Speaking at the inaugural session of FICCI Frames 2018, the apex meet on the media and entertainment (M&E) business, Smriti Irani, the Indian Information & Broadcasting Minister, informed that the prestigious Indian Institute of Mass Communication (IIMC) in Delhi will soon be upgraded to a deemed university.

The institute has been training professionals in the fields of journalism, radio, advertising and public relations for more than half a century now. She noted that discussions are in progress with the Ministry of Human Resource Development to complete the process of formalizing the University. IIMC also has regional centres at Dhenkanal, Aizawl, Jammu, Amravati and Kottayam; which will eventually provide the university degrees.

Smriti Irani

Later, speaking to this correspondent on the sidelines of the conference, Irani said that the educational structure in the media and entertainment domain is mostly flawed and focuses only on technical skills and immediate needs. She believes that education in this domain should be multi-disciplinary and should focus on academic rigour apart from emphasizing on hands-on skills and practical work. She added that a thorough knowledge of literature, society, politics, economics, geography and psychology are crucial to succeed in the field of media and entertainment and hence education here should be far more holistic than what it is today.

Quest for a New Positioning of the India Story

Smriti Irani, interestingly, noted in her interaction at the FICCI Frames that the Indian M&E industry should not compare itself with the likes of Hollywood and China except for business numbers, but should position itself uniquely based on its own story-telling skills with the largest media consumer base in the world being its undeniable strength. She added that this story-telling capacity will need media education to be much more imaginative than what it is today.

Employment at the Crossroads

We can take a look at another perspective. The direct employment in the M&E sector has crossed the 1 million mark and the total figure including indirect and induced employment is more than 5 million, which happens to be a substantial number. This number, albeit, is rather small when we look at the total Indian population of 1.3 billion. Also, a huge majority of the professionals recruited by the M&E industry is under-trained and digitally semi or sparsely-skilled. This stands in stark contrast when we consider that at a whopping 30 percent over 2016, digital media witnessed its biggest growth last year.

Siddharth Roy Kapur, the Co-chair of the FICCI Media & Entertainment Committee, feels that the needs for structured and formal training in content production, re-skilling of people who are already there in the industry for a fairly long time and the infusion of entertainment business management skills to monetize content across all platforms are all the more urgent today than ever before.

“Media jobs being non-repetitive and imagination driven, though heavily technology facilitated today, remain an area which will not be largely replaced by machines and hence constitute a long-term job prospect, which is often missed out by learners and mentors alike”, noted the Viacom Group CEO Sudhanshu Vats in his keynote address at the same flagship event of the M&E industry.

Healthy Domain Growth

The sector, according to an industry status report jointly released by Ernst & Young and FICCI during the event, touched Rs. 1.5 trillion ($22.7 billion) in 2017, a growth of 13 percent over the last year, while the economy overall grew at half of that rate. It is all poised to cross the Rs. 2 trillion or $31 billion mark by 2020, which is a healthy growth. On the other hand, a few large areas of the industry – print, radio, music, out of home and television – all grew at less than 10 percent over the previous year, print growing at a measly 3 percent. Animation, films and digital media grew between 25 and 30 percent over the earlier year.

Industry’s Self Introspection

There are several things that the industry itself can do to strengthen its reach, impact, business and the engagement of audiences. Firstly, it has to realise that collaboration is a better strategy than competition even when you compete with your peers. Also, the industry has to take common stands when facing the government or when combating attacks from fringe elements or when upgrading its standards. Secondly, each media platform or initiative needs to have some unique positioning, specialization and focus and not do everything for everyone. Thirdly, the industry needs to wake up to measurements, accountability and big data analytics, especially in the rising digital age. Going ahead, approximation and befooling audiences and advertisers and data-fudging will be matters of the past. Lastly, an immense quantum of collaboration with youths will be needed, an effective example being the V-SEP programme of the Viacom group – Viacom Start-up Engagement Programme.

Can the Government be the Game-changer?

The government can be the game-changer too and the biggest aspect of that will be the commencement of an e-enabled time-bound single window-based clearance system for events, licensing, varied content production permissions and the likes. The Niti Aayog is currently working on this with support from the industry. However, the same is a long way to go yet.

With the data-prices falling, the digital access to entertainment and information content has grown tremendously and consumption experiences for audios and videos should be even better with 5G connectivity coming ahead. However, for the same to happen, the process of auctioning 5G spectrum and facilitating the ease of doing content and digital business etc., need a major push from the union government. Policy paralysis and uncertainty have often plagued the industry. Since demonetization and GST implementation constitute a twin attack on the media economy, its industry status now needs a strong fillip from the government to gain lost ground, credits, outreach and credibility ahead.

Industry Roots for Digital Practical Applicable Education

To realize the industry vision of $50 billion turnover for the M&E sector which directly employs 3 million people and 10 million people overall, several industry leaders that this correspondent spoke to batted for “digital, practical, applicable, multi-skilling media and entertainment education in India.”

Times Network CEO MK Anand noted, “The ease of doing broadcast business is increasing a lot these days due to technology development and simpler ready-to-use techniques and technologies, which the new generation of broadcast professionals must know if they aspire to make a mark in this sector.”

“Since the access to media is becoming seamless across media platforms like social media, mobile phones, radio, television, print, outdoor etc., the media education of today and tomorrow must prepare talents for this seamless convergent multi-media scenario,” opined Amit Khanna, an media expert today and the founder of Plus Channel in the past. According to Khanna, one also has to understand that multi-media touch-points increase monetization opportunities and hence media professionals of tomorrow must be revenue-sensitive.

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Reporting by Prof. Ujjwal K Chowdhury
Mumbai