Television’s Infinity Conundrum: Sudhanshu Vats

Published: October 20, 2015 12:48:10 AM

There are only three participants in our ecosystem —creators of content, content platforms and communities

Infinity is infinite only because the finite exists. While this statement may sound like a tongue twister, I find it particularly interesting in the context of our media and entertainment industry. Is the 32GB memory space on your mobile phone infinite? Are the 300+ channels that you receive on your set-top-box (assuming the rays of digitisation have reached your doorstep) infinite?  Are you lost every morning in the myriad supplements that your newspaper vendor bombards you with? Or do the radio frequencies on your car’s music system appear finite? Can you count the number of worthwhile reality shows on your fingertips (the ultimate ode to finiteness)? Is the number of movie theatres in your city limited?

Why is the word ‘infinity’ used so often in our industry? My own organisation actually launched a channel called Colors Infinity (Godspeed Team!)! Is it a simple fascination shared by all of us ‘media folks’ or is it truly a core tenet of our business?

The more I ponder over it, the clearer the picture becomes. Famed American writer and Nobel Prize laureate, William Faulkner, hit the nail on the head when he referred to ‘man’s limitless capacity for imagination’.  If there is one aspect of our business that truly surpasses every ‘finite’ measure, it is our ability to imagine, to dream. Take that away and you’ll be left with zilch.

Trade pundits often like to typecast media organisations as broadcasters, online media companies, print brands and so on. It is this very categorisation that can sound the death knell for us. From the standpoint of our ecosystem, there are only three participants in the value chain: creators of content, content platforms and communities.

Content creators like us are often faced with the ‘infinity conundrum’. We have an endless palette of moods to choose from when we create our products. The vast number of content platforms on offer to distribute our products only adds to this conundrum. Many boast of different value propositions and are aimed at different audiences. Finally, we cater to a maze of communities that are evolving each day. They are extremely demanding, discerning and expressive. I haven’t called out advertisers separately as they too represent a ‘community’. What’s even more interesting is that this value chain is no longer, necessarily linear. All three participants can interact with each other in different ways. This limitless set of permutations and combinations represent what I like to term as the ‘infinity conundrum’ for Indian media and entertainment companies. Solving this conundrum is key for future-ready organisations. While it’s impossible to prescribe a one-size-fits-all solution, the following five mantras can hold media and entertainment companies in good stead, should they choose to embrace them:
* Your consumer is your best brand ambassador: In today’s connected world advertisers are able to constantly engage with their own consumers by building and managing a relevant, active community. Customers are rewarded for referrals because technology allows you to track the entire process from actually referring your product or service to a known person to ensuring that that person has actually transacted!
* Attract fabulous storytellers: While each medium brings with it its own nuances, the fact is that fabulous storytellers can weave together wonderful, medium-agnostic tales. Any media organisation needs to nurture and leverage this pool of storytellers.
* Collaboration—even with competition—is the new norm: As we become a more open economy, media companies have to become more ‘open’. This is particularly relevant for B2C (Business to Consumer) firms. A lot of the firms in our industry are in that stage of their lifecycle where partnerships can take them into their next growth orbit. So at a fundamental level, we have to be more ‘open’ to new partnerships.
* Make friends with Big Data & analytics: As ironical as it may sound, ‘infinite’ options mean that the human mind can’t always make the most optimum choices in the quickest possible time. This is when analytics can really lend a helping hand.
* Adapt, adapt and become an expert at adapting: This is such a cliché that it has to be true. Media organisations that have pushed the envelope and taken calculated risks have always been rewarded at some point of time in their lifecycle. Advances in technology also mean more clutter for the consumer. The ability to continuously adapt gives firms the power to break this clutter. The limitations of their existing technology or their legacy thinking should not bog down media organisations. The consumer is constantly evolving and media organisations have to keep pace.

At a recent consumer research study for one of our TV channels, a respondent likened the channel to a ‘Rajasthani’ thali with unlimited servings of dishes. When we probed further, she fondly recalled a local restaurant that served this thali withthe right variety of the right cuisine in the right (unlimited) quantity at the right price. She was enthralled at how they would alter their menu on weekends and weekdays and loved that she could eat unlimited portions of her favourite dishes. She was wowed by the fact that she could opt for the home delivery of ‘discounted, limited’ meals given that one can’t order ‘unlimited’ portions at home. Her entire family loved the restaurant. The waiters were polite, sharp and quick. The fact that they had maintained their quality for the last 8-9 years was the proverbial icing on the cake.

Clearly, someone has cracked the infinity conundrum.

By Sudhanshu Vats

The author is group CEO, Viacom18 & chairman, CII Media & Entertainment Committee

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