Vivan Sharan, Partner, Koan Advisory
Towards a ‘Global Locality’
The stature of the inaugural session of the 2019 FICCI Frames was befitting for an event that is now in its 20th year – replete with ideas and insights from some of the best-known media and entertainment (M&E) stalwarts from India and abroad.
Delivering the Opening remarks, Uday Shankar, President of 21st Century Fox Asia, set the foundational context for the event, which has closely tracked the evolution of the M&E industries in India. As FICCI Frames has grown from strength to strength, the domestic M&E ecosystem has simultaneously become a source of both global ambition and envy – and has been a true beneficiary of market-liberalisation. According to Mr. Shankar, evidence of the success of the M&E ecosystem lies in the fact that the domestic market is now a compelling opportunity for “every major global company” – even as local industry counterparts have developed the bandwidth to withstand competition. This makes for an exciting M&E “battle-ground”.
Mr. Shankar did sound a cautionary note, which is likely to serve as guidance to unqualified discussions on the opportunities for the growth of the domestic M&E ecosystem. He said that policies to support M&E in India must be aligned to the imperatives of enhancing creativity, innovation and growth. Achieving this triad is a difficult task if the notion of ‘national interest’ underpinning policymaking is interpreted narrowly. Naturally, economic protectionism justified as national interest can throttle the global ambition of a fast-growing Indian industry which is still in its nascence in terms of achieving a considerable global footprint. What this effectively means, is that policymakers must adopt ambitious targets that help situate India’s M&E supply chains in a global context – so local creators can earn greater value and achieve scale.
Mr. Shankar’s opening remarks provided a segue to an address by Ambassador Charles Rivkin, the Chairman and CEO of the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) who reiterated the need for balancing ecosystem-aspirations with a concerted government strategy. Amb. Rivkin highlighted that “smart” media businesses tend to transcend traditional notions of locality as we know it – engendering the need for local policymakers to think global terms too.
Earning Greater Value
Citing the roaring success of locally produced movies like Dangal and shows like Sacred Games in global markets, as evidence of successful cross-border collaborations, Charlie Rivkin committed to the fact that MPAA Members shall remain “deeply invested” in India. However, Dangal earned around five times as much in China as it did in India, indicating that Indian policymakers will need to increasingly need to pay attention to measures that can help local industry unlock greater value with support from global counterparts. Consider, for instance, the large amount of commercial value that is throttled owing to the low density of theatrical screens in India. The Indian theatrical ecosystem for film screenings constitutes a miniscule 9500 screens compared to 50,000 screens in China.
According to Charlie Rivkin, building more screens would be a “game-changer for the entire entertainment industry” in terms of realization of greater value. Admittedly, the building of additional screens is not as simple as it sounds – Mr. Rivkin pointed to a litany of state-government rules and regulations that continue to govern the construction of new theatres – many such rules date back to the days of the British Empire. And in many ways, this legacy reflects the predominant challenge for Indian M&E in the days ahead – a rationalization of rules is urgently required in order to generate value and attract investments. According to Charlie Rivkin “there are at least as many state laws governing the construction of new theatres as there are states”. Therefore, catalysing a virtuous cycle of physical investments and commercial value generation will also require a cohesive federated approach.
Exploring Multi-Stakeholder Approaches
In fact, a multi-stakeholder approach towards building greater responsiveness in rulemaking is a theme that even Amit Khare, Secretary of the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting alluded to in his keynote address. Towards this, he suggested that industry forums such as those created by FICCI have been useful in helping formulate government responses on issues as varied as the reduction of Goods and Services Tax (GST) rates from 28 percent to 18 percent for films, to the proposed introduction of stronger anti-piracy provisions in the Cinematograph Act. Moreover, Secretary Khare also was in favour of self-regulation over state-intervention in dynamic markets and stated that the complexities associated with “convergence” within the M&E ecosystem will necessitate much more industry-government interface in the days ahead.
Other notable multi-stakeholder efforts which were spoken of in the inaugural session included new antipiracy efforts established under the Maharashtra Cyber Digital Crime Unit and the Department for Promotion if Industry and Internal Trade.
Secretary Khare also indicated that a National Broadcasting Policy and a Strategy Paper for establishing a long-term vision for films and entertainment are being developed by his Ministry. In this regard, many of the areas highlighted by another eminent speaker – Ronnie Screwvala – a film and entertainment industry veteran proved to be instructive. For instance, Mr. Screwvala spoke about the fact that the local M&E ecosystem requires many more entrepreneurs than it has today. According to him, this would engender better institutional leadership as well as greater resilience within the M&E industries.
Juxtaposing the Good and the Bad: Worry and Wonder
Mr. Screwvala also felt that local factors such as: lack of capital depth, limited innovation in moviemaking, shift of consumer preferences towards on-demand consumption, high levels of debt in theatre businesses, large amounts of investments required to run technology platforms, may circumscribe the growth of the M&E ecosystem substantially. According to him, the ability to execute operations in complex circumstances matters much more than the ability to ideate alone. And therefore, it can be inferred that the need for state-agencies to provide for and signal greater certainty in M&E markets is critical to fostering entrepreneurs who can solve such challenges. Some of this can be done by adopting a simple formula suggested by Amb. Rivkin – to simplify rules, incentivize innovations, promote value generation and measure outcomes.
In conclusion, it is appropriate to draw from words of inspiration shared by Gary Knell, Chairman and CEO of National Geographic, one of the key industry speakers in the opening session. Mr. Knell urged young creative professionals in India to explore two critical constructs in modern times – those of “wonder” and “worry”. Instructively, National Geographic was founded around 125 year ago – at a time when human exploration was fuelled by fundamental innovations like electricity and steam engines. Today, a similar sense of exploration and wonder has to be rekindled through the power of storytelling at a time when worry is ubiquitous. Worrisome trends can be seen in politics globally, as well as in the alarming levels of collective inaction in addressing climate change. Stories have been described as the “currency of human contact”. The M&E industries give agency to such stories and in doing so, go far beyond what many other industries manage to do for society.