Crystal gazing was what the session was all about. ‘Circa 2010: Where is the Indian media headed?’ – that was the topic under discussion at the exchange4media Conclave 2004 in Mumbai on May 7. But what kept the audience glued were the predictions and ‘counter-predictions’, based on reality and the perception of reality. With veteran media professional Sushil Pandit playing as the moderator, the panel consisted of eminent industry names like Kunal Dasgupta, CEO, SET India, LV Krishnan, CEO, TAM India, Tariq Ansari, Managing Director, Mid Day Multimedia, Ashutosh Srivastava, Managing Director, MindShare India, Amit Khanna, Chairman, Reliance Films and Entertainment and Bhuvan Lall, CEO, Lall Entertainment.
Pandit warmed the session beginning with how changes were a definite constant in media. The first panellist to take the floor was Khanna, who agreed and began with, “Crystal gazing is like walking on the edge. But today, those who don’t do that occupy too much space and the latter isn’t the way to go.”
Establishing the importance of technology for any kind of future maps, he explained that while technology grows geometrically, while human mind grows arithmetically. Hence the mind has not grown as rapidly as technology and that is the dilemma that communication professionals face today. He expressed, “Despite this, in 2010, one definite shift I see is from analogue to digital. The second change is the mass customisation of media.”
Khanna enlisted other changes like the lines between commercial media would get blurred, newspapers would not exist in their present form and there will be personalisation of segmentation as well.
While the crystal ball shone quite bright for Khanna, Krishnan, who next took the dais, presented a different point of view. He began, “Research always lags behind when it comes to a technology related forecast and the simple reason is that research always takes in consumer’s point of view.”
Refuting Khanna’s point, he expressed that 2010, according to him, was too early for mass customisation. He explained that consumers first see how the change affects them and then adapt and so the adaptation process is slow. He said that this would lead to consumer segmentation. Presenting the technological scene, he said, “Our research methodologies moved from ‘Diary Method’ to ‘People Meter’, a completely automated device. There are means to get the mobile consumer today through ‘Watch Meter’. There is ‘Peddle Meter’ that taps theatre viewer. And there is a satellite based GPS meter that actually tracks how many people are exposed to which hoarding.”
Where he enlightened the audience on these forms to technology present, he also threw light on the other side – media dark portion of Indian consumers. He said, “C&S homes are only 25 per cent of the population and looking at the past, the growth pace is very slow. I think by 2010, we have to solve the puzzle of how this can be overcome and ponder more on the digital divide that will be accentuated.”
With this, Dasgupta took charge. He began, “I love crystal gazing as that is what I do all the time. I know what SET is doing in 2009 and another thing I know for a fact is that by 2010, media will go where media players decide it goes.”
He elucidated his point by bringing the importance of investment focus to the fore. Enumerating factors that he sees as drivers of the future scene he said, “Ad volumes will make all the difference. They still constitute 75 per cent of revenues and that is not going to change. Wherever media owners decide to invest that will become the next big thing, whether it is broadband or anything else.”
Dasgupta cited the example of how STD booths in the country transformed from shared telephony to individual telephony in the form of mobiles. He expressed that he saw a similar change in the business of cyber café as well, making that an important point to get the consumers. While one reason for expansion in these areas is the fact that they are affordable to a larger mass now, the same would be the case in the television industry. He said, “In the current age, it is unthinkable to buy a TV set priced at below Rs 1000 but I see that happening by 2010.”
However, on the flip side, he brought problems like right infrastructure and availability of basics like electricity in media-dark areas. Another change that he thinks will come up will be in the form of consolidation and mergers and the coming up of media groups. Expressing that localised channels would be also a phenomenon of the future, he brought to light the importance of content and the major role that it will play for the media’s future.
With this dashboard view from one driver of the media scene, the microphone was passed to another driver clued in various media spaces, Ansari. He began by enlisting reasons why he was not the right person to predict 2010. He said, “Let alone 2010, I don’t know what I am doing for dinner. Second, I do things for passion not because they seem to be the way of the future and third, my wife always tells me whatever I do is wrong. So, I could give you a future list and chances are they will all be wrong.”
Nonetheless, he presented broad directions to a captured audience, “I believe that television will play the most important role in media and entertainment. On the newspapers front, I see two sets: one, who will make money and other, who will manage. The third change I see is in mergers and consolidation. Another area I believe will grow is radio, provided the government has the right licensing structure in place. Action should be expected in the outdoor space as well. And finally people by then will know how to use and get used to new media.”
With this, the issue concentrated more on the changes in media planning with Srivastava. The media guru opened his address, expressing that the past cannot be studied to predict the future because now the changes are all about pace. “From a media investment practitioner’s point of view,” he said, “For me two things are important, content that is news, infotainment, serials, gaming and distribution and format that could be terrestrial, C&S, pay per view, digital cinema and so on. With the increase in tech exposure, one aspect will be the market divided between haves and have-nots. But in the tech savvy area, there will be various forms of reaching the target.”
He explicated that mobile phones would become an important medium to access content and that gaming too would become very important in getting people in various media spaces. Agreeing with the speakers who preceded him, he reiterated that content would play a very important role in deciding media and soon the phenomenon of sponsored content would make its way in the market. However, these changes would not make the traditional media format extinct, hence leading to a co-existence, which would essentially mean massive fragmentation. He concluded, “I see a blurring of content and brand communication in the years to come.”
With this, the last panellist Lall made his point about how interpretation of any prediction played a very important role. He said, “Though predicting is always dangerous, a few key points we can be sure of are that technologies like DTH will grow and more ideas like these will come in place. Another change that I see is in the regulations area, where one will be able to access his people without government’s interference.”
He went forward to say that there will be changes in the research area itself and that present forms would become more robust with the sample sizes increasing. Lall also laid emphasis on content and that going forward he sees substantial action there.
This gave way to a stimulating panel discussion. Krishnan was the first to point the need for alternatives to the infrastructure problem. He cited the example of radio sets that did not require electricity or even batteries to operate. He also emphasised that ways were required to ensure growth even in the lower strata of the economy.
Going further the panelists exhibited differences in opinion. Both Dasgupta and Ansari spoke against Srivastava’s point of ‘commodification’ of media. Ansari vociferously stated, “Media product is not a commodity and we hate it when someone says that.”
While the panelists moved the discussion to the point where it was established that both brands and commodities in media space will co-exist, a point that gained considerable attention from the crowd was that present day content on both radio and TV was similar. In the case of radio, the panelists agreed to this. However, for TV, Ansari pointed, “Differentiation in TV content is a must as that is the only way to lure in the audience. That is more of a fundamental need.”
In conclusion, the panelists brought to fore various advents in the current scenario of the industry that would transform into various realities of tomorrow. The session answered questions and raised many more at the same time.