OTT – the new normal

The entertainment world is changing at a very rapid clip. With the launch of the Disney+ service the world of OTT is truly coming to the fore. With its bundle including Hulu and ESPN for sports it surely is great content package at a attractive price. The market will also see launch of two other OTT packages being launched soon one with HBO as integral part and the other being the CBS/ Viacom offering. In addition we have Amazon Prime, Google as well as Apple Play. Stage is therefore set for a very interesting and a bruising next year where Netflix is likely to be challenged like no other time. Traditional platforms are taking a backseat for time being.

India which rapidly increased its offerings in the OTT play is also likely to see significant activity. If one is to believe a recent survey Disney owned Hotstar owns pride of place on the top having 40% of the market with Amazon and Netflix bring up the next few aspirants. There are a host of other players – Voot, Zee5, Sony Liv, Eros, Mx player and Jio as a consolidated play soon in this space. Many others are in the planning stage. Presently with Sports content specially cricket Hotstar and Sony Liv seem like preffered OTT plays. But things can change…

Content and AI capability will possibly be determinants as to who wins the platform game. But guess who is already the winner? Yes – Content and Content Providers are the real winners. With billions of dollars being planned for acquisition of content there has not been a better time to be in content business.

The other winner is us – the Customers! Hold onto your seats as you are in for best of content that will be on offer. You have a choice befitting a king and with a reasonable cost.

Ofcourse there will be some losers as there are in every sphere. The traditional cable companies and DTH player seem to be now but there will be more. The peak tends to be narrow and only a few will get there. For now let’s enjoy the ride!

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Why it’s not ‘News’

Electronic medium has not been very kind to the business of ‘News’. There are roughly 200+ channels in probably all mainstream and regional languages on the menu of the Indian consumer today. Consumption of news is growing and yet a significant number of them face challenges, in terms of content choice, distribution and finally economics.

News ,the mainstay of Print media,has always been advertisement dominated with a very small subscription charge which was largely to cover distribution costs. The broadcast version followed a similar model with all the channels being advertisement led. With more channels in the fray most of the channels have difficulty in covering distribution costs which is largely placement cost in key markets where they expect to be seen. The  viewership is essential to attract advertisements. Also unlike Print medium, English is not the preferred mode of consumption and the preference is more for Hindi or regional languages,therefore the offerings being more vernacular led. In addition the TRP system for Ad rates, has not been kind to the News offerings. Broadcast model therefore has had and continues to have challenges as a profitable model. This in turn has affected the the quality of content which in some cases has been reduced to the lowest common denominator in order to attract viewership and hence advertisement. The rise of the online and digital delivery medium is further hastening the demise of the broadcast model. Clearly very few channels are surviving on positive cash flows  from normal business cashflows but rather from strong backing of either business groups or political interests who want a voice to be heard though not necessarily a fair voice! News will survive but whether the broadcast version will survive in its present form is the question?

‘News’as a genre is per a general view is not going anywhere. It’s distribution formats may have changed  from print to electronic and now digital but its consumption continues to grow. Print still continues to grow as well as sustain in India and electronic broadcast news will also be there. The ability is then to choose and present the right content for the right distribution format. While there is lot of talk of anytime, anywhere content and personalisation the appointment viewing is still very relevant. It’s good to go back to your content and see what can be categorised as Breaking news and what is more detailed,what is entertaining and finally what is an opinion. Each of these types may be good for a different type of  distribution and a future news company needs to have all the mediums at its disposal. All these different types need to feed into a single brand where some content is free to air and some on subscription.  Lastly the ability to present content free from apparent bias is the key regardless of balance sheet or other requirements.

‘News’ is too important to be no News!!

Changing Dynamics

India is one of the very few countries which boasts of a thriving M&E marketplace. We have local content, distribution and are technology proficient. The M&E marketplace has also grown and has high growth potential for the future. That is the reason India has always been attractive to the Hollywood fraternity though their success has not been complete. Guess it has to do with understanding the palette of Indian consumer and acceptability of such content outside India to Indian as well non Indian diaspora.

