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Biren Ghose

CEO | 31 Jan 2005

The India brand for animation is just a few years away from getting established and this will happen when we have a universal track record of consistency in performance and promise.

Biren Ghose, CEO, Animation Bridge, is optimistic about Brand India leaving a mark on the global map. Animation Bridge is a business development company that has been involved in executive production and co-productions partnering global leaders in crafting quality animation and building world class brands and fully animated properties in TV, DVD and theatrical movies.

Ghose was COO of one of India’s largest animation studios, UTV Toons, prior to their restructuring the traditional animation services studio. He brings 28 years of varied senior management and marketing experience, having worked in biotechnology, IT, engineering and consumer durables. He completed an AMP at MIT (Sloan School), USA, in corporate planning and management control. He has worked with many blue chip brands, including Usha International, Escorts Niky-Tasha and the UB Group. In conversation with Malini Menon of exchange4media, he reveals the ups and downs of the five-year-old animation industry. Excerpts:

Q. What are the elements involved in creating animation films?

If you look at the creative processes and what it takes to build an animation business, you will find that it is a very detailed business. We are a five-year-old industry and as all of us understand the future of Indian animation, the hard work of building it is now upon us. There are top property shows that have already been delivered from India but there is scope for more. Anyone who has invested in this business, whether it is your money or the shareholders’ money, has to figure out where you are starting from and where you are headed.

So, if you are building a house, you will dream about the house you have. You will go to an architect who would have a draftsman to put this together and that is the pre-production step. And then you will bring a contractor to bring all the people to build your house. And finally, you can sit back as the building owner. These four elements are pretty much the alternative steps even in building an animation business. Do you want to be a dreamer of new ideas and sell formats to different people or be involved in the pre-production stage that would involve the scripting, writing, storyboard, etc.? Do you want to be the contractor who will bring in hundreds of people to roll out the show or do you want to be the owner of that building? These are the generic roles and those who try to do all this in one time are biting more than they can chew.

Q. Where is India in this big outsourcing map?

I would like to point out an observation by AT Kearney, who actually researched on countries like Canada, Mexico, Russia, Israel, Egypt, China and Australia. Considering the entire IT outsourcing business, they actually came up with the conclusion that India was the most attractive country in 2004. The parameters were like this: 30 per cent of it is financial, 30 per cent is environment, 30 per cent is people and 10 per cent others. The point is that India is a very attractive destination for outsourcing.

Q. What are the competencies that the animation business requires?

There are core competencies that any business needs. One is that you must have multiple eclectic viewpoints and look at different business streams. It’s not about getting some work, calling some artists and getting some touch on the FTP somewhere, it’s far more than that.

Secondly, like in any other business, you have to be a humble speculator and take your hunches and lows in stride. We do that all the time and very often get it wrong. Lastly, it’s a game for deep pockets. If you are in the studio business, I think the critical point comes at the level of investment as it amounts to a couple of million dollars. And I think that if you haven’t reached a steady state of three to four million dollars in annual revenues, then it’s really challenging for small studios to survive. Nobody would think of starting a broadcasting business if they didn’t have Rs 60 crore or more. The animation business is also very much on the same lines.

Q. What are the challenges that you faced in your business?

I have worked across the industry and I don’t have a studio, neither do I intend to have one. Basically, I am a developer of original property. The big problem that you face when you go for partnerships overseas is that there is a huge gap between expectation and performance. I have worked shoulder-to-shoulder, investing sometimes my own money, with studios across India with very poor outcome in the last one year.

Secondly, in a business like this, throwing money and adding more people is not enough and this really can’t work because you have a budget in which you have to produce good work.

Q. Is there a shortage of talent in India?

Yes, our talent pool is very shallow. So anyone diving into this business should really understand that if there is a huge amount of quality work that needs to be generated, then we might have to import some talent. There is certainly a need for good talent at a time when this industry is reaching its first phase of maturity.

Q. What is the kind of investment that goes into setting up an animation business?

There are only four or five companies that have spent more than Rs 12-15 crore in some way or the other to be up and running. And for an industry that has so much demand and potential, I believe that this is too small a level of investment to create world class companies. So, we really need to figure out ways to attract capital to the animation business.

Q. How far has India matured in the animation business?

We are reaching a far more mature stage in our price-performance balance. Many companies which are in this business had to pay their dues by actually taking up a project at very challenging price points in order to build a showcase to build credibility and trust and to attain customer acquisition. The good news is that this phase has passed and today these companies have begun to double and triple their revenues with their low price-points. The India that we see is far more mature in the price-performance mechanism. The pipeline in my view is far bigger than the capacity. The India I see tomorrow is not about “how much will you pay to me?” but about “how much will I pay you?” There is a significant change that will happen in the years to come. In fact, the India brand for animation is just a few years away from getting established and this will happen when we have a universal track record of consistency in performance and promise.

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