Thinking beyond 2020: Viacom18 Group CEO Sudhanshu Vats at CII’s Big Picture Summit

20 Oct,2015



Sudhanshu Vats

Text of the welcome address by Sudhanshu Vats, Viacom18 Group CEO and Chairman, CII National Committee on Media & Entertainment


Honourable Minister of State for Information & Broadcasting, Shri Rajyavardhan Rathoreji, respected panellists on the dais and valued members of the audience. It is my pleasure to welcome you all to this year’s edition of the Big Picture Summit.


To start with, I have a disclosure to make. Disclosures are important, no? Particularly for media organisations. I have been in an extremely introspective mood and therefore what you’re about to hear might sound like a discourse on philosophy. The good news, however, is that I’m going to be extremely candid. It’s always a challenge to address a gathering of this nature. A gathering where leading minds from the private, public and academic sectors converge to paint the ‘Big Picture’.


This event is one of the first events that I attended after entering our sector and it’s particularly close to my heart. If I can make an honest confession, I’d say that I spend much more time thinking about my speech for the Big Picture Summit that I do for other conferences. This time however, I took the exercise one step further. I went back and looked at almost all the speeches I’ve delivered since the turn of this millennium, first as an FMCG veteran and then as a media professional. You’ll be surprised to know what I found! One of the very first speeches I can recall was at HUL in 2000, my former organisation. I was addressing a bunch of analysts and spoke with great gusto about the organisation’s vision for 2020. There were a few more that I made around 2003-2005 – including some at my alma mater – IIM Ahmedabad and I referred to 2020 again as a benchmark year. Finally, since 2012, whichever industry event I’ve been a part of- Big Picture, FICCI, CASBAA, IDOS- you know the grind- 2020 has been the year at which most predictions stop.


This got me thinking. Thinking hard. I wondered: Have my colleagues and I run out of imagination? Have we become too old to see beyond 2020? Has the internet made us all ‘intellectually lazy’?


Trust me, my mind looked in several directions. Finally, the answer struck me. As ironical as it sounds, the future has become shorter. For the sake of clarity, look at it this way: 20 years ago, it took maybe 15 years for ‘x’ number of disruptions, 10 years ago it only took, maybe 10 years for the same number i.e. ‘x’ number of disruptions. Today, it only takes 5 years for the same number of disruptions. So, in a manner of speaking, our definition of the future has become more ‘condensed’.


This very reality has enormous implications for all of us. 


For private sector organizations, we need to improve our time-to –market for new products and services, we need to be able to quickly take aim, fire and reload, before repeating the process.


For the world of academia, the sheer amount of throughput needs to increase. R&D cycles need to have shorter durations and allow for mid-way course correction. Inter-disciplinary learning is another area of focus. Several worlds are converging and academic disciplines should be no exception.


For the government, and Rathoreji can shed more light on this, the public want the entire government machinery to be able to deliver on its expectations, sooner than they did before. This also means that policy roadmaps have to get shorter. Given the complexity of the Indian market, if we can’t crunch these roadmaps we need to at least ensure that we stick to them. The duration of political lifecycles generally hover around five years, now you see news channels looking at one year, 100 days and even one-month report cards! Sometimes I feel that the government faces more pressure from the electorate than public companies face from their investors for quarterly targets!


It’s very important to understand these implications because when the public, private and academic worlds align, magic is created. We talk of USD ABCD billion as a target and so on and so forth. It’s simply a fictional goal post if we can’t get different stakeholders to work together. I understand the theme of this conference is aiming for a 100 billion USD target for our industry, but I’d like to challenge the status quo by asking a fundamental question that I hope you can ponder over these two days: what defines our industry? If our audience is empowered to buy the dupatta worn by Ragini while watching Swaragini on Colors on their mobile phones, how will it impact our target?


I’d like to leave you with a way of thinking that I believe can be applied to any M&E organisation, irrespective of the sub-sector i.e radio, TV, digital etc.. It’s arguably a much simpler definition of our value chain. There are only three participants in this value chain: creators of content, content platforms and communities. Advertisers don’t need to be called out separately as they too are a community. All of these sit on the foundation of a regulatory framework created by the government. What’s even more interesting is that this value chain is no longer, necessarily linear. All three participants can interact with each other in different ways. An organisation’s understanding of where it fits in this value chain has a lot of bearing on the capabilities it needs to build and invest in.


Content creators have to look at nurturing a dispersed universe of storytellers that is talented, loyal and always engaged. Platforms have to make investments in technology that allow them to reach out to communities. Communities are almost the reason as to why most of us exist, whether it’s our audiences or our advertisers. We have to figure out way of getting them closer to one another and developing a constant feedback loop mechanism to make our engagement more fruitful. Most importantly, we have to look at a voluntary, self-regulation framework in terms of what should be allowed and what shouldn’t – for advertisements and content.


Thank you all for making it here today and for your undivided attention. You have invested valuable resources to be present for Big Picture 2015. The team from CII has curated an extremely insightful set of sessions for you. Ladies and gentlemen, I urge you, do take this unique lens as you participate in these sessions. The world of ‘realisable possibilities’ has just exploded. The Future has become shorter and our canvas has gotten bigger. Welcome to Big Picture 2015!


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