Technology has democratised content creation

VIACOM-18 MEDIA - THE GREAT SURGE - Now in its 10th year, Viacom18 Media has grown more than 40 times since its inception, operating 42 channels and 9 regional feeds with over a dozen beaming content outside India. Raring to go further, Sudhanshu Vats, Group CEO, Viacom18 Media Pvt Ltd, shares his thoughts on how M&E space is getting transformed as he plans to become an agent of change that redefines the entertainment ecosystem in the country

Photo Caption: Sudhanshu Vats - Group CEO,Viacom18 Media Pvt Ltd and Chairman, CII National M&E Committee

Viacom18 Media has completed an eventful decade in Indian M&E space. How Group CEO Sudhanshu Vats is looking forward to surprise viewers and competitors with the ‘content-first’ approach

Viacom18 Media is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year. How has been the journey so far?

Viacom18 has built a distinctive identity for itself through its strong focus on engaging and disruptive stories. This “content-first” approach is in synergy with our broadcast and digital business lines, and together, films, broadcast and digital form the bouquet of content entertainment that Viacom18 offers its consumers across all age groups. Then there is the sensory bouquet with experiential entertainment and merchandising businesses that complete the entire entertainment ecosystem that the network offers to it consumers.

The business philosophy that drives the organisation is that we want to be an agent of change that redefines the entertainment ecosystem in this country. After 10 years, five lines of businesses, innumerable brands, leadership positions across almost all categories and a good network reach, the journey till now is just a warm-up lap of an exciting future.

From being an outsider to the M&E industry in 2012, you are now well established in the M&E space? How challenging is to get embraced by the M&E sector in India?

There are two similar core thoughts that drive both the FMCG and M&E industry – your product/service is the most definitive ingredient to your brand success and the consumer understanding is the key to your success.

However, unlike FMCG which is a mature sector, media is young and is seeing newer genres emerge. Media’s inclination to be entrepreneurial, and hence be more gut-driven than data driven was also an interesting difference that I considered when I moved to Viacom18. In all honesty, I was anticipating all this. I knew what I had opted for and it was an exciting challenge for me. I must also add that the pace at which M&E operates is truly mind-boggling.

That said, I think the very definition of the media and entertainment industry is changing rapidly. Technology has democratised content creation and is redefining distribution. As technology companies are making forays into premium content, especially premium video content, our industry will have to leapfrog a growth phase or two. In a connected world, mining consumer data, interpreting them as consumer preferences and using these insights to drive consumer offerings, is becoming the new norm.

Women empowerment, skills and collaborative approach are top on the Viacom18 Media’s priority list and differentiate it from others.What are your thoughts on these issues?

Being a JV has its advantages! Collaboration is a natural outcome of it – and this is evinced both internally and externally. That, and building a culture that values innovation, even if it sometimes leads to failures, has driven us to create a vibe that is quite unique. Our hope is that this culture is a key magnet to attract topnotch talent – which further fuels our growth – setting in motion a winning cycle.

Women empowerment is one of the many causes we support socially, but is perhaps one of our most visible attributes. Viacom18 prides itself on being a network with a humane purpose.Our reach and influence on our consumers also puts a responsibility on us – to use the influence to bring about positive societal change.

In a very short time, Viacom18 Media has produced more than half-a-dozen businesses and leaders in various business verticals and looks further to grow stronger. The depth is visible and there is something for all viewers across the country?As the Group CEO how do you see this going forward?

As compared to our own popular channels,Viacom18 is still a young brand. MTV has been in India for 20 years; Nick was launched around the start of the millennium, VH1 in 2006 and Colours in 2008. Not only have we grown more than 40X in the last 9 years, we also operate 42 channels and 9 regional feeds, with over a dozen beaming our content outside India. In addition to a fast-growing broadcast business, we also have a profitable films business known for its distinctive content, including our latest Toilet Ek Prem Katha. We launched our live events business around three years ago and it has several iconic IPs, including Vh1 Supersonic. Last year, we added the video OTT offering VOOT, which is now ranked among the top streaming apps in the country and showcases our future-readiness. As a network, we now operate a profitable set of brands across businesses and we only see this growing further in the years to come. As the Group CEO, I believe my number one priority is to build a Viacom18 that is admired by one and all and is future-ready. In my mind, this is a goal worth pursuing. We’ve started our journey and are committed to it.

