Guest column: Pause, Reset, Play – The M&E sector’s mantra during pandemic

Covid2019 has been a steep learning experience, not an unmitigable disaster

MUMBAI: This Covid2019 pandemic has forever transformed the way content is consumed across the world. With people confined at home and all outdoor public entertainment shut, and with easy access to 24x7 TV and high-speed internet, viewers consumed content across screens like never before. This paradigm shift prompted the M&E industry to pause, re-assess strategies and finally, scramble back on its feet with a refreshed plan of attack.

Like most of our contemporaries, we, at Endemol Shine India, were taken by complete surprise when India went into its first lockdown in March. Some of our ongoing shows had to be halted mid-way. Instead of throwing our hands up in despair, we utilised the forced break to go back to the drawing board to reset and put in place extremely detailed blueprints, SOPs and protocols, ready to be deployed for all production units when the lockdown opened.

When Unlock 1.0 was announced, we were well prepared to hit the ground running. We immediately deployed our well-laid plans, and over the next couple of weeks, started productions across the country. A lot of precious prep-time was saved through meticulous pre-planning that was done between our operating teams and medical experts over numerous Zoom calls.

Over the next couple of months, we successfully launched three Bigg Boss productions – in Telugu, Tamil and Hindi – all being some of the most complex on-ground productions in India that involve complex workflows and employ significant manpower throughout the day and night, across multiple months. It’s no less than war, but each day brings new learnings, and we are constantly on high vigil – the slightest error can be irreversibly catastrophic.

Despite inevitable financial setbacks due to a few show cancellations and postponements, we have been able to deliver to our customers what Endemol Shine India has always stood for — top-drawer high quality content. The biggest lesson learnt from this crisis is to always stay prepared for the next one. A great Plan A is now hygiene; the ability to pre-emptively keep Plan B ready is now the true differentiator.

The other side of the coin

While the lockdown period stalled productions and original content on TV went off air, repeats of successful older shows saw substantial viewership.

Ramayan returned to the small screen after 25 years, making DD the #1 channel in the country. Our very own Bigg Boss reruns contributed significant GRPs to our broadcaster partners. With original content back from July and with Bigg Boss and IPL driving viewership in Hindi and regional markets, broadcasters are also looking at a healthy turnaround in the advertising market. With the Covid numbers across India seeming in control and experts staying cautiously optimistic, the M&E industry is slowly but surely raising its head once again.

These steady progressions have not only fuelled optimism but also investments into the sector. As global brands like Apple, HBO and NBC as well as a few of our domestic giants wait in the wings to test the waters, the timing couldn’t be better for content creators and producers.

To make the best use of new and emerging opportunities in the post Covid era, it is imperative for organisations to reflect on long-term strategies, consolidate the green shoots and double-down on operating plans for 2021 and beyond. At Endemol Shine India, over the last couple of years, we have been actively pursuing a two-pronged strategy – preserve and grow our non-scripted portfolio, with newer formats and newer platforms; and significantly scale up our scripted portfolio.

We believe that upstream participation in Intellectual Property (IP) creation is critical and have been investing a lot in creative development – through book rights, original stories, and talent tie-ups. While we are the producer of choice for non-scripted shows, our next frontier is to become the producer of choice in the scripted space. We have set ourselves an ambitious target of delivering 50 per cent of our business from scripted productions over the next three years. As the industry is pivoting around content across devices and as consumption habits change, we realise that we too need to adapt and diversify. To deliver our plans, we are organising ourselves around content. To service the platform demand across the variety of shows we produce, we have created dedicated teams of creative, commercial and production personnel across scripted, non-scripted and factual content.

As we step on to this ambitious journey, we have identified three critical levers in our production playbook:

1.    Modularity in execution

Decentralised, empowered teams for each show, to deliver volumes without sacrificing quality. In 2021, quality supply at scale will be the single biggest USP of production houses.

2.    Customer-centric approach

Platform is king and feedback deserves utmost respect. As platforms re-orient their business models and discover newer consumption patterns in 2021, a strategic approach will differentiate production houses and decide who gets repeat volume business.

3.    Eye on ROI

The gains of diligent book-keeping cannot be under-stated. Also, we have realised that commercial efficiency and creative excellence are not always a zero-sum game. With granular planning, robust scheduling and tight execution, the interests of the platform and the production P&L can be aligned.

Looking ahead

In hindsight, the pandemic has been a steep learning experience, and luckily has not been the unmitigable hopeless disaster it threatened to be. On the contrary, it has made us deliberate and question the fundamentals of our operating models and come up with smarter ways of creating content for our diverse customer base.

The industry as a whole, has become more resilient and adaptive to new realities – of consumption shifts, lower margins and cost efficiencies. The government can support by easing taxation across the value chain and offering meaningful incentives for productions showcasing our beautiful country, a move that can indirectly help spur domestic tourism. After all, an industry that positively engages 750+ million consumers daily for hours at end, can only boost the revival sentiment in the near and long run as we head into an interesting 2021.

(The author is COO, Endemol Shine India. may not subscribe to his views.)

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