Mumbai – March 23, 2011 – Thank you, Karan, for your kind words. And thank you all for having me here.
Your Excellency, Honorable Minister, ladies and gentlemen…
I first came to India long before I had any thoughts of working here. I was a recent college drop-out, and mostly interested in skiing the Indian Himalayas. At the time, I had no inkling of the difference the time I would spend here would make in my life.
Millions still come to India the way I first did – to savour the richness of the culture, the excitement of Indian society, and the depth and marvel of its past. But these days India has a new breed of visitor. These are the people who come to see the future. And it is this future that I am delighted to speak about today.
I know I speak for all my colleagues at Star and Sky and News Corporation when I say we are excited about the opportunity to make our own contributions to a confident and global India. We count ourselves fortunate to work with those who, by any definition, rank among the worlds’ most talented.
On that first visit to Himachal Pradesh, I had no idea that just a few years later I would be back here sitting in a conference room in Andheri looking at new billboard art for a new game show called Kaun Banega Crorepati; and discussing the introduction of a new line of soap operas, prime time serials — that mysteriously all started with a “K”.
At Star in 1999 and 2000, we made a choice to triple down here, in a marketplace we were sure had the potential to change all of our lives.
Not that it’s been an easy ride. We have had fierce competitors in the past and we have them today, and I anticipate even more in the future.
I hope we have met them in the marketplace fairly – and a little fiercely too. To our rivals as well as our partners, I have only admiration for your work. And I believe that we are together at a time and place in history that offers us the chance to raise up something that the Indian people have not yet seen: a media sector that will be the envy of the world – and all the benefits that flow from that.
The Frames convention is at the center of this narrative. For those of us in this business of ideas, it has become a fixture on our landscape. Whether we are in media and entertainment, news and current affairs, or even technology, this is the place to be. We come here to share our notes on the most compelling areas of human endeavor. So before I continue, I’d like to ask you to join me in showing Harsh and his team our appreciation for their hard work.
Look at almost any field of human knowledge today and you will find Indians making contributions on a global scale. From mega-corporations straddling the world, to chemists developing life-saving drugs, to universities turning out engineers and scientists, India has established itself as a commercial, political, and economic heavyweight. This status will only be enhanced.
Behind India’s phenomenal rise is the unleashing of her human talent. This is the creative force behind her impressive economic figures. It is the energy that makes possible achievements once thought unthinkable. And it is the greatest of renewable resources, because it is rooted in the unlimited capacities of the free human mind.
Ladies and gentlemen, this is India’s moment of greatest opportunity – and this is the subject of my talk today.
The impressive achievements of the last two decades have not even begun to fulfill the potential of this great land. I believe that India’s creative force is a still sleeping tiger waiting to be awakened. And I suggest that the way forward begins with imagination.
When I say imagination, I’m not talking about pie in the sky. I’m thinking about the possibilities in a real and tangible way.
So let’s start with something very simple and concrete.
Begin by asking yourself how enormous India’s creative sector would be if it were simply proportional to its size in other economies. If India’s economy had a creative sector on the scale, relative to overall GDP, of Britain’s, for example, instead of a $15 billion industry we would be talking about a $120 billion industry.
Next, ask yourself how many millions of jobs a creative sector that size would produce each year for Indian people.
Finally, ask yourself how wide the reach such an industry would have – how it might help revolutionise such sectors as education and health care at home, while ensuring that India has a voice commensurate with her importance in global affairs.
We all know that, even at rest, tigers are impressive – and the other animals are careful to give them respect. Yet only when a tiger is awake and engaged can we appreciate its force and majesty. That is our challenge with India’s creative sector: to imagine what this slumbering tiger might do in the right environment.
What might such an environment look like? It would be one that puts a premium on creativity. An economy that encourages people to take risks in order to bring new and better products to market – and rewards them when they are successful. And an infrastructure that takes advantage of the best that modern technology has to offer – and ensures that Indians can compete with anyone, anywhere, any time.
To do this, we must turn our attention to two broad areas. The first is the digitization of infrastructure.
Digitization is the key to unlocking the potential of the creative sector. With digitization, the Indian industry will finally have the incentives to invest and create. Even more important, Indian customers will have the content and choice worthy of their nation’s rich diversity.
The second area is what we can do to bring Indian creators, storytellers, and journalists to the world’s conversations. And this can only be done by ensuring that India’s creative market is competitive at home.
Let me start with digital. Today, India has roughly 250 million homes. Of these, about 120 million have some form of multichannel television. Only 30 million of those are digital.
Why is this a problem? The answer is that digital is not simply another competing technology.
To the contrary, digitization brings content distribution and connectivity together – and helps them come alive. That is why the nations most determined to modernise their economies have put digital infrastructure at the top of their priorities.
