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India on track to go digital by 2014: Uday Varma, MIB

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India on track to go digital by 2014: Uday Varma, MIB

FICCI Frames 2012 saw leading industry leaders gather to discuss and debate the challenges faced by the Indian media industry. Issues such as the imperative need for digitisation, self regulation, convergence, etc. were raised. The conference saw stalwarts such as Uday Shankar, CEO, STAR India and Chairman, FICCI Broadcast Forum; Uday Varma, Secretary, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting; and Punit Goenka, CEO and MD, ZEE Entertainment Enterprises Ltd address the gathering.

The highlight of the first day of the conference was Varma’s commitment that the country’s broadcasting industry will go digital by end of 2014.

The digital vision
While sharing his vision for the Information and Broadcast industry, Uday Varma, Secretary, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting said, “We believe that radio and TV play a very important role in transforming a democratic and open society such as ours. The parliament has taken the step towards passing a law for mandatory digitisation of cable TV. Efforts of the auctioning process of the FM Phase 3 revolution have also begun. We will soon see 835 new FM stations come up across 250 towns in India. We are committed to time-bound digital transformation and the whole country will go digital by December 31, 2014.”

Cable is the largest provider of content in our country and the government’s decision to pass the law for digitisation has been received with open arms by all stakeholders. Both, the government and private sector are equally committed to this Public Private Partnership (PPP). He further shared that digitisation of cable TV will not only improve the quality and variety of content but will also ensure transparency and systematic distribution.

“This digitisation initiative is very unique because of its sheer size and the fact that we aim to complete it in less than three years,” said Varma.

Digital no longer a question but a reality
Uday Shankar, CEO, STAR India and Chairman, FICCI Broadcast Forum stated that the industry was at the cusp of what is set to completely transform broadcasting in India forever. He said, “I am talking about the universal digitisation of television distribution. This is a subject that has dominated all discussions at all forums in the last year and I presume will continue to do so for a long time to come. But most of the discussions that I have participated in are still around whether digitisation will happen and if it indeed were to go through, how chaotic it would be.”

Shankar views this as a “meaningless discussion triggered by a bunch of retrograde interests who are living in denial”. He cited some facts reminding that The Cable Television Networks Amendment Act is not the beginning of digitisation. Digitization of distribution is a reality and the 40 - 45 million homes that have bought DTH boxes at some point or the other are a conclusive evidence of that. He said, “As we speak, India may just have overtaken the United States as the world’s largest DTH market.”

Even as the Minister Ambika Soni, Secretary Uday Verma and his team are creating a “structured, institutional framework for shaping this social reality”, more than 25 crore people who have stated their preference for DTH over analogue cable have clearly spoken out that this country is now ready for universal digitisation and the current move is “merely to create a level playing field”.

Shankar said, “To the critics and the cynics who are still wondering whether digitisation would happen, my answer is: Look around, it is already happening and the rest of it is bound to happen because even in this country, it would be difficult to undo such a momentous shift. To those who wonder how chaotic it would be, my response is that there would be some chaos, but chaos is not necessarily bad if the alternative is status quo or regression. When a transition at such a scale is happening that affects the illegitimate but strong vested interest in certain pockets, then there is an incentive to put up with chaos in the interest of the larger social objectives.”

Self Regulation is a must
Punit Goenka, CEO and MD, ZEE Entertainment Enterprise spoke about the future of entertainment, the challenges and opportunities in the times ahead. He said that the future of the industry lies in convergence of various mediums. He also threw light on the critical need for self regulation, especially in the news and entertainment media.

“Today the younger generation has disposable incomes. For them, the preferred choice of medium is the internet and mobile. They demand an experience that compliments these existing mediums. I believe that consolidation will drive digitisation in our country.”

Speaking on self regulation he said, “Regulations need to be aligned with realities. Councils have been set up and norms have been laid out to ensure self regulation in the news and media industry. Though it is early in the day, it is a good start and with time we will see these initiatives evolve and take shape.”

He also said that with digitisation, content will go through a sea change. Our revenue per subscriber is the lowest in the world. But with more touch points to the consumer, there lies a huge opportunity for the industry to get this revenue up. He said that he hopes to work towards the day when new media will no longer be called ‘new media’ but just ‘media’.


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