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Skills that M&E professionals can be proud of are automation proof: Sudhanshu Vats, Viacom18

06-December-2017
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Skills that M&E professionals can be proud of are automation proof: Sudhanshu Vats, Viacom18

For Sudhanshu Vats, Group CEO, Viacom18 and Chairman, National Committee on Media & Entertainment, CII,the fact that digital might be taking over other mediums is not only a provocative thought but also one that could mean different things to different people. 

"I can imagine some of my colleagues from the broadcast sector feeling upset – after all they represent the largest chunk of the revenue and profit pools that make us a 125k Cr to 135k cr behemoth that we are. I can also imagine what some of my younger colleagues who are already social media influencers thinking – this theme is passé, the takeover was complete a few years ago! I know there are others who will be more balanced in their thinking. I don’t want to pick a side at this stage. This topic itself has loads of nuances that need to be addressed – and I’m certain that no definitive side can be picked," said Vats.
Speaking on the impact of digital takeover on human jobs, Vats said, "Digital takeover is likely to lead to greater automation and fewer human jobs. You see India has a workforce of 460 million. As per several estimates, the working age population grows by 15-16 million every year. While we have this massive workforce that’s growing, we also have to remain competitive as globalisation and trade grow. There is also a large trend of automation of jobs wherein machines are being used to perform ‘routine’ jobs or tasks that are repetitive; plus, they can do these in a cheaper and better way. Clearly in the next 5-10 years we are going to see both these forces taking each other head-on. Some people can argue that this will take even longer in India because labour is relatively cheaper and others will argue that it will be felt sooner because we will lose our competitive advantage as developed countries manufacture more without labour. Irrespective of the side you find yourself in, you cannot find fault with the fact that while this fear may playout sooner or later – eventually, it will. Fact is, that Indian policymakers displayed a great deal of foresight by making a reference to Universal Basic Income – wherein every Indian gets a fixed subsidy - in the Economic Survey earlier this year. Personally, I found it very progressive to at least put the issue on the table – contrary to what people think it’s probably more important for India than it is for developed countries because of the sheer size of our workforce. People are debating about its costs etc. but if you think about the government’s success with the ‘Givitup scheme’ where the creamy layer is giving up its LPG subsidies, the cost of UBI could also be reduced with some innovative behavioral economics."

Coming to the M&E industry, Vats highlighted a few numbers as he said, "You see our sector directly employees anywhere between 1.1-1.2 million Indians. In the next 5 years, we will add ~ 1mn jobs, basis conservative estimates, thereby playing our role in assuaging the challenge. If we achieve breakout growth, that number can also touch 5mn. However, I would like to draw your attention not to the number of jobs but to their quality. The skills required to thrive in our sector are the bedrock of most ‘non-routine’ jobs. Creativity, story-telling, emotional intelligence and cognitive ability – all skills that M&E professionals can be proud of are the ones that are automation proof. These are also the skills that can be transferred to other sectors – making us part of the solution. Of course, we too will face our share of the burden. Some roles will be automated – and the media organisation might look very different in 2027 – but our core will still be automation-proof."

He went on to say that the private sector needs to be more ‘creator-friendly’ or ‘freelancer friendly’. This means having the right kind of tools and technology to spot and empower talented individuals and then compensate them in a transparent manner. "We also need to hire more individuals who can help create and leverage these tools and technology. Take for instance, programmers and data specialists. These are not easy to find and retain. As an industry, we need to respect them more if we are to attract them. Industry bodies can take the lead and be evangelists in this space. It might set the stage for all of us to follow. Non-profit organisations and educational institutions need to ensure that the right kind of training programmes are provided that are scalable, low-cost and wide in reach with a quick turnaround time. Arts education, including liberal arts programmes, need to be dialed up wherein students can look at studying music and computer science or film-making and finance," added Vats.

According to Vats, the labour market will undergo several changes and our sector might hold the key to creating a future-proof, agile, dynamic workforce that can take its skills and drive impact across industries

Vats was speaking at the Big Picture Summit, CII's annual flagship event for the Media and Entertainment sector.

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