#Frames2013: Text of Uday Shankar’s keynote

13 Mar,2013

Good morning and welcome everybody. Secretary Uday Kumar Verma, Honorable Minister Dr.Soon Tae Park, Andy Bird – who has flown down all the way to be here, my dear friend Karan Johar, Rameshji, ladies and gentlemen.

 

I take this opportunity to say that I am honored to be here in my new role as the chairman of FICCI Media and Entertainment Committee. I am stepping into the big shoes of the late Yash Chopra who was a leader of the Indian film industry for four decades. Yashji played a pivotal role in building Media and Entertainment as a cohesive community with a clear identity, and made FICCI FRAMES its most distinguished platform. Your presence here today is a testimony to his contribution. My goal will be to work with you all to further reinforce this community and accelerate the growth of the industry.

 

And hence, the choice of the theme for this year’s FRAMES: “Engaging a Billion Consumers”.

 

A concrete manifestation of this aspiration is reflected in the next big milestone that we have identified for the Indian film industry: to produce a 1,000 crore blockbuster. Celebrating its 100th year, Indian cinema has shown proof of its enduring followership and in recent times has set new benchmarks at the box office. It is time for the next audacious leap. And, there is no better consensus builder and no one more enterprising than my friend Karan Johar to steer this ambitious task. I am confident that both Karan and I will benefit heavily from the sage counsel of Ramesh Sippy.

 

I remain convinced that such quantum leaps are possible across the media and entertainment sector. We all have tremendous progress to show for the last two decades: as a community, we have shown an admirable commitment to enthrall Indians and the Indian diaspora with compelling content. But, in business and creative terms, the Indian media and entertainment sector still remains much smaller than it should be in a country of 1.2 billion people. Our collective and individual ambitions should be taking wings around this big opportunity.

 

I am confident that in the next three days we will come up with big ideas to make media and entertainment economically more robust, creatively more vibrant and socially more meaningful. However, in my view the single most important enabler towards all this would be a strong alignment within the industry, and with other stakeholders in the Government and the policy establishment. Our most recent experience with digitalization is a superb evidence of the power of alignment. Despite many hurdles, the unthinkable is beginning to happen in television distribution, with the first phase of digitalization well underway. As we speak, over 10 million cable homes have gone digital and in the next 2 years, 80 million homes will be digitalized. It will be the fastest digital transition anywhere in the world. How did this happen? It was because all of us within the industry and in the government were strongly aligned behind a move that was good for the industry and great for consumers.

 

But, let me be honest – our experience with consensus building hasn’t been great. Usually, we disagree more than we agree. So, I want to highlight today what I see as the four big problems facing the industry around which we need consensus. And, in the days ahead, I hope to focus my own and the FICCI media and entertainment committee’s energies towards forging a consensus on how we can address each of these challenges.

 

Firstly, media and entertainment is a real economic enterprise not just a vehicle of glitz and glamour. This industry is an economic enterprise like the best of them and is capable of creating employment and wealth much faster than most other sectors and with the ability to be a force multiplier, like it is in most countries. It is particularly relevant in India because it can be an employment generator without massive public investments and without being hampered by the deficiencies of public infrastructure. Just to put things in perspective, as a 15 billion dollar industry, we employ over 6 million people. This can be so much more significant and meaningful.

 

Let me explain this further: according to official estimates, about 15 million people are entering the job market every year while the country is generating only about 3 million new jobs a year. This means that we are adding, as my friend Shekhar Kapoor eloquently put it, a city of unemployed people as big as Delhi every year.

 

And yet, the lens often used to look at this industry is largely one of glamour and propaganda and the biggest debate is on how to control and contain it. As a result, the growth of M&E has not been supported by policy and regulatory initiatives. With full recognition of the government’s constraints, this year’s budget is a case in point. Instead of giving fiscal support to digitalization which can unlock huge economic value, there is an imposition of additional customs duties on boxes and of withholding taxes on content rights. Why would you not nourish an industry which has the potential to become a huge employer? Why would you not fuel an industry that can grow with more policy support than resource support? The time has come for all of us to make sure that it is not just industry status that we seek; it is a fundamental change in mindset.

 

Confusion on basic facts

This takes me to the second big challenge. How can we seek support from the government when as an industry we do not even have the basic facts in place?