It is true that here the market is already moving fast. With the cautious liberalisation of Direct-to-Home broadcasting, the cork on the bottle was removed. Thirty million Indian families have responded. So today India boasts not one, or two, but a whole sector of 21st century digital TV companies.
We all would do well to note that when it comes to first movers and innovators in this sector, none come from the cable fraternity. They all come from this new class. Grappling with the challenge of incumbency, the cable sector has too often failed to take into account the only constituency that truly matters: the customer.
This is not a new concern. When I spoke at Frames a decade ago, the government of the day was busily readying plans for the imposition of Conditional Access Systems.
I argued then that it was hard to see how a top-down approach would achieve the desired effect. Today the market is showing the better way. We should embrace that – and step on the gas.
The best way is to accelerate the liberalisation of digital broadcasting. That means allowing greater investment as well as greater latitude for innovation … including vertical integration of content companies and satellite distributors.
The truth is that the industry today is moving faster than the politics.
Unfortunately the analogue infrastructure is proving a drag. When competition is stifled by infrastructure, the scarcity of bandwidth drives the operator to price channel placement instead of investing in greater capacity. This makes things more expensive for the channel operator who has to recoup that higher cost out of advertising, spread ever so thinly across a fragmenting audience.
I’m not sure that people outside this room fully appreciate the huge opportunity costs this arrangement imposes – not just on our sector but on India’s future. Those who resist digitization have a strong vested interest in doing so. The lack of alternatives allows them to treat their customers as captives – and reap large profits by supplying, in many cases, undistinguished and outdated services.
In this environment, too often customers get what they are given and not what they desire. Indians who want to use their talents to create better fare have scarce opportunity to do so. And Indians as a whole are poorer because they are denied the access to technology and content that might contribute to better health in Bihar … the education of girls in Andhra … or high-quality entertainment, in their own language, for citizens in Bhojpuri, Tullu or Konkani.
By contrast, look at what is happening for those 30 million Indian homes that have digital. In return for their rupees, they demand newer and better services. To meet those demands and keep their customers, companies have to respond creatively. As a result, in the last year alone, we have seen new shopping channels, more TV journalism, HD broadcasting – and 3-D broadcasting to come. Not to mention simply being able to watch regional language programming out of market. For an increasingly mobile population, this ability to deliver diversity has real value.
In a digital environment, everything becomes digital – and the boundaries between our businesses — film, TV, newspapers, books, even communications — slide all over the place. This gives people in the creative sector more incentive to develop and sell their products. And it gives their customers something the status quo denies them: the ability to get news and timely information they want … wherever they are, whenever they want it, in the format they find most convenient.
That’s not just important for a girl in Pune shopping for the latest tune, so she can listen to it on her Android phone. It’s even more important to her father. If he’s a small businessman, he’s taking advantage of advances in digital communications to run his operations more efficiently, get information more quickly and cheaply, and respond better to shifts in the market.
Let me be clear here. Accelerating the digitization of infrastructure will not make a single Indian more creative. But it will give creative people a good incentive to become more productive.
As digitization helps make the industry more productive, it will also make it more diverse. Ours is an industry of ideas and communications. We tell stories, report the news, and help transport viewers from one place to another. Unfortunately, we are also an industry that can combine brave leaps of imagination with appalling timidity.
Transparent, deregulated, market based and addressable digitization will unleash a content revolution in India. Viewers deserve choice. In a vast and diverse country like India, no channel can try to be everything to everyone, and yet the prevailing regulatory system forces channels to adopt a uniform ad-dependant business model. Of course the irony is that the only way to succeed will be to innovate out and above the field. This requires risk, investment, and above all self-belief.
It’s not only entertainment that suffers. It’s also news.
Everyone knows that this nation is the world’s largest democracy. Less well appreciated is that it also has one of the world’s most engaged citizenries. That’s one reason the country has so many news programmes.
Yet I am constantly surprised by the almost exclusively domestic focus of that news coverage. Global stories may get covered. But when they are, India’s 1.2 billion people all too often have to rely on foreigners for on-the-ground reporting. The fundamental problem in news is the same as in entertainment: the status quo prevents the industry from developing a business model that will reward initiative and investment.
I know this is a source of great frustration for my friends in the Indian news sector. They tell me how they wish they had the resources to do better and more meaningful stories … to send more teams outside India’s borders to cover important global events … and to improve the talent in their newsrooms. Yet they are stifled by investment restrictions and prohibitions.
They know that the result is a diminished Indian voice in global affairs. Even when a big story happens in this region, few global news outlets call on Indian journalists to provide an Indian perspective.
