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Media’s lost opportunity is $105 bn: Murdoch







MUMBAI: The success of Star in India has not tamed James Murdoch’s anger nine years since he last addressed Ficci-Frames in 2002. The wrath against cable TV operators for not giving broadcasters their fair share of revenue still resides but the tone is subdued.

“India’s creative force is still a sleeping tiger waiting to be awakened. That is why the Indian media and entertainment (M&E) industry is at $15 billion instead of $120 billion,” said Murdoch who is News Corp chairman Asia and Europe.


Speaking at the 12th edition of Ficci-Frames here today, the junior Murdoch said digitisation of infrastructure is key to unlocking the potential of the creative sector. While India has 250 million homes out of which 120 million have some form of multichannel television, only 30 million are digital.


” With the cautious liberalisation of DTH 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 matters: the customer." 


India’s moment of greatest opportunity has arrived, believes the man who would love skiing the Himalayas.


“ 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. This would allow greater investment as well as greater latitude for innovation … including vertical integration of content companies and satellite distributors,” said Murdoch.


He accused vested interests of resisting digiisation. “If it stays analogue, then those companies can keep their customers as captives. Indians are the poorer for this. They are denied access to content of their choice. The digital homes present on the other hand demand better services. That means companies have to act and you are seeing shopping channels coming in, high definition, content in local languages. You are also seeing the advent of 3D. In a digital environent the boundaries between verticals slides, be it print, television, movies. This offers the incentive to content creator to develop and sell products.”


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.”


He reminisced about Star in 1999 and 2000, when they made a choice to triple down here, in a marketplace they were sure had the potential to change all of their 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.


Murdoch said the status quo is also restricting innovation in the news sector. “This is unfortunate as Indians are an engaged audience. There are investment restrictions in the news space. So the Indian voice in global affairs is diminished.”


As digitisation needs funding, Murdoch pushed for a relaxation in investment and ownership regulations. Digitisation, he believed, would unleash a content revolution in India.


The second area Murdoch stressed on is the need to bring Indian creators, storytellers, and journalists to the world’s conversations. This can only be done by ensuring that India’s creative market is competitive at home.


“My father says that no country has a monopoly on creative content. “Allow the new generation of Indians 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," said Murdoch.


Indian entrepreneurs, riding on a KPMG report that forecast the media and entertainment industry to almost double its revenues to Rs 1275 billion by 2015, should feel encouraged as Murdoch described global media firms to have grown "grey and tired" while their Indian counterparts were "young and eager".

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