However there is now a subtle change on the horizon. Coming of age of the OTT’s and conscious type of content sought to be created is certainly creating a market which will go beyond Indian shores. Hollywood studios have discovered their mojo as has been with the success of last instalment of ‘Avengers’. More will follow surely.

More important change is also the fact that India is mass of humanity which being linked with cheap internet is prime market for all key consumer activity. Creating and distributing content for this market is key for some of the large consumer as well as social media giants. Lastly dubbed content regardless of origin is beginning to find acceptance taking away the isolation of the Indian consumer.

Brace yourself for a changed market not only for consumers but also for local industry. We need to inculcate a world vision, a possibility of much larger budgets and good stories which transcend borders. If the Indian Industry does not counter and make itself relevant, Hollywood will!

Interesting times ahead !!

Entertainment Content- always a winner

Content and more specifically entertainment content has always enjoyed a large following across the world. Such content though enjoyed through different mediums across times holds one’s attention and therefore has been key to sales of products, ideas and concepts. It has been used since time immemorial as a bait for congregation of communities upon which sales strategies have been built.

The world may have changed but the importance of entertainment content has not changed. In today’s tech enabled environment you still need good entertainment content as a reason for congregation for sale of a concept. Disruption is evident in almost all areas of our existence but what has not changed is good quality entertainment content!

This in part explains why the likes of Apple ( sale of equipment ), Amazon, Microsoft, Google are getting into content. One difference though with regard to budgets behind ,the same being huge. Congregation, experience and good content are the key words though the medium of delivery will continue to change.

Content owners and producers like ‘ Disney’ have everything to play for. Question to ask is how they play in this changed world? Tech players though good facilitators are not creative players and at the moment they are on course to own every facet to their strategy with their money power!

Heart says that Independant Creative content producers are a necessity but then the reality about to unfold may be different. However ‘ Entertainment Content’ is not going anywhere..

CONTENT – the new thought process

  

Content was always King and of recent times is the key thought process for business strategy of the future. The reasons are many primary being the technological advances in the distribution platforms and the humongous investment required to really succeed in a platform business whether it’s a broadcast network or an OTT. The key to success is increasingly being recognised as the ability to distinguish oneself which is largely through distinctive ‘Content’. Its distinctive content through its development and ownership which will provide value to enterprises over a long period of time. Not to say that distribution and platforms will lose relevance but they are subject to change and that too rapidly as we have seen in the recent past while Content seems always in demand.

Platforms both outside as well as in India because of their distribution muscle invested very heavily in content. Platforms and content therefore became synonymous leading to the demise of independent content owners except for a company like Disney which over the years has proved as to how best Content should be monitized. It continues to be among the highest valued companies in the entertainment space largely due to its content IPR’s. Time has come to unbundle the content from the platform and that many believe will be the saving grace for the entertainment businesses.

However it’s easier said than done. In India for example most of the content producers are either film producers or content contractors who produce content on a cost plus basis either for the local TV networks or now the OTT platforms like Netflix or Amazon. Film content where content ownership is common has inherently better quality than the TV content.Content with the IPR rights without being pre sold is considered a huge risk and expensive. Even the biggest content producer Balaji has been very cautious and selective in producing such content. Therefore the content which is produced is rarely exceptional as it caters to the lowest common denominator which attracts the advertiser. While everybody understands that this has to change, is there then an effort being made toward this objective ? My sense is that yes but very slow. Applause Entertainment headed by Sameer Nair is making that change and his future success will probably set of a trend.

Content and quality content requires investment in story writing talent and marketing as well as syndication ability. These skills along with cash investment can then change the way entertainment assets are built. There is lot of interest at the moment but not adequate investment. Hopefully the future will change!!

CHANGE IS IN THE AIR………

It’s not only the year that is about to change but the whole paradigm of Entertainment business where change is imminent! We and many others have spoken about this in the recent past but the pace it is happening is certainly a surprise. Entertainment and Media businesses were rather simple businesses largely relying on content and funded through either subscription or advertisement. The business model lasted many decades till the strides in technology caught up and changed it irreversibly. Technology made it possible to consume content in any form, anytime and anywhere. With new capable devices and mobile the modus operandi of consumption had changed forever. However what has lagged behind is the ways and means of monetising that content which is benchmark of economic performance of all such businesses. It is changing now though understanding this change and recreating business models is challenging to put it mildly!

