Even the story of digitalization that started 6 years ago remains incomplete. The advertising revolution of the 90’s when a large number of international and Indian brands were built on television screens, doesn’t seem to be breaking new ground in terms of what I call brand revolution 2.0.
Content creators, a community that I belong to, generally seem to be caught in a time warp with the same themes playing in a loop again and again – cursed destinies, rebirth and revenge and deference to elders in public while bickering in private, pretty much sums up what rules national entertainment.
The quality of news of course, seems to cause only national consternation, with now even our friendly neighbour taking a pot-shot at our news channels! Over all, it seems the more things change the more they remain the same. So maybe my colleague was right after all.
Very recently one of the pioneers of television entertainment told me that she was so frustrated by the frozen state of traditional media that she was going to create a digital enterprise to tell the stories that traditional media has been too scared to tell. Of course, I am talking about the totally adorable – Ekta Kapoor. Think about that for a moment – the person who created the archetype of saas and bahu feels the need to break away from these stifling constraints of the medium that she herself created. Why? When that happens, we all need to think hard.
The most talked about launch in Indian M&E last year was not a new channel, or a new newspaper or a new production house – actually it was a mobile app that had the gall to ask consumers to go solo. A call fundamentally at odds with the concept of content consumption in this country, that believes that the entire family watches TV together in the living room. In just about a year, hotstar has been downloaded over 50 million or 5 crore times.
Even for a mass sport like cricket, in the larger cities, hotstar’s watch time is now starting to reach 50 per cent of television. I urge you to reflect on the potential of that statistic. This infant service is already becoming a product of habit in India and now this year, my friends, we have set our sight on creating the first global Media & Entertainment product born out of India, when we take hotstar to the rest of the world in a few months. The numerous and affluent south Asian diaspora which for the longest time has been frustrated by the lack of access to its favourite content will be able to watch cricket, movies and drama through hotstar. While I am indeed happy for hotstar to be the pioneer, we are very aware that this is a trend that will get replicated again and again, very quickly.
The world has changed. There is a tectonic shift happening in our industry right in front of us. And yet, what we see in the world of traditional television is just stagnation. And this stagnation has been made worse by the funny denial that all of us seem to be living in. Even though this change is happening faster than anything we have ever seen, our approach towards it seems to be one of incrementalism.
It is pretty clear to me that we are in a battle. In this battle there are only two options that we have – we can either continue living in denial, hide back in our artificial walled gardens, watching as the bricks crumble down one by one or we can arm ourselves with the same weapons that our challengers possess, and venture forth into battle, sometimes even against the same businesses that we have created. Change or Perish.
Netflix – the most successful content provider in the US, the challenger to the media behemoths of the west has done so on the back of extremely high quality content, so much so that Netflix’s catalogue today represents the absolute best of American television. Technology and creativity are coming together to enhance the experience literally, almost daily.
The new screens have once again highlighted the importance of the story but they have introduced the centrality of the experience at the same time. Design and engineering can no longer be divorced from the story – this is a radical departure from everything that we were taught all these years. We learnt this the hard way through hotstar – how small changes even in the browsing experience could lead to dramatic shifts in consumption.
Today I am happy to remark that we at Star probably have more engineers in our team than any other media and entertainment company. Equally we have more designers and more story tellers than anyone else because those are the three pillars on which we see future M&E companies getting built.
Clearly, we need to change the lens with which we look at talent. In this new world neither technology nor talent will be limited by geographical boundaries. The best engineers are as likely to be in Berlin as in Bangalore. We already know that best designers and animators for Hollywood no longer need to be there – because they are already in Goregaon and let’s not forget our very own Priyanka Chopra who is the first home grown star of a truly global show. We are looking at a truly global world. But this global world has no patience for traditional forms of reverence.
At Star, we are grappling with this everyday – when we inducted culturally diverse talent we had to create space for that cultural diversity to exist. But that’s easier said than done. Technology going global, talent going global also means adoption of a new tradition.