In broadcasting, foreign players with deep pockets are making inroads, and we cannot compete with them because the industry is capital intensive
By Markand Adhikari
When we first heard of the term ‘coronavirus’ and its effects, nobody could have imagined that we would be living with it for over six months and with no end in sight. We, as individuals and as organisations, are learning to adapt ourselves to this new reality but it has been a scary time, and its effects – on individuals and the economy – are going to be around for a while.
While many sectors have been hurt badly and many industries are yet to reopen, the TV and entertainment industry or the media sector broadly never really had a lockdown. Confined to home, viewers turned to their TV screens and smartphone screens to connect with the outside world and to ease their minds with entertainment. Return of the old classic serials such as ‘Ramayan’ and ‘Mahabharat’ garnered huge traction, breaking all viewership records, as it found a ‘captive’ audience. This jump in viewership, however, has not resulted in a similar jump in advertising revenue.
The primary reason for this is the lack of consumer spends despite advertisers’ pitch. Due to Coivd-19, many people have lost their jobs, suffered salary cuts or faced a drop in income due to the movement restrictions aimed at controlling the spread of the pandemic. Until the GDP growth rate stabilises and starts picking up, there will be constraints on advertising, hence on the TV and entertainment sector.
One silver lining is that after the lockdown was lifted in stages, the media revenue started increasing slowly but surely. From month to month, advertising revenue on TV channels are picking up. However, we, as an industry, are nowhere near the pre-lockdown levels. Some observers are optimistic, and they cite two reasons. Firstly, the IPL cricket season will bring advertisers back, and money will start circulating. Secondly, the Diwali festival season is now close, and that will revive consumer spending. I believe the two factors will certainly give a boost to the media sector, but it is likely to be short-lived since the underlying economic trends are going to be less than healthy for a while.
Thirst for new content
There is never going to be a slump in demand for content. Storytelling has been part of humankind from the beginning of history, and we need it as much as we need food, clothing, and shelter. People will continue to consume stories, whether watching a TV serial together at dinner time or youngsters watching and sharing funny videos. To create great content, you should know how to read the pulse of the masses.
In broadcasting, foreign players with deep pockets are making inroads, and we cannot compete with them because the industry is capital intensive. Yet, the content has to be local to appeal to the audience, and that is where Indian entrepreneurs have a crucial role to play. With OTT and streaming, the digital arena is the new TV which has attracted a large number of unique viewers during and after the lockdown, and it will witness exciting trends as much as terrific competition in the future.
This is the time for entrepreneurs to step forward. To them, I would suggest keeping in mind not only the bottom line but also the bottom layer of society. For instance, we have started an initiative to help migrants who have gone home and are searching for jobs. They are a great pool of talent, and we can help them bring out their talent. They can create small video clips of songs, anecdotes, mimicry, among other things, in exchange of which we pay them a monthly remuneration. Thus, a tremendous and unusual bank of content is created, but the idea here is not to generate business but to give a helping hand to jobless laborers and boost their confidence.
This is just an example, and I am sure young entrepreneurs will have far more and better ideas. The government has done all it can to help revive the economy, but now it is up to entrepreneurs to do their bit for society. No matter their business idea, they should remember that good intentions and honesty will take them far.
The author is chairman and managing director of Sri Adhikari Brothers Group (SAB Group).