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Create, connect, and converge for transformational growth

Esteemed dignitaries on the dais, my industry colleagues, ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the eighth edition of the Big Picture Summit – an annual gathering aimed at discussing, deliberating, and decoding policy options to unlock the potential of our M&E sector.

Many of you might be wondering – in your heart of hearts – what is so unique about the theme for this year. Create, connect, and converge are certainly not new terms. They have been used several times in several permutations and combinations over the last 10 years at several industry events. So, I can not discuss only those in the theme address. For me, the operative phrase is transformational growth. Why so? Because this is a very unique time for our industry and for India. Both, the industry and India for that matter are seeing many resets across the board. Our industry is seeing the entry of global firms that have enormous capital, patience, and experience (Disney, TikTok, and Google). At the same time, we are seeing emergence of smaller players, better talent, and balancing of value chain within the sector with all the constituents beginning to partake in the value creation. We are also witnessing a direct-to-consumer revolution, with OTT platforms driving consumption, fueled by inexpensive data plans. Our country is witnessing a rethink on all types of legacy matters – be they matters of national security (Article 370 of the Constitution), society (Section 377 of IPC), economy (Insolvency & Bankruptcy Code), and so on. This reset is coupled with the consumer journey from USD 2000 per capita income to USD 4000 per capita income in the next 5–7 years. For our sector’s growth to be transformational, in my opinion, it has to meet two conditions:

  • The growth has to be more widely distributed within the value chain – in fact it must be over-indexed toward smaller participants, who wield lesser power than their larger counterparts. This will create a more competitive industry with a strong base – one that is more resilient to disruptions. That in my mind is very critical.
  • For example: In the past, writers in India were not receiving as much due credit and value that they are receiving now.
  • The growth has to ensure a rightful share and size at a national and global level.
  • Nationally, we need to move the sector’s scale from 1 percent share of GDP to about 2 percent of GDP like the developed world
  • Globally, we need to top the tables not just when it comes to metrics that measure product output (India is the second biggest pay-TV market in the world, largest producer of films) and audience metrics (world’s largest English newspaper audience, world’s second largest internet user base, and the like) but actual revenue and spend pools (even if we take the most liberal estimates of our industry size – say 26 USD billion – convert that in PPP terms – say USD 100 billion – we are about 14 percent of the US industry, which is closer to USD 780 billion). These are only back-of-the-envelope calculations and there might be some differences when it comes to methodologies, exact numbers, and more. But you can not deny that there’s still a huge differential. In PPP terms, India’s overall economy is ~50 percent of the US economy.

This growth – transformational growth – can be a huge driver of the USD 5 trillion Indian economy.

What is needed for this transformational growth? Any industry’s growth can be attributed to the actions of three main actors – firms (supply side), consumers (demand side), and the policy makers.

India has no shortage of firms. We have many legacy media businesses, driven by Indian managements that are robust and rich. Also, as an open media market, several foreign firms have entered India and tasted scale and complexity. So, we are covered on that front. Yes, there is scarcity of some types of manpower – but with time that will also get resolved. Like I mentioned before, there is no shortage of consumers either. Our content does travel the world. Yes, we are more or less diaspora-focused, and our addressable market comprises (mainly) South-Asian diaspora, but recent successes of India digital originals (Sacred Games scored 100 percent on Rotten Tomatoes) and Indian films (Andhadhun in China) demonstrate that we have the potential to make a global dent. Even if we look at South-Asian diaspora, that is a huge market. That leaves us with the third variable – policy makers. This is where I would like to dovetail the other three parts of the theme for Big Picture – create, connect, and converge.

Policy makers can drive huge impact on all these aspects. To a large extent, we are already seeing action on all fronts. On create, there is a revamp underway of the copyright regime, the Cinematograph Act is with a standing committee in the Parliament; there is some work that needs to be done to create a strong talent pipeline across creative and technical skillsets – the institute for animation and gaming still needs to be setup – but a lot of work is underway. On connect, we have the new NTO which is still settling in – it is a mammoth change – kudos to TRAI for acting on it; there is been a directive on net neutrality, some work happening on personal data protection – the bill is to be tabled soon in the Parliament – a lot of action there as well. Finally, on converge, there is this realization that there is negligible merit in slicing up our sector across different media platforms and regulating them as separate entities as convergence is now a reality – you can watch TV content on an app; podcasts have blurred the line between radio and internet; almost all print publications have a digital avatar, and so on. I think this also means that regulation needs to converge so that there is no scope for arbitrage. For instance, I can launch a digital OTT platform and charge whatever I want – play how many ever ads I want – but when I launch a TV channel, I have to abide by a set of tariffs and not exceed 12 minutes of advertising in an hour, and so on.

More importantly, we need to agree to a liberal mindset with faith in the consumer market’s ability to keep us all disciplined. I want to draw your attention to a conversation I just had with someone from my team – who became a parent recently. Like all first parents, he too was anxious about parenting and all its challenges. I would like to share with you today what I shared with him. I am taking advantage of the fact that this message will reach policymakers – who are akin to the parents of entities like us who are trying to grow. In the late 90s and early 2000s, this concept of helicopter parenting became popular. It meant hovering around your children to swoop in and help them in case they needed support. Over time, this led to over-protective parents, who actually stunted the ability of their children to transition into independent adulthood. The intention of the parents was always good, but it backfired when it came to the outcome. I sometime feel that regulators and policy makers might be making the same mistake when it comes to the M&E sector today. No one is doubting your intention, but the outcome could be different. This might be disastrous if you recall the point, I made earlier; we have the potential for transformational growth. We should not look back later and regret our actions. Over parenting, like over regulating makes it impossible to cut the (umbilical) cord (no pun intended!). And there is no way we can compete globally if we don not cut the cord! What is the alternative then? In the world of child psychology, it’s called free-range parenting. The methodology behind this parenting style is to avoid hovering like a helicopter parent by letting children experience life as it happens. That translates to less anxiety, less stifling behaviors, and less coddling. We need our policy makers to replicate a similar philosophy of regulation for us. Let us be. Let the dust settle. Yes, we will make mistakes. Yes, we will be naughty at times. But we will learn. And that will make us globally competitive. For instance, we’ve just witnessed the most landmark reform in the world of Indian pay-TV broadcasting, ever. Of course, it is not perfect but tweaking it every month and quarter will have disastrous consequences. Maybe, in free-range style, taking a break for say two years – and watching us closely – will be more beneficial for us in the long run. We provide employment (direct and indirect) to over 5 million Indians and can take this to 10 million in 3–4 years, creating transformational growth. Our export potential is USD 10 billion – more than 10 times of what it is today – and we don’t need exhaustive, difficult-to-negotiate multilateral agreements to get there. We just need the freedom to create, connect, and converge. This is totally in sync with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s vision of maximum governance and minimum government.

We have the potential for transformational growth. Free-range parenting might be the key to unlock it.

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