This is an opportunity missed, for everyone involved:
for Indian customers, whose media does not reflect the richness of one of the world’s most diverse nations;
for Indian talent, which finds itself deprived of outlets for its creativity;
and above all, for the country. Of course, we can do better.
Better means a creative sector that reflects India’s many different linguistic, cultural, and religious traditions. Better means a system where success depends on satisfying the Indian customer. Better means an India where the playing field favors those who compete to serve over those who petition for protection.
If we do these things, we will see a burst of innovation and investment that will dwarf what we can imagine today – and drive India toward the tomorrow she deserves.
For the creative sector, that begins today with a digital infrastructure that will allow the right incentives for a more diverse and dynamic industry. This can be done through the market by accelerating the liberalisation of rules with respect to investment, content, distribution, and innovation.
We know it works. Over the last ten years of top-down targets and programs for digitization in television, the addressable digital customer base in cable is less than 1%. Yet the 25% of total multichannel households that are addressable have come entirely from unleashing infrastructure competition in the DTH sector. That is the market at work, and it can work even faster.
Digitization needs funding, it’s true. So it is crucially important to relax investment and ownership regulations and align them to this objective.
India has been telling stories for thousands of years. Now the social, political, and economic forces have come together to allow India to tell those stories on a global stage. For India to compete on that stage, size alone will not be enough. For Indian media to compete globally abroad, we will have to be competing globally at home.
Many Indian industries have already learned this lesson. For decades after winning independence, India’s economy turned inward. Over time, many products and services fell behind. In fact, it wasn’t all that long ago that the experts would tell you that Indian firms used to years of protection would never find their way in a hyper- competitive world market.
The good news is that these naysayers have been proved wrong. In a relatively short period of time, we have seen the emergence of global Indian powerhouses – from our partner in Tata Sky, Tata Sons, to vast industrial groups like both Reliances, or the famous IT heavyweights that have revolutionised software development. The list is a long one.
Now we must do the same for the creative sector.
We know it can be done. And I’ll give you an example: Slumdog Millionaire. Technically this is a British film. But it was based on an earlier novel by an Indian
writer named Vikas Swarup. The novel imagines the life of a young man from the Mumbai slums who appears on KBC. The film was set and filmed in India, and went on to dominate the Oscars in Hollywood that year. Still later it was dubbed into Hindi.
There are many more stories just waiting to be told. My Name is Khan is another example. This Bollywood production was a joint venture between an Indian and an American company. It told the story of a Muslim man in San Francisco and what he experienced after 9/11. It was produced and directed by a good friend of ours, who kindly introduced me today: Karan Johar.
The acclaim it has achieved proves something my father has always said: no nation has a monopoly on creative content. If you tell a good story, people will respond.
It is only a decade ago that a picture like Lagaan — a three and three quarter hours long period epic — and a favourite of mine — re-set the bar for global commercial and critical success — but today just think how much higher that bar is.
The successes of these efforts are there for all to see. And it may lead some to ask: If things are going well, why change?
The answer goes back to imagination. It’s easy to see what’s right in front of us. I’m asking you to imagine what might yet be – and not settle for anything less.
The status quo keeps India punching below its weight class in the world. I know of no example of an industry that is both protected at home and competitive abroad. To the contrary, the more competition a company has in its home market, the stronger and more resilient it will be abroad.
For many countries, this is a tremendous challenge. Not all have responded well. For an India determined to leapfrog ahead, it is a tremendous opportunity.
Nobel winning economist Amartya Sen suggested that India’s democracy is not simply the legacy of the British Empire. To the contrary, he sees it as having strong roots in India’s tradition of argument and debate. In a chapter devoted to the filmmaker Satyajit Ray, he wrote as follows: “In our heterogeneity and in our openness lies our pride, not our disgrace.”
That should be the motto for this Indian moment.
So in conclusion, while much of the rest of the world is grey and tired, India is young and eager. While others live in societies led by men of force, India is led by the chosen – through the ballot box. And while others have not found their voice, India has a proud and rich tradition of literature, film, television and, of course, technology.
These are tremendous advantages. Keeping them in mind, I ask you to envision a future where a television studio in Mumbai is exporting new formats to stations in Munich … where a film director in Bangalore has as large a following in London and Los Angeles as he does in Lucknow … where a Delhi news network brings an Indian perspective to audiences in Chicago, Cape Town, and Cancun.
This future is not some distant dream. With effort and imagination, it can soon be the present reality.
Give this new generation of Indians the incentives they need to encourage their talent. Allow them to reap the rewards of their success and enterprise. Encourage them as they build a creative sector that reflects the passions and energies and beauty of this incredible nation.
If we do, we will find not only that India will have changed, but India will be changing the world.
Thank you for listening.