Indies and England, and the cricket board and the health authorities have found a way of ensuring that fans and crew are going to be safe.
I think innovation at our end which we have now been doing for the last three months is that we took the entire process of making ads and made it remote. We made making of ads work from home. That’s how we launched Disney Plus Hotstar. That’s how we launched a range of shows on the Star network on our TV business as well as on OTT. Just as the lockdown was starting, we launched Special Ops. Very recently we have launched Aria, both the shows have done really well. And that gives us confidence that we need to adapt to this new world. And a lot of rules and frameworks will need to change, keeping the new realities in mind. And I think the big Dharma for all of us is to entertain our fans, and whether it happens to OTT movies or it happens by the way of resuming content production in our TV shows, or in organizing cricket, or in making big series, by ensuring that promotion and post production have been in a safe environment. I think we’re committed to do our level best to ensure all of that gets done.
India Needs Centers of Creative Excellence
A new India is emerging that is being more ambitious around what can and should get achieved, says Gaurav Banerjee, adding that the country has the resources and the vision to become a leading player in the global M&E space. But he thinks that India would require public-private cooperation in creating a number of centres of creative excellence to achieve this goal. “I think we haven’t done enough in this area as a country and we should do better and we need to do more. We shouldn’t only have one FTI (Film and Television Institute of India) and we should figure out what do we need to do to have such schools in other parts of the country.
The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has marked a steep decline in the global M&E industry leaving traditional media like print, TV and advertising most affected and cinema worst affected, even as it has accelerated the shift of businesses and organizations towards digital, said Mark Read, Chief Executive Officer – WPP
Citing the example of 2008-09 economic recession, he also emphasized that some of the spend that was growing in certain traditional media may not come back. Mark said that he anticipated market cap shifting from traditional to new digital media globally.
“I think aggregate advertising spend will bounce back. I think that the biggest difference is changes in consumer behavior, which I think are resilient. We saw in the US and in the UK, in the 2008-09 financial recession, a massive decline in newspaper advertising, and a big decline in newspaper reading subscriptions, purchases, and that spend never came back,” he said.
Speaking at FICCI Frames 2020, Read emphasized that more things are expected to move towards digital powered by technology. He said that businesses including those in the M&E sector are currently witnessing a shift to digital for “many-many activities”, which was actually started before COVID-19 crisis but has been accelerated across sectors and is here to stay with big implications for office spaces.
“I think one of the challenges here has been that as our clients get used to driving demand through digital channels, they’re not going to go back to traditional media at the same pace and at the same level. So I think that we will see some decline in traditional media, and digital media’s continued acceleration in growth,” Reed observed.
He said that WP is trying to reshape the company by “really putting technology at the heart of what we want to do”.He said that in a post COVID world it would make sense to put together fantastic brands and bundle them together to form some sort of integrated businesses that are more client centric and not organized around analog media channels.
“I think airlines are going to have to think about what they need to do in a more limited demand for air travel. Certainly, I’d argue on a three to five year outlook where I think a lot of business travel, you know, may or may never come back. That has implications for the size and shape of airplanes. Boeing has announced that they are stopping making the 747,” Reed added.
He also argued that every industry has its own course to think through. “Sectors like luxury goods are really starting to think through that are they going to sell online? See, online sales has been a big barrier for luxury goods. Companies in this space believe that you need to have a face to face selling experience to really create the luxury experience. I would argue that the fact that they haven’t been able to sell really at all in the last three to four months, is going to put much more demand on them to think about what is an online luxury experience.”
Highlighting what the major businesses across the globe would be focusing on in these trying times, he said, “I think companies are going to have to start to think and invest more in technology. Interestingly, what we haven’t seen is companies cut back on big sort of transformation and technology transformation efforts.”
On the investment outlook of WP in India, he said: “WPP has cut its expenses in India by 5 percent in Q1. We are looking at average figures for at least three months with 50-60 percent cut in Q2, may be 30 percent in Q3 and a little less in Q4. Although these are not official figures these are based on a rough projection.”
Speaking on the anticipated changes in consumer behavior, Mark pointed out that priorities are bound to shift towards healthcare, physical fitness, business travel, remote working and family.
This, he said, will mean that businesses will have to develop consumer trust in brands as “trust” will play a major role in post pandemic world. This will require businesses to build social platforms based on freedom of speech.