Sohini Sen

TV.NXT 2014: "One-size-fits-all can't be the mantra going forward."

On Day One of TV.NXT 2014, broadcasters and programmers discuss if they really are future ready.

The empires of the future might just be built online. And if that is what the future holds how can one ignore the topic of online video consumption? Day One of afaqs! TV.NXT 2014 saw stalwarts of the broadcasting and programming industry discussing how the growth of bandwidth, internet penetration and devices has impacted the industry. And whether it is truly future ready?

TV.NXT 2014: "One-size-fits-all can't be the mantra going forward."
Chairing the session was John Medeiros, chief policy officer, CASBAA. The panel consisted of Anupama Mandloi, managing director - India, Freemantle India Television Productions; Sanjay Gupta, COO, Star India; Raj Nayak, CEO, Colors; Nachiket Pantvaidya, senior executive vice president & business head, Sony Entertainment Television and Sameer Nair, group executive officer, Balaji Telefilms.

Medeiros pointed out that India and other parts of Asia are growing fast online. India has a dynamic and effervescent media industry. But is the industry ready to take on the challenges? Mandloi of Fremantle India TV Productions explained how, as a production house and licensing company, they use the digital platform to hunt for talent. She put forth her point with the example of young Akshat, whose audition video for India's Got Talent went viral online, being invited for the Ellen DeGeneres show. According to Mandloi, this global show of talent wouldn't have been possible without the digital medium. She further used the example of how Swedish Idol uses break time to connect judges and participants with the viewers, often generating more audience interest and support.

Nayak of Colors agreed that the opportunities digital gives are immense. However, he feels that as broadcasters they have not done enough in the digital medium. "At every press conference we are asked: 'Are you future ready?' What is future ready, really? When the future is something that is changing so fast, we have to embrace the today to be ready for the future," explained a jovial Nayak.

He went on to add that Colors used the digital medium often as a marketing platform for its shows. But now the question has changed to how the medium can be utilized to reach more people. In the process if a show gets promoted, then it is an added bonus.

According to Gupta of Star India, broadcasters aren't about delivering on screens. They are the storytellers and that story can be told in whichever screen the audience chooses. Gupta explained that while in India people spend only three hours a day in front of the TV, in US that number goes up to six or six-and-a-half hours. The single screen home of Indian families is often looked at as the problem. Gupta felt that the digital medium, with its new screens would act as the second screen in these single TV households. However, Gupta felt disheartened by the fact that, in India, no one has done anything to make it easier for viewers for watch videos online.

Pantvaidya of Sony Entertainment raised the question about monetising the digital medium. In a nation that is already suffering from attention deficit disorders, it is imperative to create content and keep the viewer's attention. Nayak agreed that broadcasters took the easy way out by letting external digital players create the digital content.

Any new technology will feed off the existing content. This, Nair believes, helps them build scale. Balaji Telefilms often uses the digital medium for R&D and brand building. But he feels that it is a highly undervalued business at this point of time. "The mobile business ruined the model for content sharing. Hopefully the future technologies that come will not be the same," he expressed.

Digital dilemma?

The panel also discussed the issue of undetected piracy and the threat it poses to the industry. According to Gupta, Indians get enamoured by technology easily and, therefore, cannot tackle the rampant piracy that pervades. Piracy, said some of the panelists, takes place only because content is not valued. Nayak believes that this happens because broadcasters are giving the content to people instead of thinking up ways to make it available for the viewers. He used the examples of how and ErosNow have become popular free music and movie viewing apps. And yet, broadcasters have not taken any substantial initiative in this regard.

Pantvaidya countered Nayak by pointing out that Indians have never been repeat buyers. Online TV shows have not been given the opportunities to grow. But the music industry is something that has grown by leaps and bounds as consumers often, even after watching a movie, prefer to listen to the songs on their handheld devices. But he also understands that content that is exclusive will get watched - on any screen. And if it is online, people will pay and watch it. He used the example of Netflix's House of Cards to show how simple, but exclusive content can be a key driver in the scaling up process.

But will they be able to charge a fair amount if their content goes on the digital platform? Nair stressed that making sure of a fair share is important before moving to a different medium. But, according to Gupta, it is necessary to make the move soon. "The number of hours spent on watching TV has not grown in the last five years. Who is responsible for this? We are! If we do not address the diversity, and do not invest behind the medium now, we will be in the same position even 10 years from now," Gupta warned.

Nayak opined strongly that it was a mistake to postpone digitisation. He tried to explain that the faster the change happens, the more beneficial it will be for broadcasters and users alike. Pantvaidya brought up the issue of cannibalisation and the irrational fear broadcasters have of the phenomena. "We do not stop launching new channels because of cannibalization, so why worry about the same when it comes to a different platform?" he asked. According to Gupta, since a 14-18 per cent growth is on the cards, cannibalization is not a worry.

To sum up, the panel decided that one-size-fits-all can't be the mantra going forward. Change is evident and niche content must be created. Broadcasters must also be proactive and aggressively invest in making their digital platform a stronger tool to reach out and connect. While screen sizes can change, the content will still be king. The panel hoped that there will be a co-existence of mobile and 70 mm screens and that the data cost will become more affordable with the help of telcos, or with the intervention of the government.

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