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Panelists:

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?’

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Making the most of a unique opportunity

Mitra speaks with India@Kellogg about her journey to join a start up in India that resulted from an opportunity that came via a phone call

S. Mitra Kalita is an award-winning journalist and author. She is a senior writer covering housing at The Wall Street Journal, but most recently helped launch the Greater New York section as a senior editor. Her second book, “My Two Indias: A Journey to the Ends of Opportunity” has just been released by Harper Collins India. Her highly acclaimed “Suburban Sahibs: Three Immigrant Families and Their Passage From India to America” (Rutgers University Press, Penguin India) dissected how immigrants have transformed suburbia. She has worked as a reporter at the Washington Post, Newsday and the Associated Press and spent two years as an editor and columnist at Mint, a business newspaper in New Delhi she helped found. She previously served as The Wall Street Journal’s deputy global economics editor, and both edited and reported for an award-winning series on the great recession.

You were born in the US with a successful career here.  What were some key factors that you considered when deciding to move your family to India and join a start up newspaper in India?

At that time the journalism industry was going through a contraction in the US while the economy in India was booming.  When the opportunity to move to India presented itself, I thought it would be wonderful to impart lessons learned in journalism as well as absorb the media culture in India.  I was hoping to take the lessons of recession here and apply them to the burgeoning economy in India. Also, as a child of immigrants, I had visited India several times.  However, my daughter would be one generation removed from the culture.  The fact that my daughter would be exposed to the Indian culture first hand also helped my decision to move to India.  In addition, my husband who is an artist was excited with the booming art market in India.  Overall, it was a chance to be a part of a start up and logistically plan on what I would do with the paper.  I have written about startups as a business reporter, and this would be a fantastic opportunity to experience a start up.  While this move was not part of an overall plan, I had been eyeing opportunities for years.  The chance to be an Editor and launch Mint in India, was very exciting.

How was the transition to India from a professional and social perspective?

The transition was difficult in areas that I did not expect to be difficult.  For example, getting my daughter admitted to a good school was a difficult experience.  I felt I was ill equipped for this.  Also, some of the obligations expected of women in India are very different than those in the US.  We would have guests at home all the time and there is an expectation that sets in as a result.  In addition to my day job as a senior manager at a start up, I had to be more dutiful and meet all the societal expectations in the evening.  Another difference that I was not prepared for was for everyone to weigh into all my decisions.  In the US, decisions are made in a more independent manner, while the difference was stark in India.

I wrote a column every week which was very therapeutic.  This column dealt with the social differences that I faced during my move to India.  It allowed me to dissect women in the workforce, education in India, journalism etc.

From a professional standpoint, a great part of being in a start up was training young minds everyday.  I trained people to go into other media outlets.  The young graduates were not always prepared for the real world however, I had seen this before when my cousins in Assam had sent me resumes with 4 lines.  I realized that the young graduates had never been acquiring skills required to do a job.  So we addressed this issue by training the young graduates.  The amount of training imparted in 6 weeks was in some ways equivalent to an intense course in the west.  It was very comparable to courses in the west.

What were the key differences between journalism in India compared with US journalism?  Can you tell us about some specific learnings from working in India that you hope to apply to your current professional life?

Indian journalism is more competitive than journalism in the US.  The 9 newspapers that landed on my doorstep every morning reminded me of the immense competition.  It was almost as if you think of an idea and you have to do it.  There isn’t much time to let the idea simmer and develop because if you allow yourself to do that, somebody will have already implemented it.   Ethics was a concern.  We trained reporters on practicing all sides of journalism and not just focusing on their side of the story.

Here, mainstream media has not looked at blogs in the same way.  They are not as aggressive about integrating different platforms in media such as photos, videos.   We did come of age with blogs and online content; however we were almost complacent when it comes to various media of journalism.

The hustle in India and the competition among newspapers have helped.  Online media is becoming more important and we now post a new story on a blog first and then revisit the full story later.  We are in a marketplace where ideas must be acted upon quickly.

What was the impetus to write your book ‘My two Indias’?  Can you tell us a little more about your book?

In writing my column every week, I had built a mechanism for 2 years worth of columns.  I had a body of work that included education, parenthood, womanhood, the suburbs of Delhi, etc.  I was already writing in certain themes.  I decided to put them together in a book.  Also, being a product of 2 Indias in some ways, the title was apt.

My two Indias meet all the time.  The book is about places where it clashes, time and space obsessed.  It includes stories such as in a nation of a million students aspiring take advantage of a growing economy, Mint still faces a talent crunch.  These two faces of India were very puzzling to me.  It really focuses on answering questions about a growing economy.

After 2 successful years in India, why did you decide to move back to the US?

I received another phone call for an opportunity at the Wall Street Journal in the US.  The US had been in steady decline over the 2 years while I was in a country that was in a sense in the opposite situation experiencing continuous growth.  I had the opportunity to apply the lessons learnt while in India.  I felt like it was the opportunity for coverage of a different economic time in the US.  It was great to see a country on the uprise and it would be great to cover a country on the other end of it.

My move has been pretty good.  Initially it was hard finding a place to live and everything that comes with moving to a new place.  However we cherish the connections that we have fostered in India.  Since we have returned to the States, either my husband or I are constantly going back to India for short trips.

If another similar opportunity presented itself today where you had to move to a different country, would you take it?

I am always looking for the next land of opportunity.  If it is the right opportunity, I will move to another country.

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Localization of a Global Brand – Star India

Ravish Kumar (KSM ’98), EVP and GM for Regional Channels of Star India, discusses the strategy behind Star India, a global brand’s success in India.

Ravish Kumar is currently the Executive Vice President & General Manager for Regional Channels with Star TV in India. He has 17+ years of global consumer marketing experience in building brands and managing businesses across the food, pharmaceutical and consumer packaged goods industries. His academic credentials include an undergraduate degree in Economics from St Stephen’s College and an MBA from the Kellogg School of Management.

India@Kellogg caught up with Ravish Kumar to discuss how a global brand like Star has achieved tremendous local success in India. Mr Kumar shares his strategy, key learning as a GM, and advice for students via this interview.

The television media industry is the one that is highly sensitive to local preferences and tastes. Yet Star, despite being a multi-national brand has repeatedly outperformed its competition in India, including some of the home-grown channels. What do you think is Star India’s recipe for replicating its global success in India?

The television and media industry is in a perennial state of flux driven by expansion of the viewing universe, rapid changes in technology and globalization of viewer preferences among other factors. Succeeding in this environment requires companies need to be creative, adaptive and adoptive since market leadership follows thought leadership and the ability to accurately predict and continually exceed consumer expectations. Star TV has grown to be India’s largest network as a result of its constant focus on creating innovative content, taking calculated risks, leveraging consumer insights and challenging the status quo.

Can you tell us more about your role as The EVP & GM for Regional Channels at Star India and how your role helps in localization of a global brand?

As the EVP & GM for Regional Channels I am responsible for extending the Star footprint into Regional Markets and launching Regional Entertainment Channels that compete with other leading national Star Channels like Star Plus, Star One, Star Gold, Star Movies & Star World. Since the raison d’etre of a regional channel is a stronger emotional connect with consumers it is critical to understand and appreciate viewer hopes & aspirations and to identify and create content which drives both ratings and builds brand equity. I help make the strategic choices regarding positioning, programming and marketing that define how we localize the global brand and go to market.

Is going regional a part of a larger ‘niche-play’ strategy for Star? How does Star ensure that going regional does not dilute quality and therefore the overall brand image?

At Star we believe that expanding into regional markets is a logical extension of market segmentation and allows us to build equity with our viewers by offering them content that they connect with emotionally, in a language they prefer, in a setting that is familiar and which showcases sensibilities that they identify with. Before Star entered regional markets, regional channels were always seen as poor country cousins of Hindi GECs and there was a visible difference in the content and production quality between the two. With our unrelenting focus on creating outstanding content with high production values we have turned around the face of regional television and have proven that regional channels can be far more appealing, engaging and profitable than even the leading Hindi GECs. Moreover in Brand Equity studies viewers use attributes like young, innovative, modern, glamorous and stylish to describe Star Regional Channels – which is a testament to our Brand Equity.

What has been your key learning, on a personal front in this role?

I graduated from Kellogg in 1998 and since then have worked in the US and the UK. Returning to India after 12 years meant adapting to change at multiple levels and the entire journey of reconnecting with friends and family and rediscovering my cultural identity has been emotionally fulfilling and extremely rewarding. I am finally home and as the saying goes there is truly no place like it.

You successfully traversed your career from a global role in Pharma & FMCG into more regional Media & Entertainment now. What have been the key similarities and differences you experienced? What advice do you have for students who are looking to change career trajectories?

While I have worked across industries I have essentially managed brands (locally & internationally), businesses and people. In my current job I do all three i.e. manage a fast growing business by investing in building and developing talent. My advice would be to change industries only when are extremely passionate about the new industry (dream job) or when you can either bring a new and valued perspective based on your previous experience (move to allied/related industries) or when you are offered a general management role (as opposed to a functional head role).

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Ankush Patel, head of Corporate Development and Strategic Business Development at Endemol India talks to us about his career to date, Endemol’s entry into India and his reflections about the future of the Indian media and entertainment industry. Endemol is a global leader in entertainment programming and the largest independent television and digital production company in the world.

Ankush (KSM 03) is an alumnus of the University of Delhi where he has a masters in Finance & Control and is a CPA from the State of Delaware. He has experience with consulting firms as KNAV Grant Thornton and Ernst & Young. Post that, he moved into an entrepreneurial role in content production (in association with India’s leading internet entrepreneur, Anupam Mittal), then into an investment role at TimesGroup (India’s top media conglomerate) and now is currently looking at Corporate Development & Strategy for Endemol in India.

You started your career in financial services and management consulting before gradually moving over to venture capital and now media. What was the motivation for this career progression and what excites you most about working for the Indian media and entertainment industry?

I was with Ernst & Young’s Strategic Finance practice and a consultant to some media & entertainment companies. Intrigued by their working, I took a plunge and raised angel funding for a content production company in the television space in India. Post 3 years with this start-up, I transitioned out of the company and joined the investment arm of TimesGroup and am now heading the Corporate development Group at Endemol for India.

Clearly, India’s media space is a couple of years away from the innovations we see in the United States. But the quantum of investments taking place in the world’s third largest media market (in value), are phenomenal and opportunities abound for professionals from developed markets to take a piece of them into this new emerging market. Television is now seeing 20% growth rates (down from the 35% a couple of years back) but films, sports, regional language entertainment, live events are just beginning to come out on their own. Endemol is obviously excited by this trajectory of projections and we are trying to capture a piece of these pies.

As the disposable income of India grows, the leisure and entertainment industry will only exponentially grow. At these low values, India is already the third largest in total value. It is going to be an interesting ride over the next 10 years when India accelerates up the echelons of being a middle-income economy.

How has your Kellogg experience impacted your career to date?

From a mature market into the less developed one growing at a blistering pace, one can see the missing blocks and it is almost elementary to be at the top of one’s game as Professor Lys would say. Additionally, Kellogg really taught me to separate signals from the metaphorical noise.

Please tells us more about your current role as the head of Corporate Development and Strategic Business Development and the challenges and opportunities for Endemol as you entered the Indian market?

Most media companies need to be in the newer markets and have established businesses in Asia, Latin America and Africa. By that logic, we have been no different – Endemol has expanded into Latin America and Asia in the last couple of years and diversified away its risks from Europe and North America. India is a very desirable market for Endemol and forms our toehold in Asia.