Viacom18 Media’s new kid on the block VOOT won IBC’s innovation award in content distribution? How significant was this honour for the company?

VOOT, which launched in 2016, currently hosts over 40,000 hours of content with over 25 million monthly active users.

Winning the IBC2017 Innovation Award for Content Distribution was a huge honour for everyone at Viacom18. We are known for our content business, but to have our company feature on the global technology leader board, was a major acclaim for everyone involved. I’ve said before that the media landscape is changing rapidly and the marriage of gut and insight will be crucial in this new paradigm. Kudos to the team for delivering the innovation in partnership with Google.

COLORS TV channel continues to be the major growth driver for the group? What are your views on the channel’s success?

There is always more room to grow. While COLORS is doing well, we will continue to do more by developing other sub-genres within our general entertainment network. As we grow our portfolio, we will continue to reduce our dependence on Colors. From an ad-sales perspective, our reliance on our flagship offering Colors Hindi is expected to drop from about 4/5th in FY12 to almost half in FY18. Our Kannada channel, from its ETV acquisition in 2012, has moved up from fourth position to the top in the last three years. Today, the channel has 36 per cent market share of the Rs 600-crore Kannada market, growing at over 12-13 per cent annually. We also launched a second Kannada GEC in HD in 2016 and will continue to focus on growing our regional bouquet. India is a macrocosm of many ‘Indias’ and this is evident in the differing entertainment tastes of the various regions of India. In such a scenario, regional is big focus are for us. We will be soon launching our 7th regional offering in Tamil Nadu.

The NDA government led by PM Narendra Modi has completed three years in Office. Do you see visible changes reflect in the M&E sector specifically from the policy and ease of doing business perspective?

The industry is extremely pleased with the proactive, consultative approach of the government. It has set the ball rolling on regulations that have been around frozen for way to long.The government has showcased its commitment to alter the status quo through various industry altering changes. Reform measures such as demonetization and GST augur well for the long-term health of the economy. I have always maintained that as an industry, we have a lot to gain from an economy that is buoyant in the aggregate sense rather than reforms aimed only at our sector. In fact, I must add that the manner and scale at which this government has attempted behavioural change campaigns around Swachch Bharat – we have a lot to learn!

What are the three or four areas that you think M&E needs attention that would further propel growth?

The M&E industry while on a steep growth trajectory can further propel growth by focusing on:

Disintermediation as a business reality and the need to prepare ourselves for a direct to consumer offering and one with direct access to talent if we are to succeed

  • The need to view technology and data as a potent currency that can revolutionize our success rates and monetization
  • We need to be able to attract top talent in storytelling, technology and analytics if we are to succeed in the next 4-5 years
  • Finally, we need to experiment more across the board- in the way we tell stories, the kind of stories we tell, the formats we look at, the people we attract... There’s a lot that is happening but more can be done.

The Indian M&E industry has set an ambitious target to reach $100 billion from the current $20 billion over the next five years. You also head Confederation of Indian Industry’s National M&E Committee? Do you see this happening? What are the challenges of achieving this?

The industry is witnessing robust growth and the need of the hour is to look at our industry from the perspective of ‘convergence’. This alone will recognize our role as a force multiplier. We will soon see the kind of consolidation being witnessed in the West and the $100 billion target will become an attainable reality. The regulatory framework must pre-empt this and prepare for it. This means ensuring parity across different forms of media so that there is no regulatory arbitrage. There is also the need for freedom to price services which will unleash the industry further and equip us to compete with the best in the world. A lighter approach towards regulation, where market forces play and even greater role will also help all players in the value chain compete on the basis of efficiency. Given the way Jio has disrupted the telecom market in India, I see the demand for M&E content only going up – making the 100 Bn USD an achievable milestone –as long as we get our monetisation models right.

