A barrage of industry insights and opinions presented with flair and valiantly defended, plus cliches (we counted “content is king” six times within an hour) and mixed outlooks: yes, we did expect something like this from a conference involving the media and entertainment industry.

The day-long CII organised conference “The Digital Revolution: Managing Media & Entertainment Business In A Digital Era” held recently witnessed a plethora of top business minds of the two sectors congregating in rainy Mumbai. They discussed a slew of topics – from changing content to monetisation, social marketing, piracy, regulation of TV news and latest trends.

Outlook For Digital Media Sector, The Next 3 Years, No Integration

India’s mobile and broadband connectivity will help digital media do in five years what traditional media took 20 years to accomplish, said Ronnie Screwvala, Chairman & CEO of UTV Software Communications and co-chairperson of the CII National Committee on media and entertainment, adding a concerned note: “But there is a need to change the current media mindset. There are tremendous things we need to  do and identify. Content creators – conventional media, movies, new media and social sites – have to emerge and not just remain in content.”

Kalli Purie, head of India Today Digital, said integration of TV, magazines, newspapers, radio and Internet media firms will happen but NDTV’s Pachauri countered saying there will not be any consolidation since 40% of the applicants for TV news channels – real estate owners and politicians – are in it for the wrong reasons.

In a session on the DTH industry, which has six players, Vikram Kaushik of Tata Sky exclaimed, “Who is going to consolidate? Everyone’s got the ego of an oceanliner. The only way it can happen is a mandate.”

Pachauri predicted that in the next three years the number of C&H households should be 116 million. Money will come from digitisation which will go into paying reporters and good news content. Purie added, “Companies that havent expanded into new mediums will suffer. You have to get the content out in every possible medium.”

Key speakers called for forward looking regulations from the I&B ministry, and not reactive actions.

Cable TV: Digital Addressable System By 2013

Recommendations on digitisation of the cable industry distribution chain have been sent and the decision will be taken early next week. There are still some issues that need to be solved including tariff fees, and on the consumer end, offering an a la carte choice, said J S Sharma, Chairman, TRAI, who was speaking via video conferencing at the conference.

He reiterated that the pan-India digitisation of cable networks would be achieved by 2013, starting with the metros. When asked if the deadline was too short to achieve the target, Sharma replied, “We need to have an ambitious programme.”

He added that there is a need to look into how broadcast and telecom will merge in the future.

Marketers Not Ready To Deal With Social Marketing

“Till now, marketers had five different layers between consumers and them. The Internet is a customer support channel, unfortunately many organisations are not  ready to deal with real time inputs coming in from social networking sites and blogs,” said Muralikrishnan of eBay, revealing that Indian marketers are still wary of Web 2.0.

Scaling Up: Advertisements v/s  Subscription Model

Tarun Katial, CEO of Big FM said advertising is not scalable. “When consumers start to pay for it, in a country like India, it’s huge volumes.” Bindra added that subscription is also more sustainable.

“The balance between advertising and subscriptions needs to be 50:50. It is now at 80:20, causing a debilitating imbalance,” said Sam Balsara, Chairman & MD, Madison World.

Usage Of The Internet

  • Social – Teenagers are most comfortable with social networking.
  • Interactive – 20-40 year olds prefer interactive content.
  • Passive – People over 40 are passive users of Internet.

Freemium

Vishal Gondal, MD of Indiagames said there is a huge change in business models in the gaming world and talked about freemium:

  • 85%  – Consume the game for free, are shown advertisements and offers. Become viral agents.
  • 12% – Engage in microtransactions, anywhere between 50 paisa and Rs. 500.
  • 3% – ARPU giving subscribers.

He said that gamers spent an average of Rs. 800 on T20fever.com.

DTH’s Woes

“Digitalisation is how to lose money. Rs.10,000 crore is the losses by DTH industry in 5 years since DTH was launched, and Tata Sky has invested, or you can say lost, Rs. 3000 crores so far,” said Vikram Kaushik, CEO, Tata Sky, continuing that ARPU in DTH had fallen to $3 (Rs. 150), with disastrous margins. In comparison, Malaysia’s DTH ARPU is $25.

Yarr! Whose Fault Is Piracy?

The panel discussion on user generated content began with this interesting question posed by the moderator Krish Ashok, Head of TCS’s Web 2.0 Lab, which immediately ruffled the feathers of Vijay Singh, CEO of Fox Star Studios and Pankaj Sethi, President- Corporate Strategy, Tata Teleservices, who remonstrated that piracy is theft and should not be trivialised.

