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M&E industry lacks reliable data: Uday Shankar

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MUMBAI: For a $15 billion media and entertainment industry, the lack of reliable data is one of the major factors pulling down growth.

Star India CEO and chairman of the Ficci Media & Entertainment Committee Uday Shankar wondered how a fledgling industry could function without availability of acceptable data.

Urging stakeholders of M&E industry to set their house in order, Shankar said that there is lack of reliable data on audience measurement across verticals of the media and entertainment sector.

"How can this industry function without a shared and non-controversial view of the most basic facts? Numbers are supposed to be the foundations of rational business decisions. How can we make decisions when professionals in the business of numbers can’t get their numbers straight?," he questioned.

The lack of reliable data is not limited to TAM, Shankar elaborated. "As a TV executive, I am surprised sometimes how I am even able to function. I do not know enough about my viewers – in fact, I don’t even know how many of them are there. There are 140 million cable and satellite homes but the measured universe is 62 million households."

Shankar also said that the country’s premier media agencies differ on a fact as basic as the size of the advertising market.

He also pointed out that it‘s not just the television industry that suffers from lack of reliable data. In fact, the whole industry across verticals is functioning without proper data.

"The ambiguity in data for other sectors of the media and entertainment is no less. For instance, no film producer seems to know accurately how many people actually bought tickets to watch his film," Shankar averred.

Shankar also exhorted that there is a need for a change of mindset among stakeholders to take the industry to the next level.

The M&E industry is a real economic enterprise and not just a vehicle of glitz and glamour, one that has the potential to solve the problem of unemployment by creating new jobs.

"The time has come for all of us to make sure that it is not just industry status that we seek; it is a fundamental change in mindset," Shankar said, while delivering his keynote address today at Ficc-Frames 2013, an annual media and entertainment conclave held in Mumbai.

He also said that the M&E industry is capable of creating employment and wealth much faster than most other sectors and has the ability to be a force multiplier, like it is in most countries.

"It is particularly relevant in India because it can be an employment generator without massive public investments and without being hampered by the deficiencies of public infrastructure. Just to put things in perspective, as a $15 billion industry, we employ over 6 million people. This can be so much more significant and meaningful," he said.

He also bemoaned the fact that the industry despite the huge potential has not got the adequate support from government.

A case in point, Shankar said, was the government‘s recent decision to increase customs duty on Set Top Boxes, notwithstanding the fact that the cost of STBs will go up at a time when the country is moving towards mandatory cable television digitisation and impose withholding taxes on content rights

"The lens often used to look at this industry is largely one of glamour and propaganda and the biggest debate is on how to control and contain it. As a result, the growth of M&E has not been supported by policy and regulatory initiatives," he added.

Emphasising that the industry is facing an imminent talent crunch, Shankar said: “We hide under the pretense of creativity and have convinced ourselves that creativity gives us the license to be informal and chaotic. It is this informality and chaos that has seeped into our approach to spotting and grooming talent. This is dangerous. We must realise that discipline and formality are not antithetical to creativity and if anything they are necessary ingredients to fostering the creative process.”

Shankar said efforts to curb free speech in a robust democracy like India is one of the biggest challenges that can potentially derail the industry from its trajectory. “When Satyamev Jayate points to weaknesses in the medical system, doctors are offended. When Jolly LLB creates a courtroom satire, lawyers are offended. Even when a precocious teenager posts a comment on Facebook, some people start baying for her blood,” he lamented.

“What is interesting to me is that we all agree that the role of media is to question the status quo. But with the right to question must come the right to provoke and the right to offend.”

Shankar also set out the ambitious Rs 10 billion target for Indian movies. "We should work hard and strive for such success. If the stakeholders can come together, a lot can be achieved. We have seen that in the case of digitisation," Shankar said.

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