It is not only the business model that has changed, the change also becoming apparent in rise of new kind of Entertainment giants who it looks will dominate the Entertainment and Media Industry for the future. The holy grail of entertainment companies is rapidly being replaced by a new breed which is flush with funds and is very capable in technology. Whether they are content giants like Disney or distribution giants like Comcast or AT&T, statuesquo has ceased to be an option as they plan for the next decade. Their imposing size, their domination of access, their libraries, are all under threat. They are all on a sharp learning curve and their actions demonstrate that they still do not understand the impact of all these changes. Some are vertically integrating for size while others for content and some consolidating across markets. Is this going to be enough??

As we try to answer that question, one needs to understand the change. One fact which is apparent is that our consumer has changed. He is mobile, a little lazy, more connected, wants everything free and is interested in experiences. The changes in technology has given him the taste of what is possible and he wants it. Also his regular haunts where he congregated ie a movie theatre or a TV screen for that matter have also changed. His regular haunts are now the social media sites or the search engines or the e-commerce platforms which now interest him. Therefore this new consumer definition has a new service provider in the form of Facebook, Amazon, Google and Netflix. These providers have cash, are not in a hurry to make money and provide the ideal congregating ground. This what the traditional companies are up against.

Very difficult to say as to what strategies each of the companies will take to meet this challenge though one thing stands out. There is going to be a continuing and substantial demand for CONTENT! That’s possibly where lies the salvation of the Entertainment companies – what do you think…..??

CONTENT – Is it still King?

Content has been and will be at the heart of Entertainment or Media businesses. The business models for these businesses have always been about monetising the Content. Though Content is still the heart or the key product of these enterprises, it’s form has undergone a change largely because it’s distribution as well its modes have changed. Video now is the preferred form of content, largely because it’s distribution is possible worldwide through advances in technology manifesting itself in the Internet reach. With wireless technology and mobile devices content can now be consumed at anyplace and anytime. This in a way has increased reach but the industry still has to come up with a way to monetise this reach. Also some of the older methods of distribution are bordering on the extinct specially the Print industry while current models on satellite as well as fixed time viewing are also under threat. In other words, E&M businesses worldwide need to rapidly  change to safeguard revenues and adopt the new world order.

The other significant change in the E&M world is the rise of tech companies who initially started as the necessary adjunct for the distribution of content but have now become not only distributors but key buyers as well as producers of content. Also since some of these companies are social media giants or key device makers or large online retail enterprises,they have natural congregation of communities which in turn is fueling their quest for Content to attract customers. Not only are these companies making as well as acquiring content but are slowly becoming reservoirs of large advertisement revenues in the digital world which was once the preserve of the large entertainment and media conglomerates. Nothing demonstrates this better then when you look at the market caps in today’s time when a Google and Apple is valued at $1 trillion while the largest of the entertainment giants do not go beyond $200 million. However Content is still key for their survival.

In the changed word order, one can reason that for the Entertainment Companies even with the onslaught of tech giants,Content remains their key survival plan. Premium exclusive content is still and will always be a winner. It is the only arsenal to be close to the customer. While advertisement may take a hit, subscription is the way to go. Success of Netflix is the case in point. One can conclude that ‘Content like always will be King’.

FICCI FRAMES – a Partnership Extraordinaire

The nineteenth edition of ‘Frames’ concluded last week in Mumbai. While I could not attend it this time, with all that we read in the press , it seems like always to have been organised well, attended well with a generous presence of the industry, the government as well as the partner countries. ‘Frames’ and ‘FICCI’ have had a special relationship with Entertainment & Media industry in India, and have been significant in bringing to the fore to the world as well as India, the business potential of its greatest expert ‘Bollywood’. It enters its 20th year soon and to me who has been involved with it for some length of time , its good to discuss its importance to the ‘Entertainment & Media  Industry’ in the past , its relevance in the present and do a little dip stick for the future.