But B Muralikrishnan, Director-Marketing, eBay, however said that piracy is not always the consumer’s fault and that distribution problems are the root, especially when it comes the latest episodes of television sitcoms and serials being telecast in USA but not India, such as House M.D., which leaves the user no choice but to download torrents. India is very much a “download country”, take the example of Songs.pk, a free mp3 download portal, which is the most popular website for Indian net users.

Neeraj Roy, MD & CEO of Hungama Digital Media Entertainment, noted that telcos could have easily switched off access to Songs.pk but they did not because they were still making money on the downloads.

And the music buffs amongst you are aware there are a multitude of smaller bands and musicians who openly encourage piracy, especially online, in order to increase their listening base. So the question is: Is piracy a good thing for some? We invite you to comment with your take.

Negative Impact Of Piracy On Filmdom: Today, the performance on the release night is being used as an indicator of a movie’s box office success, where previously it was the entire weekend period, commented Vijay Singh, CEO, Fox Star Studios. Actress and social activist Gul Panag commented that an alternate solution be found, by developing an Internet entertainment fraternity like what is happening in USA, wherein Roy added that Artistsaloud.com was offering a digital distribution platform for Indian musicians.

Journalism In Threat, Readers Should Pay: Newspapers Are Dying

Malayalam Manorama’s Deputy Editor and Chief General Manager Jayant Mammen Mathew took the stand that readers should start paying for content online: “Newspapers are dying. It’s high time they started paying, otherwise the next ten years will be horrible for journalism.”

Vanita Kohli Khandekar, a consulting editor with Business Standard, also warned that the future of professionally generated content is in threat with recent changes in the number of options available to consumers and relevance of news reports.

News & Ethics

Rajat Sharma, Chairman of Independent News Service (India TV) launched this heated session with an anecdote that the audience could relate to easily: “On one channel was news about Sonam Kapoor’s pants falling, on the second – how to avoid Shani and the third – that the world is coming to an end. What is killing us is the mindless chase for eyeballs,” he said.

Editorial Code Of Conduct

The degradation of prime time TV news was discussed further with Pachauri fielding questions related to editorial code of conduct. “Editors are under a lot of pressure. Walking that thin line, there are many who fall to a side,” he said.

Purie added a valid point that what is seen as acceptable in society has changed with time and journalists keep up with the changing ethical trends. Mathews proffered that editors need to monitor Twitter and online message boards effectively.

Broadcasters To The Government: “Just Stay Off!”

The panel unanimously disagreed that the solution is for the government to regulate content, like it is attempting to do by setting up a body to monitor and control news content.

“Like Nehru said, it is better to have a bad press than a suppressed or regulated press. We should accept that a free news market is better for the democracy, else we will become like China,” opined Khandekar. She suggested the sector follow the example set by ad agencies & ASCII of self-policing.

NDTV’s managing editor of special projects Pankaj Pachauri announced they have launched a broadcasters association that will deal with the government directly. “We are against the policy; we have told them – just stay off! Editors should have the authority to make the final decision on news.”

India Today Digital Is Profitable

When Purie was asked if India Today lost or gained revenue from focussing on the online side, she answered, “Both. We are getting new readers. We run a lean mean operation and are profitable.”

But will it take over print revenues?

“I hope not. We dont see ourselves as belonging to any particular medium – we are a content provider.” Remember India Today had experimented with an online newspaper in 2001, which failed because it was too early. They also tried bundling online and offline editions of magazines.

Vernacular Content: Localisation Not A Priority!

When asked what providers were doing to bridge the gap between urban and rural India by localising content, Amit Khanna, Chairman of Reliance BIG Entertainment snapped, “The problem is of low literacy levels.”

Aghast at this opinion, MediaNama approached him after the panel discussion only to be told, “Localisation is not a priority; the rural market does not want much right now.”

Purie shared that global media firms believe that India’s digital divide will be bridged by a flurry of smartphones from China. “It will happen fast, we will skip a generation and go straight to internet on mobile,” she said.

“It’s just the matter of building infrastructure. Literacy and electricity are also limiting them. The lack of heterogenity of languages online – like a Tamil Internet – is troubling,” added Khandekar.

Must Read Quotes From The Conference:

“Access to content is king” –Ronnie Screwvala, Chairman & CEO of UTV Software Communications

and, “My wife may have access to me but it doesnt mean she can connect with me” —Mahesh Bhatt, Producer

Disclaimer: MediaNama was a media partner at the CII Conference on Digital Media.