Moderator: Prof. Sree Sreenivasan – Dean of Students Affairs, Graduate School of Journalism, Columbia University.
Speakers: Shivnath Thukral – Group President, Corporate Branding and Strategic Initiatives, Essar Group; Aparisim Ghosh – Deputy International Editor, TIME Magazine; S. Mitra Kalita – Senior Writer (Housing), Wall Street Journal ; Afsar Zaidi– CEO, Carving Dreams (One of India’s leading talent management agencies).
Left to Right: Shivnath Thukral, Afsar Zaidi, Mitra Kalita, Aparisim Ghosh
The media and entertainment panel at the 2011 Kellogg India Business Conference was the first panel of the day. At the conclusion of the panel, one of the panelists, Shivnath Thukral, Group President, Corporate Branding and Strategic Initiatives, Essar Group, tweeted that the, “hunger to know about Indian Media was immense.” There are no better words to describe the mood in the room during the most exciting panel of the day. The featured panelists, with impressive resumes, approached the panel in a candid manner and did not hold back to voice their opinions. Moderated by Professor Sree Srinivasan, Dean of Journalism at Columbia University, the panel’s key element was the use of new media such as Twitter and Facebook that he updated constantly with questions and inputs from the attendees and a global twitter audience. This tactic generated enthusiasm, excitement, and kicked up the level of interest and audience engagement in the panel a couple of notches.
Role of Media and Entertainment in Social Issues
The state of media and entertainment in India was debated during the panel. Bobby Ghosh, Time Magazine, Deputy International Editor, suggested a mixed picture of the state of media and entertainment. He spoke of the flourishing Indian entertainment industry that was successful in addressing themes of social and political importance that other media has not been able to achieve as successfully. Social media is also gaining relevance and has been able to force main media to bring topics to national debates. The confluence of mainstream movies and social issues has resulted in a positive movement for critical issues like education in India. However, it is unfortunate that journalists are not as active as commercial cinema in bringing similar social issues to the forefront.
Infotainment and Bollywood
No discussion on Indian media and entertainment is complete without a discussion of Bollywood, the world’s largest film industry. The panel lamented the devolution of news into ‘Infotainment’ and highlighted that the distinction between news and opinions had blurred only because the audience wanted it that way. No profit-driven media firm in India or even the US had found a way to drive revenues through a balanced reporting of facts. Despite vigorous debate on other issues, all panelists were in agreement that serious news doesn’t command much viewership and that Bollywood and Entertainment tend to dominate the headlines.
Afsar Zaidi, CEO of Carving Dreams (the top talent management company in India) brought some Bollywood sparkle to the conference, and talked about the evolution of a professional talent management sphere in India. Introduced as the Jerry Maguire of Indian entertainment, Afsar stated that in this industry one is successful by, “creating value, providing value and delivering value” to all stakeholders. Carving Dreams creates value in the entertainment and media space by enabling its talent to reach and stay at his/her peak as there is a small window of opportunity to touch a chord with the public. These services become increasingly important as billions of rupees are at stake in the Indian entertainment industry.
Competition and professionalism in Indian Journalism
Mitra Kalita, Senior Writer (Housing), Wall Street Journal led the launch of a start up online publication, Mint, in India. The competitive nature of the business was apparent to her when 7 different newspapers were deposited at her doorstep each morning. She knew that the pace of delivering news in India was much faster than she had been used to in the past. Here, “before you had the time to think about the concept, somebody else was already doing it.” However, it was not all doom and gloom for the crowded newspaper industry. Mitra shed light on the fact that while competition in journalism was severe in the metros, there is immense opportunity in the 2nd and 3rd tier cities that are hungry for legit and unbiased journalism.
The panelists expressed their dissatisfaction on the inadequacy of professionalism in journalism in India. Mitra worked on transforming journalism professionalism at Mint by establishing a “code of conduct” centered on ethical fairness and accuracy of information. Bobby Ghosh voiced his disappointment on the aggressive nature and narrow focus on the issues being written and the lack of efforts to take steps outside of the mainstream issues by journalists in India. The panel concluded that sheer scale and competition was making professional representation in media a necessity.
Business of Media and Entertainment
The panel successfully balanced opportunities with realism. Shivnath Thukral, voiced his concern of an impending industry crisis if the media channels end up in a ‘me too” race and avoided differentiating themselves. The ingredient that made this panel very intriguing was the contrast in the highs and lows in this industry. For every stride this industry has taken to prove its mettle, a statistic and opinion was provided for the lack of impact of the same industry. For instance, there are as many as 6 business specific news channels in India, however the average household savings in India has not increased. Overall, the panel ended on a high note by calling attention to the colossal business opportunity that is Indian media and entertainment. Shivnath Thukral stated, “India has 600 TV channels. Of these, 260 are news channels,” a statistic unmatched by any other nation in the world. This sheer number underscores the vast extent of media’s power in India. The question that played on everyone’s mind was, ‘how will this business focused audience harness the power and opportunity presented by the media and entertainment industry in India?’