As you have been the proponent of ‘Make in India, Show the World’ tagline, do you see India emerge as a digital hub for the world?

For me ‘Make in India’ is about encouraging youth in India and opening up avenues to become enablers and entrepreneurs. This program has in fact placed the global spotlight on India’s economic potential. In this regards also the M&E Industry can be a huge accelerator, in 2016 we employed nearly 5mn people. We would need to double this workforce in the next 5-7 years. Hence we need to plan from today to make those investments in the talent pipeline. This includes talent from the creative, technical and management spheres. The industry needs to collaborate more with educational institutions, the government needs to facilitate these partnerships and parents and teachers need to create awareness and nurture interest in design, technology and creative skills at the level of primary education. At our own level, we have attempted to bring entrepreneurship in the mainstream conversation with our show MTV Dropout.

Finally, disruptions continue to hit legacy M&E industry. But there are very few entrepreneurial disruptions in the Indian media space. Your comments?

I see your point at one level, but don’t agree with it in entirety at another. On the content side, we have seen significant disruptions with independent creators taking to digital and then entering the mainstream. I see our industry’s role as one which is able to leverage this talent and offer a larger canvas for them to play with. On the distribution side, we have seen the entry of a new telco fuelled by entrepreneurial passion of a different order. I believe that in the next few years they will be able to spawn an ecosystem full of innovators working towards both, incremental innovations and those at scale. As the industry becomes even more consumer-focused, the scope for disruption will only increase.

Which one book has influenced you the most?

It’s tough for me to single out any one book. I enjoy reading and several books and authors have influenced me over the years. I will take the liberty of sharing a few books that I think are a must-read for most individuals – Tuesdays with Mory, Tipping Point and The Second Machine Age.

What is your idea of real happiness?

That’s an interesting question. My notion of happiness has evolved over the years. To my mind, ‘real happiness’ is an inner state. Simply put, happiness is a choice. Nothing can keep it from you if you choose to be happy. I have also found that acts of generosity and giving – however simple or small – always dial-up happiness.

Viacom18- Milestones

1997

MTV India launched

2005

Viacom reintroduces Nickelodeon to the Indian Market

MTV launches VH1 as an English Music Channel

2007

Viacom Inc and Network18 Group ink JV

2008

Colors launched with 83 GRPs within Week 1. Ranked #3 on first ratings post debut

Colors ranks #1 within 9 months of launch, beating News Corp’s India channel Star Plus

2009

Ancillary businesses Digital media and Consumer Products gather steam

2010

Films Business Studio18 roped in

2011

24 hour English Entertainment channel, Comedy Central and Nickelodeon’s entertainment channel for teenage kids, SONIC launched Studio18 renamed Viacom18 Motion Pictures

2012

Viacom18 forms organic distribution company- IndiaCast Media Distribution Private Ltd

Launch of Nickelodeon kids channel for 4-12 year olds, Nick Jr launched Initiated acquisition of regional channels- ETV Gujarati, ETV Marathi, ETV Kannada, ETV Oriya and ETV Bangla

2013

New line of business, Integrated Network Solutions (INS) launched Viacom18 turns profitable- records PAT for the first time as a network Rebranding of regional channels. Revenue starts kicking in from the regional cluster

2014

COLORS’ petal general entertainment Free-To-Air channel, Rishtey launched in India

MTV India’s co-branded Indie channel, MTV Indies launched

2015

Colors Infinity launches

2016

Launch of VOOT

Launch of Rishtey Cineplex

Launch of second Kannada GECCOLORS Super

Launch of MTV Beats

Vh1 Refresh- new logo and programming refresh

2017

Announcement of Colors Tamil launch

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