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Viacom18's Sudhanshu Vats: Indian media's growth will be similar to China

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MACAU: Even as he said that the growth trajectory of the Indian media space will be similar to that of China, Mumbai-headquartered Viacom 18 Media group CEO Sudhanshu Vats made it clear that both television and digital spaces were complementary to each other having a great future in India.

"Indian media market’s evolution will be very similar to that of China. Where we (India) are today in 2017 is where China was in 2011," Vats said on Wednesday during the opening keynote on the third and last day of the CASBAA Convention 2017 here in a conversation with media industry veteran Marcel Fenez of Fenez Media.

"In India, the future of television is television and also digital. If you are a content provider or a story teller, you have an advantage," Vats said, adding that he expected a significant growth surge on the AVoD and SVoD sides of the media business.

Vats went on to highlight the reasons for pushing the company’s digital venture VOOT, stating that not only has the app downloads run into double digit millions, but that about 15-18 per cent of the content on the platform was exclusive even as the Viacom18 team learns from the digital evolutionary processes in the US and China markets. Launched in early 2016, VOOT engages kids as well as adults with 17,000 hours of network content.

"We do a lot of content around digital, which is called VOOT exclusive. India has a big appetite for reality shows and there is a huge amount of curiosity about what happens behind the scenes,” Vats explained. Viacom18 hosts some of India’s biggest reality shows - ‘Fear Factor’ and `Bigg Boss’. He also thinks that India will skip credit cards to e-payment, which can help aim for VOOT SVoD with a paywall.

According to Vats, a Unilever India veteran marketer-turned-media professional (he jokingly mentioned that in his previous company he was famously referred to as the `Laundry Man’ for driving Unilever’s home washing products in India), "Essentially we are storytellers. The big business we are in is content and we need a robust pipeline of content and creative talent. But the challenge is getting talent, and retaining them.”

In this context, he explained later, Viacom18 has started a start-up initiative, encouraging young talent to express themselves in a creative manner as new disruptive ideas in Indian media will not come from within an organisation, but from outside.

(Another reality show running on MTV India is Dropout, a nationwide hunt to find hidden creative talent in ‘dropouts’ to be groomed by industry leaders into entrepreneurs, to solve real-world business problems in a short span of time.)

Terming Viacom18’s 10-year eventful existence as “fantastic” when it had grown 40x, Vats, whose many passions include running marathons world over, said the company’s journey had “now just begun” in India’s media landscape that has been changing dramatically over the years pushed by content, delivery mechanism and technological evolutions. (Incidentally, he completed his daily quota of an hour’s running before getting ready for the morning keynote.)

As part of innovations being undertaken by Viacom18, Vats pointed out that the company plans to set up an engineering hub in India’s Silicon Valley, Bangalore, to help various in-house products.

“The big media companies are consolidating and coming together with telecom companies,” Vats said highlighting the disruptions and convergence happening in the Indian media landscape, “If you had asked me before, I wouldn't have thought that would happen."

Batting on the front foot for a digital India, Vats said the country was an “exciting” market. “It’s at the cusp…ready to take off. If you have a five-year horizon, it (India) is where you should be,” he aptly summed.

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