The Start

Early Nineties saw India opening its doors to the world for doing business. By initiating one of the most significant reform process, India opened the door for foreign investment to a large number of sectors barring a few, resulting in a large interest by the International community looking for growth as well as new markets. The more organised business sectors like Manufacturing as well as Services led by IT were the first to take advantage of this liberalization. Sectors like Entertainment & Media which at that time largely consisted of Print and Films and to some extent music could not take advantage due to restrictions on ownership as well as being an unstructured industry with very little   information. Advent of ‘Satellite TV’ in the mid-nineties, which now is around 50% of the industry prompted the change in regulation to garner new investment in uncharted but very promising new territory. FICCI as India’s premier trade body through its Director ‘Amit Mitra’ (now the Finance Minister of West Bengal) and the E&M committee having as its chairman Mr Yash Chopra, Mr Amit Khanna and other E&M Stalwarts realized that in order to attract investment India needed to showcase its market potential, talent as well as potential partners to the investment world as well as E&M world leaders. ‘FRAMES’ was born out of this thought process and need.

Journey Thereafter:

‘FRAMES’ eversince instituted and even today remains one of the best events for the Entertainment & Media Industry in India. It has consistently reinforced its founding objectives which primarily was to be a forum/ platform  for :

  • Showcasing the Indian E&M industry potential to the world.
  • Showcase Indian talent and services
  • Showcase new innovations in the industry.
  • Promoting partnership between Indian companies and companies in developed E&M markets.
  • Industry information of its different variants as well as their growth potential through FICCI FRAMES annual report.

   Each of the key E&M companies both Indian as well as International have been a part of ‘FRAMES’ and almost all of the service providers/consultants have helped develop the information that FICCI FRAMES helped create as a benchmark for the industry and its constituents. Each of its event editions (including regional) over the past 19 years have had top government involvement, excellent discussion formats with world experts and have helped discussions on many of the partnerships which developed over this period. It has also provided the industry constituents the platform to have a constant dialogue with the government on the changes which this industry faces everyday.  It was always a priviledge to have one’s name in their annual report and to be part of their inaugural session as well as their other sessions.

Despite all changes the difficulties it has persevered and one needs to congratulate the continuing FICCI team behind this endeavour.

The Future:

 The Entertainment & Media industry worldover is in the throes of a major change. All accepted business models are under threat and the very existence for some of them is under question. Therefore a concept like’ FRAMES’ still hugely important but its objectives need to change with the times. Closer linkage of technology with entertainment becomes paramount when your distribution is likely to be technology led and Artificial Intelligence (AI) is likely to be playing a significant role in the future. ‘FRAMES’ need to evolve to the following.

  • being a premier platform for showcasing new trends & technology in Entertainment & Media Industry.
  • being a key interlocutor between the Industry and the Government of the day.
  • focus to being a platform to represent change in business models in addition to have focus of saying where growth is going to come.

Evolution of ‘FRAMES’ in many ways is happening and is an ongoing process. However it does need to step up to claim the mantle of the ‘Interlocutor’  as that is something the present E&M industry setup is missing. As it matures, this role will acquire major significance.

Let the new ‘FRAMES’ unveil the new partnership as  the Entertainment & Media Industry walks into a ‘new’ chapter of its evolution.

Entertainment and Media – A Changing Paradigm

 

As we come to an end of another year its time to reminiscent about the year gone by. What changed, whether good or bad, whether surprising or not and what can we expect in the future. Future is always uncertain as well as unpredictable until you look back to start connecting the dots to see a pattern where the destiny is likely to lead us. Very risky contemplation, but what the hell – it’s the end of the year.

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Connecting the Dots:

Lets start with what changed in the Entertainment & Media industry in 2017. Some themes picked up are as follows:

  • Based on Research reports it seems to suggest that worldwide E&M growth is slowing as a whole.
  • Again based on reports, the maturer and higher paying markets seems to have reached a saturation level while newer markets continue to grow.
  • Two clear elements have shaped the E&M industry i.e, the Content Strategy & the Distribution. There is now a third element of ‘User Experience’ largely bought on by technological advances.
  • Content strategy moving from ‘One size fits all’ to consider content fitment for different markets due to cultural as well as demographic differences.
  • Distribution strategy also being changed to encompass digital access in addition to fixed viewing experience either through theatre or fixed cable networks.
  • While the higher paying audiences are saturating, the newer audiences, though while they are consuming content, the per Capita spend is down.

