Indian broadcasters should invest in quality content rather than channel placement: James Murdoch

By Anindita Sarkar , afaqs!, New Delhi | In Media Publishing | March 24, 2011
Digitisation can give this creative sector a boost if the Indian players respond to market shifts quickly.

James Murdoch's first visit to India was to experience the Indian culture. Now he comes for business. The chairperson and chief executive, Europe and Asia for News Corporation was in Mumbai for the FICCI Frames held at the Renaissance in Powai.

He started the conversation saying these days India has a new breed of visitor - people who come to see the future.

Murdoch stated that Indians, today, are major contributors in any field human knowledge globally. However, India's creative force is a still sleeping tiger waiting to be awakened.

Murdoch said that the Indian creative sector could be about a $120 billion, and not $15 billion, if it was simply proportional to its size in other economies.

Murdoch feels that digitisation is the key to unlocking the potential of the creative sector. He wants to bring the Indian creators, storytellers, and journalists to the world's conversations. He says, "And this can only be done by ensuring that India's creative market is competitive at home."

Murdoch is an advocate of liberalisation of digital broadcasting. What he means is allowing greater investment as well as greater latitude for innovation including vertical integration of content companies and satellite distributors.

Taking a subtle dig at the cable TV operators for the ever-mounting money charged as carriage fees, Murdoch said, "Money is being spent on channel placement rather than on good quality content and the improvement of the creative sector of this country. Digitisation can give this creative sector a boost if the Indian players respond to the market shifts quickly."

Digitisation has become the need of the hour for the Indian broadcasting industry. This is because, while there are 250 million homes - only 30 million are digital. "So, there is a huge market to be tapped," said Murdoch.

He further comments, "Those who resist digitisation have a strong vested interest in doing so. The lack of alternatives allows them to treat their customers as captives - and reap large profits by supplying, in many cases, undistinguished and outdated services."

This has to change, he affirmed. While Indian consumers are becoming more and more demanding and the need for regional language programming, shopping channels and other niche channels are rising constantly, the analog system in India continues to be a drag.

However, Murdoch also said that accelerating the digitisation of infrastructure will not make a single Indian more creative. Rather, it will give creative people a good incentive to become more productive.

Elaborating on the need for digitisation, Aroon Purie, chairperson and editor-in-chief, India Today Group, said that digitisation has to be made mandatory if the broadcast industry wants to turn profitable.

Uday Shankar, chief executive officer, STAR India, said that the other factors that need to be looked at to push the industry forward are innovation in content, a good delivery system and investments to power growth.

"Also, there is a lack of talent in this industry, which is killing the TV sector's social equity. The problem is critical. Therefore, we have to contribute time to develop talent to give a fresh impetus to the business," he said.

Raghav Bahl, founder, editor and managing director, TV18 Group, noted that digital media and the internet are organic parts of any television news business. "Digital layering of the television broadcast industry brings in diversity - and, this needs to be addressed," he said.

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