 

It is not my desire to add fuel to the debate on TAM. However, it is indeed a matter of concern that the credibility of the most prevalent currency of all transactions in TV enjoys so little credibility. Imagine if the automobile sector didn’t have consensus on the number of cars sold or the railways did not know the number of passengers transported or the tonnage of freight carried. The lack of reliable data is not limited to TAM. In fact, as a TV executive, I am surprised sometimes how I am even able to function. I do not know enough about my viewers – in fact I don’t even know how many of them are there. There are 140 million cable and satellite homes but the measured universe is 62 million households. I do not know how many subscribers I have with a particular MSO and the MSO doesn’t know how many households his LCO delivers the signals to. Same is true in advertising too. The country’s premier media agencies can’t even seem to agree on a fact as basic as the size of the advertising market. One leading agency estimates the total market size to be ~35,000 crores, while the other, equally illustrious, estimates it to be ~29,000 crores. A variance of no less than 20%! I don’t even want to get into projections for next year, where this variance is even more bizarre! The ambiguity in data for other sectors of the media and entertainment is no less. For instance, no film producer seems to know accurately how many people actually bought tickets to watch his film. How can this industry function without a shared and non-controversial view of the most basic facts? Numbers are supposed to be the foundations of rational business decisions but how can we make decisions when professionals in the business of numbers can’t get their numbers straight?

 

Crisis of talent

The third issue that must keep us awake at nights is talent. We have a real crisis on both supply and quality. While it is not unique to Media and Entertainment, what is different is the lack of recognition of the scale of the challenge. While other fast growing sectors like IT and financial services are actively working to find the right talent and building the right skills, we, as a community are complacent in our belief that this sector is different. We hide under the pretense of creativity and have convinced ourselves that creativity gives us the license to be informal and chaotic. It is this informality and chaos that has seeped into our approach to spotting and grooming talent. This is dangerous. We must realize that discipline and formality are not antithetical to creativity and if anything they are necessary ingredients to fostering the creative process.

 

In the last 10 years, there has been a manifold increase in the content we have produced, the number of channels, the number of newspapers, the number of radio stations, and the number of films – but there is not even a nominal increase in the number of quality training institutions to support this kind of growth. Fly-by-night training shops have mushroomed, making the problem even worse.

 

Even in what are considered “established” disciplines like management and technology, the situation is not any better. Not a single premier management institute has a proper course on media and entertainment.

 

No industry without free expression

While these are all big challenges, for me, the most important issue at the moment is the one on freedom of speech. This perhaps is the only major democracy in the world where, after over 60 years of independence, there continues to be a debate on how much freedom can be given to the media. I am shocked that there are still groups and interests who continue to debate on the right amount of freedom that can be granted to media; as if this is something to be granted and as if this is even negotiable.

 

There is a strong positive correlation between creativity and the space for free expression. There is no greater evidence than Silicon Valley that culture is destiny. The Valley’s preeminent role in global media and technology can be directly attributed to the freewheeling culture of the 1960s and 1970s California. So, what is troubling to me is that in a very competitive world, we are questioning the scope of free speech – one of the few real sources of advantage for us. China and Russia are way ahead of us in most areas of business and industry. But we, as a democracy, should be unquestioningly leveraging the democratic advantage that we have over them and many other competitors to become a global media and entertainment giant.

 

What is interesting to me is that we all agree that the role of media is to question the status quo. But with the right to question must come the right to provoke and the right to offend. In the absence of these, there is no debate and without debate there is no clarity. But we seem to be regressing in this area.

 

When Satyamev Jayate points to weaknesses in the medical system, doctors are offended. When Jolly LLB creates a courtroom satire, lawyers are offended. Even when a precocious teenager posts a comment on Facebook, some people start baying for her blood. We are not far from a point where someone’s sneeze or a cough on a television show will be source of offense and outrage for many. What makes it worse is that increasingly the democratic institutions have more patience for those who promote intolerance. It is time for us to recognize that free speech is what is sacrosanct, not the right to be offended.

 

In conclusion, I want to go back to the idea of the 1,000 crore blockbuster – mainly because of the scale of its ambition, how bold and daring it is. Just in the last couple of years we had major Hollywood movies – like Life of Pi and Slumdog Millionaire – where everything was Indian except production and direction, and these went on to become world-wide successes. There is no reason why those movies should not have been made in this country by one of us here.

 

It is that kind of ambition that needs to fire up all the sectors in their pursuit of the next big leap. Today, let’s commit ourselves to this goal.

 

Thank You.

 

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