Clearly some of the things we had spoken about earlier as possible are now coming true. All the markets may not feel the same intensity specially market in India, since India remains far behind  on the digitalization infrastructure front. Therefore there is tendency to scoff at the inevitable due to the still prevalent growth in the subscription as well as advertisement revenues in TV  as well as print. Fact is that it is a matter of time, as is already evident, that growth in digital is imminent, ever since Reliance Jio introduced its benign data rates.

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Possible Future :

Having plotted the ‘Dots’ we do get an inkling where the E&M markets are headed. However, as we sit to look at possible insights into the Indian E&M market a few considerations need to be kept in mind.

  • India is still one of the rapidly growing E&M market in the world.
  • It is one of the most populous countries in the world though far behind in the per capita E&M spend
  • Its fixed as well as digital infrastructure is far below the large E&M markets. Its broadband usage is largely mobile led.
  • TV and print networks still garner a lion’s share of the subscription as well as the advertisement spend largely due to the lag in infrastructure for internet access.

Looking at the state of E&M market as a whole and particular exception for India the following could shape the E&M industry in India;

  1. Content Strategy:

‘Content is King’. It is true here as it is elsewhere in the world. India is a diverse country and Content Strategy has to be taken into account any contents acceptability to its vast populace or appropriate interpretations of the same. It will have to fit the multiscreen mould such that its monitizable value goes up. Since TV screens still control the bulk of the monetization the TV content needs essentially to travel to other screens to build a community such that there is an easy shift as digitization increases. Content partnership with players with large digital footprint and deep pockets would likely be value accretive.

  1. Distribution:

Technological advances have made distribution both a nightmare as well as a hugely  accretive for the audience reach. Large online players along with Social Media giants are likely to play huge role in the access game. The strategy has to be to reach all screens and adoption of ‘technology’ as well as ‘partnerships’ are the new game.

 

  1. User Experience:

As per PWC report, ‘User Experience’ is key for future strategies and that is being borne out more and more by the ground facts. That is why development of communities and use of social media is paramount even though our infrastructure still is behind time. Use of AI or Artificial Intelligence will play a huge role in the ‘User Experience’. Our ability to understand and then use the same will be paramount. The change can be rapid and disastrous if not prepared for.

I think the trend is obvious and will follow the world though a little delayed. However what is interesting is the recent news of the likely Disney/ 21st Century Fox mergers. It seems to be a move to consolidate Content and control the ‘Streaming’ market. It has the ability to reshape the Entertainment & Media market both across the world as well as in India.

Interesting times! We will have to wait and see how it unfolds, Won’t we!

Welcome to 2018!

 

 

 

Is Government support to M&E Industry a key ingredient for its success?

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Media & Entertainment Industry in India is one of the fastest growing and one of the few well recognized across the world. From the current estimate of Industry size of US$ 20 billion it is expected to touch US$ 35 billion in F.Y 21. With its burgeoning growth potential, world recognition, as well as world class skill base, it somehow just has not got the government attention it deserves. A free and fair press is a key pillar of democracy like ours and any government whether the present one or the ones’ in the past will reaffirm that they have done their bit to keep it that way. They will also say that the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting ranks high on the importance levels in the government and hence gets the industry the attention needed.

This then begs the question: ‘What is the attention we seek from the government?’ And secondly ‘Why do we collectively feel that the government is not giving that attention?’ To answer these questions, a better understanding of the Media & Entertainment industry is needed.

The business of Media and Entertainment currently is in throes of a change across the world and India is also experiencing the change. Most of the M&E businesses have two key pillars i.e, Content and the Distribution, Providing engaging, good, and clean Content is a prerequisite and so is regulation (whether self -regulation or government controlled regulation) to monitor such content. Legacy systems though existing are striving to keep pace with how the content is being distributed and regulated.

