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Reliance Entertainment CEO Shibasish Sarkar: How business runs amid the pandemic

Even during the pandemic, when many businesses remained closed, entertainment business continued to stay up and running. One of the major production houses of India, Reliance Entertainment, took the opportunity to expand digital content across genres, CEO Shibasish Sarkar says in an exclusive interview.

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Sarkar says paid subscribers have grown over the past one year, adding that the pattern is such that the audience base will be on the rise for some time now. “From the Indian point of view, I will not be surprised if digital content crosses film reception in overall numbers of media entertainment industry. It is great. At an individual level, it (digital content – film and shows available online) helped me spend time at home for so many months (during the lockdown). At a time, every news was depressing, digital content offered me some relief. As a company, of course we had a larger audience to cater to,” he says.

“Digital platforms did great service to humankind. They ensured certain level of mental balance when people could not step out. Imagine what people would have done had there been no digital content during this pandemic induced lockdown,” he adds.

Growth of digital media over next one year
Sarkar predicts forty percent growth for digital revenue in the coming year – from digital content, gaming as well as advertising for his company. “Gaming will also grow significantly – disproportionate growth happened in past one year. Most other segments will be in 2018 growth level in current year but digital will continue to grow tremendously.”

Focus for Reliance Entertainment
Reliance is generally considered a production house, but Sarkar shares how the company provides wholesome entertainment, and gaming is a major part of the company’s work as well as revenues. “(In the beginning,) 95% of our business used to be films (production as well as distribution) but for past 24 months, non-film business have contributes to 35% of my revenue.”

“We are also into animation . We have created IPs of popular film characters and created animation franchises. Simbaa, Singham, Golmaal and all are successful franchise. (The animated versions, as cartoons on kids’ channels), they are all top shows on various channels,” he adds. He also says that venturing into TV shows in regional languages has also paid back well.

He also opened up on the rather new field that Reliance Entertainment ventured into – merchandising. “We also have merchandising business. We recently launched 83 Belief, around the Kabir Khan film starring Ranveer Singh in the lead role of Kapil Dev. We created several lines of products. Unlike marketing of a film, this one is a dedicated business, beyond the film. This is a topic and brand that can outlive the film – the event of 83 victory of Indian team at ICC was somewhere like Independence of India for Indian sports. Not every film will qualify for this. Only popular franchise film can be feasible for something like this.”

New set of guidelines for digital content – pros and cons
Regarding the new set of guidelines and self-regulation that was announced for digital content, by the central government, Sarkar has a mixed response. While he believes that it is best to have a set of guidelines, especially in a country as culturally diverse as India, he also insists there must be freedom of expression.

“(Earlier) For films, even after the censor certificate, people would approach courts and based on the verdicts, things would change. What we would like to see (as production company), with new guidelines, is an ecosystem where creators have their own guidelines and self-control. Just so that they know what to say and what not in their content. If there has to be dos and dont’s , we need to be clear what are those. As creators, we need clarity on that.”

He refuses to be skeptical of the guidelines even before they come in force. “I will not start suspecting from day one. Now that guidelines are there, we need to give it a chance if they will work. I am sure there will be teething problems and down the line, we will face problems. At least we start somewhere, I am a strong supporter of freedom of expression for the creator, but it is difficult to balance where your freedom of expression encroaches on someone else’s . Over past one year, we have also seen non-uniformity in judgement in such cases. I think, even as a staunch supporter of freedom of expression, I believe it is better to have a set guidelines.”

On the front of movie release, Reliance Entertainment has quite a lot on the slate. It includes Kabir Khan’s 83 to Akshay Kumar-starrer Sooryavanshi and Ajay Devgn’s Chanakya, among many others. Hindi remakes of south hits Vikram Betaal and Kaithi are also in the pipeline. Forbes

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