Showing optimism towards the new government, Uday Shankar, Star India CEO and President of the Indian Broadcasting Foundation (IBF), says the media industry and a developed TV sector can strongly impact India’s employment levels, that too with little investment.
You are again at the helm of the Indian Broadcasting Foundation. What are the top three things on your agenda?
The broadcast industry has done well, within the limitations in the last 20 years, in the satellite sector. However, it has reached a plateau and needs to fire a booster rocket to get to the next level. While digitization kickstarted three years back, the fundamental changes that it can bring about to the consumer and distribution business are yet to be felt. IBF and its members need to take responsibility for dropping the ball there. We did a fairly disappointing job of convincing the various stake-holders.
Somehow, it has just been made out that digitization is for the benefit of broadcasters. Sure, broadcasters benefit but digitization has benefits for the country, that’s the only way the business of media can live up to the promise that it had - in creating jobs and wealth, giving consumers better choice, providing better content for people and even enabling cable operators and MSOs to make more money. It’s a good thing for everybody but somehow the broadcasters and IBF didn’t do a great job of making that case.
With the new government, there is renewed focus on reassessing things and trying to improve them. There is a huge opportunity for broadcasters to go and make a case for why digitization is not just putting boxes and laying cables. It’s a fundamental transformation of the way we look at media and there is an opportunity for Indian media and content, to move from just being a provider of entertainment content, to being a creative industry and play a much larger role in the overall economic vision of this country and I would like to see that as a key role that IBF needs to play.
What are your expectations from BARC? What do you think of TAM in the time of BARC?
TAM in the time of BARC, that’s not for us to decide - that’s between TAM and the government. There is a government position because of which issues have been raised against TAM, now it is for the government to handle it. The matter is in court and it is not for IBF or me to say anything on that.
BARC is coming along fine, Punit Goenka and team have done a fabulous job. Things have been a bit slower than what we would have liked them to be. Some of this is expected, as there are three stakeholders – IBF, The Indian Society of Advertisers (ISA) and the Advertising Agencies Association of India (AAAI) - with different resources, decision-making processes and to be honest, different commitments to BARC.
However, we have laid the foundation for a contemporary, cutting-edge, best-in-class, next generation audience measurement system, which is scalable and addresses a lot of concerns both on the scientificity and robustness of the data that TAM faced and we are hoping to roll out in the next three months.
What are the urgent steps you want the new government to take to aid the Media & Entertainment industry?
The only expectation is there will be a collaborative process of engagement with various stakeholders to see how we can transition media from a propaganda kind of industry that the government has traditionally seen, to a creative art business which is as capable of creating jobs and employment and wealth as any other sector like IT.
The potential of media is enormous and the investment very little. The Government needs to virtually make no investment, very little infrastructure is required besides digitization or distribution. The beauty of media is you don’t need to invest heavily in training people and it can create a large number of jobs. We have only seen the first level of television development in this country but at the regional and local level, we have not even scratched the surface yet. If we were to do that, we can meet aspirations of millions of people and literally create millions of new jobs.
We need to understand and come together with the government and as media fraternity, need to get to a consensus on what this industry can do for the country. I’m sure once there is clarity, even the policy alignment becomes easier.
How big a challenge is compensation in the media when compared to other industries?
Compensation is sectoral and in the entertainment sector, successful companies such as Star, ZEEL or Viacom18 compensate people handsomely. But the talent supply line would be built when everybody as a whole is able to do that and that doesn’t happen. There is a big drop and then you get poor quality talent which impacts the quality of content.
There also has to be an atmosphere of creativity as people don’t enter this sector only for money, they have creative aspirations and we need to create an environment of innovation so that best in class talent could come in.
When Ashutosh Gowarikar came in, he didn’t do so only because of the money, he also did it because he felt there was an opportunity to do innovations with Star. Similarly, Aamir Khan had the confidence that the Star Network is wedded to the idea of creating high quality content and that’s what brought him to us.
What are the challenges you have faced last year and the challenges you foresee in the coming year?
Last year, the biggest challenge was that there was a general atmosphere of cynicism and a damp spirit in the country as a whole. As a result of it, even though our own network and channels were doing very well and we were leaders in most categories, we could not benefit from that leadership adequately because the overall environment was so damp. With the new government, the PM has infused a sense of electricity in the whole country.
Going forward, the challenges will remain that - will the vision of the PM transform into policy initiatives to take the country and to take media to the next level of growth? I get very frustrated that the government and the bureaucracy has made no attempt to tap the potential of media to contribute to growth and development of India. The challenge remains whether that would happen next year.
Will Star ever re-enter the news space?
You should ask the government that, because we were in the news space. We created possibly the best news channel ever in this country and then because of a change in policy, we were forced to exit. Now, unless the policy allows us to come back, that question remains strictly unanswerable.
There have been concerns about corporates investing in the media. What is your view?
Somebody has to invest and it has to be very transparent as to what you can do with that investment and what you can’t do with it. Right now, the transparency is missing. I am fundamentally not opposed to the idea of it. Even media companies are corporate, so why should you not allow a corporate to invest in it? But you should create a level playing field and very transparent conditions that everybody follows. Under the table investments are the ones that create a problem.