Aishwarya Ramesh

The changing definition of a media company, post-COVID

The fifth edition of the book, titled 'The Indian Media Business; Pandemic and After' by Vanita Kohli-Khandekar, attempts to explore this topic.

As media, technology and telecom merge into one simple search for audiences, what really is a media company? How has the definition of this type of company changed over the years? How has on-demand viewing changed the way we watch, listen or read? How has COVID changed the way people consume content? Can Indian cinema rise after the devastation that the pandemic has caused?

The fifth edition of the book, titled 'The Indian Media Business; Pandemic and After' by Vanita Kohli-Khandekar, attempts to answer these questions. It cuts across print, TV, film, music, radio, digital and, in the process, takes one through the history, current trends, business dynamics, regulation, and gives a peek into the future of each of these segments.

Some of the themes that the book explores include the state of the media industry in a post-pandemic world, its size and growth potential.

In the introductory discussion at afaqs! virtual book launch event, Kohli-Khandekar, contributing editor at Business Standard, reveals in her presentation that the size of the Indian media industry is over Rs 1.3 lakh crore. It is one of the highest taxpaying industries and employs over three million people just in OTT, television and film business. Kohli-Khandekar also remarks that this is India’s best way of showing its might as a soft power.

To discuss the state of the media industry today, there was a panel discussion that tried to answer some pertinent questions. The panel included Ajay Bijli, chairman and MD – PVR Cinemas; Kalli Purie – vice chairperson, India Today Group; Satya Raghavan – director of YouTube Content Partnerships, India; and Rasmus Kleis Nielsen – director of Reuters Institute for the study of Journalism (and Professor of Political Communication – University of Oxford). The session was moderated by none other than Kohli-Khandekar herself.

She began the discussion by pointing out that the movie industry and theatres had borne the brunt of the pandemic. She says that PVR has tried alternatives like gaming, gourmet food, etc., and wonders what the company is evolving into in this changing ecosystem.

“We’ve always been focused on exhibition only and there’s always been huge headroom for growth in the exhibition space. The US has 40,000 screens, China 70,000 screens, whereas India has only 8,000 screens. During the pandemic, 1,500 screens shut down,” reveals PVR’s Bijli.

He calls PVR an exhibition company, as of now, and adds that it used to earn almost Rs 3,500 crore in revenue. Suddenly in March 2020, it all came down to zero. “Seventy per cent of the revenue from content created for big screens still comes from theatres. It's been a difficult year.”

India Today’s Purie reveals that her company is in the process of hiring and rehiring people aggressively, and also expanding. She sympathises with the tough run that Bijli and PVR have had over the last two years, and adds that it’s time for the healing process to begin for the media industry as a whole – which has suffered during the pandemic. Puri also mentions that she sees YouTube as a newsstand for the new generation, which is infinite and updated in real time.

YouTube’s Raghavan takes this as the cue to join the conversation. “We’re honoured that the platform is now considered a newsstand. YouTube began as a place where people could syndicate content. But the original mission of YouTube was to provide a platform for people, who wanted to voice their opinions.”

He points out that earlier, media companies were gated, with limited access. But now, media companies of the future are open to using the power of technology to seek out an audience...

“With television and newspapers, there are two revenue streams that you start off with on day one – subscription and advertising. Newer media companies have to experiment to find revenue streams that our partners can tap into – we’ve found 10 so far,” says Raghavan.

You can watch the full discussion below: