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The three big media myths

The media business is full of large corporates.’ ‘Quality is going down.’ ‘All these foreign companies are now taking charge of Indian media.’ At any media and entertainment industry (M&E) forum or in any mass media class these opinions always come up. In fact they are the most common questions I have heard over twelve years of covering the business. They are totally off the mark. Here is why.

Myth one — The media and entertainment business is full of big boys. The Indian media and entertainment business is a small, scrappy, fragmented industry that is not even on par with big Indian companies. At Rs 80,000 crore in size it is just a little bigger than Bharti Airtel. The entire Indian M&E industry is one-third the size of the world’s largest media company Comcast.

Now look at individual companies. The largest Indian media company, The Times group is estimated to be over a billion dollars in or Rs 5,500 crore in group topline. The only other group that big is Zee. Most of the others operate in the Rs 50-100 crore club.


Glass half empty? The growth of media has brought more variety and choice than ever before. Why then does everyone think the media business is full of bad boys?

If this sounds unbelievable remember that our volumes are huge, but the value numbers don’t match up. We are the world’s largest film making country not the most profitable one or the largest by value. So all those figures of 700 million TV viewers, 350 odd million newspaper readers, and largest film industry in the world are the stuff that suggests the potential. Sure Indian M&E companies are growing well, but they are nowhere close to being monoliths even by Indian standards.

Myth two — Quality has gone to the dogs Remember that more than 20 years ago you and I were waiting for the Sunday evening film. That was our primary source of home entertainment along with some serials at 9 pm. Till 1991 we had one TV channel a few newspapers and films. Now there are dozens of newspapers, over 800 channels and 245 radio stations.

There are huge amounts of entertainment and news options. There is the high-end stuff on National Geographic and Discovery along with popular shows in Hindi, English, Tamil, and Bangla among many other languages. So growth has brought tremendous variety — in languages, genres and even in ways that you can buy your TV signals. Look at the film industry. From Omkara and Kaminey to Dabangg and Ghajini, everything is on offer at multiplexes and single-screen cinemas. 

You could argue about quality but really entertainment is a matter of individual choice — to each his own. If you look for quality you will find it. There is BBC Entertainment, FX, Fox History and a whole lot of channels with very good shows. And if you enjoy popular shows, so what?

For some reason critics think it was wrong of Indians to enjoy Kyunkii Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi. Though I rarely heard them critique The Bold and the Beautiful or Santa Barbara, with the same fervour. This is true for films too. Shanghai was a completely inaccessible, overly intellectual, corruption saga. But most critics loved it, while they panned the fun Agent Vinod. Both bombed. Instead audiences have voted with their pockets for films such as Bodyguard or Vicky Donor.

Myth three — The foreigners are taking over When foreign investment in print was opened up in 2002, there was a huge hue and cry against it. The thinking was that foreign companies would swallow us up and kill our independence. More than three years after that only one deal was announced. It was only after the rules were relaxed somewhat to allow financial investors too, within the 26 per cent allowed in news media, that interest perked up.

But largely foreign companies have stayed away from the Indian news media. It is small, fragmented, and a political hot potato. And for the biggies struggling with survival in their home markets India is just not worth their effort and time. In entertainment, where foreign investment is allowed 100 per cent, some of the biggest groups - Sun, Zee or Network18 — remain largely Indian. And even if some are wholly foreign, like Star, they succeed only by having a management, philosophy and programming that is 100 per cent Indian.

Could we move the media debate beyond these myths please?  

The writer is a media specialist and author. Follow her on twitter at http://twitter.com/vanitakohlik

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