The Asian markets were not used to paying for intellectual property as would be expected from lower income markets.  So, we faced the regular expected ghosts, but we have managed to educate the market of several weeks of opportunity costs involved in trying untested locally developed content. These would typically be

  • Fine tuning costs of the first ten weeks the show is on air
  • Dissatisfied show sponsors
  • Long run reputational effects with the viewers and agencies

The payments for intellectual property (format fees in our parlance) are far lower and more beneficial. It is really about riding the learning curve of various other developed markets and hitting the ground running with new television shows launched.

As we speak, we have educated the major market (Hindi language), but we are seeing sub-markets in India where we are at the early stages of this education. These would be the Telugu, Tamil, Bengali, Marathi and Kannada – language markets (5 populations with 70 million each and mutually exclusive from Hindi) and an ability to spend monies. Additionally, we are involved in the emerging sports content, digital content as well as branded entertainment markets. We are moving in early and will, hopefully, hold onto this market power.   I have ended up leveraging all the Kellogg classes on marginal costing, operations and negotiations to come out with innovative solutions while planning these productions here.

Endemol India is constantly launching new shows and recruits front-line stars, such as Shah Rukh Khan to host the Indian version of Wipeout (Zor Ka Jhatka). What are the main trends and areas of opportunity as you see them?

Indian television media content is still led by celebrity content and we have not transitioned into common people shows like in the developed world. Celebrities are important as long as viewers’ basic aspirations are still unfulfilled. And India is a mostly low income economy and, while there is a huge number of people rapidly climbing up the ladder of aspirations, there is a “larger” number entering the first few rungs of aspirations who demand celebrities of all kinds – Big Bollywood names to stars in smaller films and reality television. We expect this market to remain for about 5 -7 more years.

Looking ahead, there are several areas of potential growth:

  • Growth led by advertising revenue
    • Increased competition is demanding bigger shows, but the advertising pie is increasingly fragmented; Pricing models in the industry are changing as broadcast channels become less willing to proceed with fully funded content.
    • There will be more digital offerings, especially with the expansion of the 3G networks. However, producers are reticent to fully engage given the riskiness of this market, and the availability of less risky revenue sources.
    • Sports will continue to grow and be a lucrative market for advertisers. Until now there has been strong focus on cricket, driven by the creation of a professional cricket league. The main advertising season in India, August to December is yet without sports and yearning for either another sport or more cricket. “While this interview was on, media carried an Endemol India partnership with Rhiti Sports which also manages MS Dhoni, India’s cricket captain.”
    • Development of niches (regional language as well as consumer interest) is become increasingly viable and there are a bunch of channels launching to monetize these hitherto long tail markets
    • Additionally, the advertising market also wants us to better focus on different social economic classification (SECs) than the requirement of “one size fits all” GEC (general entertainment channel) broadcaster, our most important client today
  • Expect to see the ratio of subscription revenues to advertising revenues shift from 30:70 to a more reasonable 50:50; This will again cause a shift in the kind of content demanded from us.
  • We have launched our film division in August 2010 and looking keenly at getting pre-production.

What are the challenges ahead?

As content providers, our goal is to create engaging content that advertisers can monetize.

The key market for the “one size fits all” GEC channel is the 25-35 age group and there are few content offerings for other age groups or stand-alone niches. As soon as audiences move out of this age group, we stop catering to them since there is no vehicle to help monetize (without thinking long term valuations).

The industry is itself very young and adequate learning has not taken place for us to offer valuable content to other age groups. But now, we are seeing broadcasters looking curiously at this market of niches (food, real estate, business news, youth etc.) and we are stepping forward in enabling business models to allow for this catering. Unfortunately, in a growing economy with growth coming from various directions, we are not able to cater to all these potential niches with all of us going for the low hanging fruit. Hence, the evolution of the industry will depend on acquiring a talent pool, which can successfully cater for groups other than the 25-35 years olds. Until recently, niche programming was non-existent but there are signs of change – for instance, investors are showing more interest and we recently observed the launch of India’s first food channel, Food Food.

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