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Half-full glass of Indian media

Despite abundance in numbers, the Indian media lags behind in adopting technology and spreading its outreach

 Ujjwal K Chowdhury |  2018-03-07 15:36:25.0

Half-full glass of Indian media

"The Indian media and entertainment industry story, the big ambassador of Indian soft power, is that of a glass-half-full and half-empty," Siddharth Roy Kapur, Co-chair, FICCI Media & Entertainment Committee, notes almost prophetically at the inaugural session of the annual jamboree of India M&E Industry, FICCI Frames, held at Grand Hyatt from March 4-7, 2018.

Rightly so, indeed.
Healthy domain growth
The sector, according to the industry status report released by Ernst & Young and FICCI during the event, touched Rs 1.5 trillion ($22.7 billion) in 2017, a growth of 13 per cent over the last year, while the economy overall grew at half of that rate. It is all poised to cross Rs two trillion or $31 billion by 2020, which is a healthy growth. On the other hand, a few large areas of the industry, i.e. print, radio, music, out of home and television: all grew at less than 10 per cent over the previous year, print being at a lowly 3 per cent. Animation, films and digital media grew from 25 to 30 per cent over the earlier year.
Employment @ crossroads
Look at another perspective. The direct employment in M&E sector has crossed one million people, and the total—including indirect and induced employment—is above five million, which is a substantial number; but, it is minuscule in front of the 1.3 billion people strong nation. Further, a huge majority of this number is under-trained and digitally semi or sparsely skilled, whereas the growth of the digital media last year was the highest, at 30 per cent over 2016. The need for structured and formal training in content production, re-skilling of the people already engaged in the industry, and the entertainment business management skills to monetise content across all platforms are all the more urgent today than ever before. Media jobs being non-repetitive and imagination driven, though heavily facilitated by technology today, remains an area which will not be largely replaced by machines and hence, harnesses a long-term job prospect, which is often missed out by learners and mentors alike.
Films fast forward
Look at the film industry which has grown by a very healthy 27 per cent over the earlier year, and stands now at Rs 156 billion(2017), which is still less than half of what the Avatar film earned in all languages globally. While India has produced more than 1500 censored films in all languages together last year, Hollywood has not crossed 700 films, but we have earned roughly 1 per cent of the total income of Hollywood! For us, $100 million income of a film marks the outstanding success of a film, for Hollywood, it is $1 billion! We had around 8000 film screens by the turn of this decade in 2010 and China some 9000. But today, China has crossed 45,000 screens for films, and we are at 9000. Dangal accrued more income from China than in India and Bahubali in all languages together and both parts included has earned in equivalence to successful Hollywood films. Even Marathi and several South Indian language films have earned more than 100 crores each: these being matters of pride and hope. But, low-cost screens in the hinterland are a must. "Dial up the screen density for future growth in the film sector since supply is interestingly, an important vector of demand here," rightly says Sudhanshu Vats, Group CEO, Viacom18.
TV to stay
India produces 16,000 hours of fresh entertainment content for all general entertainment channels together, which is 12 times more than the USA, but in comparison, earns less than 8 per cent of the TV income. We have 784 million TV-viewing people in India, more than the total population of the European continent, but with an income much lower than theirs and opportunities to grow more in a nation-sized at 1.3 billion.
Digital value ads
In spite of the enormous 30 per cent growth of the digital media in 2017, to Rs 120 billion (up from Rs 92 billion in 2016), use of Virtual Reality, Augmented Reality and Artificial Intelligence in the entertainment sector is still in its infancy. Shooting in physical sets, use of given resources and human skills are almost the sine qua non of Indian entertainment content production; whereas globally, AR-VR-AI contributes to content generation massively, drastically cutting down upon human interference and costs.
Media: The force multiplier
We are all aware of the force multiplier impact that the media and entertainment sector has on the other sectors of the economy like tourism (e.g. Ladakh after 3 Idiots), fashion merchandise, retail sales, mall sales with multiplexes, etc. Tourism is already an industry valued at $150 billion and the media fuels the same. Media has seamless linkages with e-commerce. However, the potential in all of these has not yet been adequately exploited.
Industry's self-introspection
There are several things that the industry itself can do to strengthen its reach, impact, business and engagement of audiences. First, it has to realise that collaboration is a better strategy than competition. Also, the industry has to bring uniformity, when facing the government, when combating attacks from fringe elements on itself, and when upgrading its standards. Second, each media platform or initiative needs to learn to have some unique positioning, specialisation and focus. Third, the industry must awaken to measurements, accountability and big data analytics, especially in the rising digital age. Approximation and befooling audiences and advertisers, and data-fudging shall be matters of the past. Fourth, an immense quantum of collaboration with youths will be needed.
Government as game-changer?
On the other hand, the government can become a game-changer too. And the biggest aspect in it is the commencement of e-enabled time-bound single window clearances for events, licensing, varied content production permissions, et al, on which the Niti Ayog is currently working with support from the industry. With the data-prices falling, the digital access to entertainment and information content has grown tremendously and audio-video consumption experiences should be further enhanced with the upcoming 5G connectivity. But, for that, the process of auctioning the 5G spectrum, facilitating the ease of doing content and digital business needs a major push from the government at the Centre. Policy paralysis to uncertainty has often plagued the industry. Since demonetisation and GST implementation, there has been a twin attack on the media economy, its industry status now needs a strong fillip from the government to gain lost ground, credits, outreach and credibility ahead.
Quest for positioning
The Union Minister for Information & Broadcasting, Smriti Irani, interestingly noted in her interaction at the FICCI Frames, that the Indian M&E industry should not compare itself with Hollywood and China (except for business numbers), but should position itself uniquely with its story-telling skills and by hosting the largest media consumer base in the world.
Re-imagining the future
The sector must now reimagine itself, in digital language and space more particularly, to create a global capacity by going beyond the domestic market and the NRI-PIO circles (just as seen in the case of Dangal or Bahubali). The media can be the true-blue Make In India success-story with stories, people, technologies, places and force multiplier synergies with other sectors of the economy: all being here and now in India.
(The author is Head, School of Media, Pearl Academy, Delhi & Mumbai. The views expressed are strictly personal.)

Ujjwal K Chowdhury

Ujjwal K Chowdhury

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