Distribution, has seen the biggest change in the past decade or so largely fueled by innovative advances in information technology and the changing consumer preferences. The consumers are rapidly moving towards consuming content anytime as well as anywhere and going away from fixed time viewing, made possible by innovative technology in wireless. Wireless in the form of smart mobiles are now capable of accessing worldwide content with very few barriers.

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Therefore, most of the M&E businesses are now complex businesses. Global availability of content on the worldwide web facilitated by ever expanding smart phone technology have rendered the traditional business models of these businesses very vulnerable. Many of the M&E businesses were models largely funded by advertisement and very little through subscription. Inability to control the content offering to defined audiences, going away from regular payment mechanisms as well as vulnerability to protect the brand or IPR’s promise are making the businesses very risky and in search for the new model of sustainance. Therefore the role of regulation as well as the government becomes important as well as meaningful in today’s context as always. The government through selective investment, regulation as well as oversight can help in the following:

  • creating appropriate regulation to oversee distribution content in today’s term of technological possibilities
  • bringing licensing regulation in such a manner that it supports revenue generation as well as restricts undesirable behaviour including conflict of interests.
  • help in creating infrastructure and adopting newer technologies.
  • help in regulation with respect to Intellectual Property Rights (IPR’s), the lifeblood of M&E enterprises.
  • Appointing independent regulators for important parts of the industry such that the constituents behave as per law laid down and their problems are addressed.
  • Rationalise the tax guidelines of the industry for the benefit of the constituents as well as the government.

Clearly, Government has a key role to play in helping shape the M&E businesses. Why then, collectively as an industry there is always a feeling that government does not always help?

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The reasons are many. Some of the reasons are of Governments own violation while the others can be attributed to the other industry constituents. Some areas where the government needs to take note are as follows:

  1. Just as the industry constituents it is difficult, for the government too to understand the rapid change in the business model of the industry. They need to understand the rapidly changing technology as well as its capability to deliver content not only in India but across the borders without any real hindrance. This learning is key to understanding what as well as how to regulate and thereafter how to protect as well as enhance government revenue through taxes.
  2. In India like in many other countries, the government performs a dual function. It is a regulator/Licensor as well as a Industry constituent with ownership of a large media organisation. It needs to find ways to delineate the two responsibilities such that it can lead to a healthy growth of the industry as well as the government owned media enterprises. Media tends to be the most regulated of the industries world over due to the tendency of controlling information landscape for nationalist endeavours. Some countries have managed the delineation well, of which UK/US are prime examples.
  3. Political masters and the government look at Media often from the prism of nationalist endeavours and therefore fail to recognise the impetus the industry can provide for the country. With its well – endowed skill base as well as a worldwide calling card of ‘Bollywood’, the government has faltered in not enabling the industry to world standards through forward looking laws , infrastructure as well as tax policies. Their positive action could enhance skill base, provide jobs and more importantly increase the tax base.

However it has not been fault of the government every time it has not acted. Its also the industry constituents who have not been able to provide the government enough material for them to act.  Very often the pitches to the government are biased, meant to benefit few rather than the industry as a whole. To be fair to the government, they did act when it understood that digital distribution of TV content was the way forward or what the issues were in Radio licensing.

In the free world, the accepted way of educating and propositioning the government is through the industry associations. They usually provide knowledge of best practices as well as provide collective lobbying service. In India, specially for the M&E industry, there is no single ‘Industry Association’ which represents the industry as a whole. There are many associations which represent the different areas of M&E industry and are pretty active too. However, they usually proposition the government separately, often with separate agenda’s and at cross purposes even when some issues are same industry wide. Trade institutions like FICCI as well as CII have tried to play a stellar role in bringing these associations together on a common platform but they still fall far short of what, for instance, ‘NASSCOM’ has been able to do for IT industry.

Therefore, there is a key role for the Government to play to help grow the M&E industry. However industry players too need to come together, pooling knowledge and lobbying to get greater attention of the Government largesse for identified common issues. The route for greater cooperation between the Government of the day and the Industry constituents is there. It just needs greater cohesion and trust in each other. We all hope that future will allow the Industry players as well as the Government to work together to realize the real potential of the Media & Entertainment  Industry not only in India but  for success across the world.

 

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