The first panel discussion at the Mumbai edition of the exchange4media Conclave 2008 provided enough fodder for the television fraternity to mull over the medium's future. NDTV Media is the Presenting Sponsor for the Conclave. With 400 channels in the pipeline, the question really is, what would ensure more eyeballs for the mushrooming channels – distribution or content?
Moderated by Praveen Tripathi, Chief Executive of Hansa Consulting, the panel had a diverse mix from the domain. Opening the debate, Tripathi raised a few questions concerning the value added by distributors and content owners, and also on the growing commoditisation of the content space. In the process, he compared the business with other sectors like FMCG and retail store chains, where the percentage share is skewed towards the owner.
Coming in as the youngest broadcaster among the lot, Arnab Goswami, Editor-in-Chief, Times Now, noted that he was ready for the gladiatorial fight. Stressing that the broadcast industry had to ponder over one main question, he remarked, “Considering the economic growth of around 8 per cent in the country, we have to ask ourselves, is the media industry growing fast enough to be at par with it?” Accepting that there was growth, he replied to his own question, saying that the media industry not growing enough to justify the scale of population that India housed.
“My proposition is that when media grows, it has to grow with associations and affiliations. We have great diversities today, but is there enough variety? I do not want to get into the debate of content or distribution as it’s a facile debate. The question that we have to ask is whether we are creating enough tools for consumer engagement,” he added.
Noting that the digital avenues would be aiding the growth of distribution space in the next few years, Rahul Sood, VP-Affiliate Sales & Network Distribution, NDTV Group, pointed out that this was when content owners would start innovating. “Innovative content has to be created to stay upfront. The scenario is quite similar to the film industry, which started developing content for the multiplex audiences, which didn’t exist a few years ago,” he said.
“Internationally, some of the wars being fought are between telcos and cable operators, and when we speak of triple play, content is just one aspect of it. Most importantly, in today’s cluttered market, if you don’t get your distribution right within 30-40 days of the launch, it will be very tough to make a mark,” Sood pointed out.
Chintamani Rao, CEO, Times Global Broadcasting Company, questioned the rationale of the industry where a content owner needed to sell his content to the distributor to air it, and the distributor, in turn, asked viewer to pay for seeing it. Defining distribution as “being available in the shop and accessible to the consumer”, Rao cited the example of a channel that had dropped its channel share in the last few months despite no major changes in its distribution strategy. “If the consumer really wants it, he will find it somehow. We cannot choose one among the points, we have to choose both. There is a threshold level of both content and distribution, and we can’t do an either-or at the threshold level,” he said.
Kunal Dasgupta, CEO, SET India, took the audience through the television scene from the 90s to the present, pointing out that distributors were hungry for content back then and that content was the real issue. “Over time, we are seeing a herd mentality coming in with a genre of channels launching at around the same time. Looking at the profits broadcasters made, the investing community felt the bubble of media growing and have started investing. Following which, hot money came in and the audience shares of those individual channels that were successful started getting shared,” he explained.
Noting that balance was tilted in favour of the distributors since 2005, Dasgupta added that it would distort further by 2015 and distribution would rule as most audiences would still be cable and satellite, and not DTH. “Cable operators want to collect carriage fees, so they will not pay for digitalization, and as long as consumers want to watch just a slew of channels, they are under no pressure to digitise. To retain the audience, we need content. And, finding amazing content that engages and interacts with audiences is the challenge. I believe, the true war of content has just begun. Initially, I could get away with less than best quality of programming, now I cannot do that, none of us can,” he remarked.
“In reality, broadcast is advertising dependant as of now. Most channels that were making money are now eroding their channel shares, and channels wanting to have low risks have led to content similarity. In the next five years, I strongly believe that many of these channels will not survive,” Dasgupta added.
Replying to question on where he would put his money, Times Now’s Goswami pointed out that there was gross overvaluation of content and that there was too much outsourcing of content creation. “There is too much emphasis on scales of cost of production, and if people want to survive, they have to be very tight with the creation of content and focus more on quality and not the scale of content,” he pointed out.
Stressing that ‘Content is king’, Dasgupta was also of the opinion that broadcasters were not earning more money from CAS and termed it a total failure. Responding to a question on who was going to innovate, Dasgupta accepted the fact that if someone did not innovate soon, audiences would be lost. “There is a social change happening so fast among the younger population. The younger group is bored of soaps. There is nothing clearly catering to the young audience, which is huge in our country. We have to retain them, however, it’s very expensive to hold them as they get bored very soon,” he observed.
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