The Power of Indian Content

The future clearly is digital and niche is new mass, delivering to a mobile first generation can only be achieved through development that is data and analytics driven - Dinesh Gupta

Tracing the journey of Indian content across the world, Dinesh Gupta, Founder & Managing Director of Sacom Mediaworks, underscores the strength of India’s biggest global export, the crucial role played by Indian broadcast majors in popularising it and the market impact quality entertainment content from India has had on global viewers

The 2010 Munich International Film Festival screened an Indian movie Ishqiya to much critical and popular acclaim. The song that left everyone humming its tune was named after a famous Morrocan scholastic traveller, Ibn Batuta. While the real Ibn landed in India somewhere around the early 1300s and was made a judge in Muhammad Bin Tughlaq’s court in Delhi, the song celebrates the travails of two vagabonds in modern day hinterland India.

And just as Ibn’s famous treatise The Travels internationalised stories from across the lands he had travelled, including India; so had the road movie of two down and out Indian vagabonds found favour with international audiences across the globe. Readers and listeners alike, welcome to India’s biggest global export: entertainment.

Globalisation of Indian Content

The Indian media and entertainment industry may not be the largest but it clearly is among the fastest growing globally. The Confederation of Indian Industry estimates the Indian M&E industry will break the US$ 100 billion barrier in the next 5-7 years. The commercial exploitation of modern Indian content can be traced back to the early 1980s when two iconic Hollywood productions globalised Indian stories – Richard Attenborough’s Gandhi and David Lean’s cinematic adaptation of E.M. Forster’s A Passage to India. Since then India has exported stories, actors, characters and locales to global movie studios. Filmed Entertainment, indeed, has been at the forefront of leading the thrust of globalising Indian content.

The next wave came when the Indian broadcast majors – Star, Zee, Viacom18 and Sony – launched channels in the overseas markets of Europe, the Americas, APAC and MENA. What started with replaying Indian shows to the desi diaspora abroad, now has a fair amount of localisation as well. The advent of Internet and Over the Top video on demand services is the latest avenue that is helping globalise Indian content. While from the consumer’s POV the number of platforms carrying Indian content has multiplied, from a business perspective, television still remains the highest earning platform, followed by films. Digital, the new kid on the block, is helping both democratise Indian content and also expand its reach; it still has a few years to becoming a serious revenue contributor though.

MAJOR PLAYERS ‘GLOCALISING’ INDIAN CONTENT

Over the years, revenues from International markets have become more and more serious. This started as early as the 1950s when Raj Kapoor led the wave by breaking into erstwhile USSR with titles like Awaara and Shri 420 by becoming a symbol of optimism in the post-world war II. Subhash Chandra-led Zee Network can clearly be presumed the pioneers of Indian content in international markets. As he realised the market of Indian content grow, ‘glocalising’ content became Zee’s mantra.

Zee launched two dedicated channels in Middle East focused on mainstream Arab audiences showcasing best of Indian film and drama content and established itself as the serious contender in the market. Zee always believed if there was great traction for content syndication in a particular geography, there clearly is a case to launch its own platform there. Today Zee has ‘glocalised’ channels in Middle East, Far East Asia, Germany, Africa, LatAm and (soon to be launched channel in) Poland. With 4200+ film titles and 240,000 hours of content, Zee is clearly the undisputed leader in the domain. Studios like Yash Raj Films and Dharma Productions have built the NRI driven foreign audiences and helped break into markets that were predominantly driven by Indian audiences, Indian ambassadors like Priyanka Chopra and Deepika Padukone, global success for Dangal and Baahubali really helped break stereotype and facilitate a further push into mainstream theatrical markets globally. Today studios like Red Chillies, Eros, Dharma and YRF lead the fi lm syndication space along with the Top 4 TV Networks. Indian dramas however have clearly been the game changers like nothing else.

BREAKING INTO NEW MARKETS WITH QUALITY CONTENT

A fledgling Pay TV and Advertising market in India helped produce better quality dramas in the last decade. Dramas like Balika Vadhu from Colors helped break into markets no one ever thought existed for Indian TV. Markets like Russia, Romania, Estonia, Slovakia, Bulgaria, Poland, China, Japan, Vietnam, Cambodia, Mynamar, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Israel, Kazakhstan, Afghanistan and Africa embraced Indian dramas like they were made for them.

So, what is it that really helped penetrate these markets? These markets were never able to produce high quality dramas due to limitation of budgets, lower literacy rates necessitated that the content was dubbed in local languages for it to find an audience. Between the acquisition and dubbing costs and long running tracks Hindi dramas could connect beautifully and keep bringing audiences back for more.

Backdrop of a conservative India and societal constraints depicted could find relatability that helped build a case for a dedicated band for Hindi dramas. Then there were high quality Mythological and VFX driven series like Mahabharat, Mahadev and Nagin that helped further strengthen leadership of Indian dramas and viewership of these bands to the next level. Surprisingly, Hindi dramas today can break into a lot more markets than what our films are able to reach.

THE FUTURE IS MOBILE FIRST

The future clearly is digital and niche is new mass, delivering to a mobile fi rst generation can only be achieved through development that is data and analytics driven. Whether it means delivering linear channels on IPTV (or) SVOD apps that showcase Indian content, or Appin- app models (or) bundling/ Pay-per-view with Telcos, content is constantly getting redefined every day. There seems to be a far clearer definition on what belongs on Television, what belongs on SVOD platforms and what can be addressed through YouTube and Facebook. More and more original content is being developed to address each of these platforms.

Uday Shankar-led Star India is taking unprecedented steps with building India’s top OTT in Hotstar and taking it to global markets to showcase its originals and acquired content delivered through SVOD, IPTV and app-in-app formats. Adding cricket-led sports programming on Hotstar is going to be a big game changer for Star Network as this will open it up to sports pay per view and attract audiences from Indian subcontinent in global markets.

OTTs like Viu, Spuul, YuppTV, Zee’s Z5 clearly understand the next big content monetisation will be driven by data and smart devices. Hence these platforms have been constantly working to align with Telecom companies globally to build their monetisation potential. Carrier billing for OTT apps is clearly a latent potential that is waiting to explode in international markets. Today, MENA and North America are the biggest opportunities in the domain and growing. Mainstream global OTT platforms are now showcasing a lot more Indian content that can serve their global audiences. Syndication would continue to remain the best way to address emerging markets like Africa, Far East Asia, South Asia & Eastern Europe with a clear focus on dramas. Developed markets are already addressed through platforms bouquets offering Indian Pay TV channels. In these markets SVOD apps, VOD & Pay Per view is winner, with markets like America, Canada and the UK being addressed in this pattern.

Companies like Zee have been prudent enough to evaluate monetisation potential in detail before making major investments. On the other hand, there are certain OTT platforms that are mindlessly investing just to be present in the domain or to simply build an asset with a valuation. It’s vital for each platform to have a very clear indicative on what they stand for and how will they break through the international market. Netflix and Amazon clearly know what they’re doing, Hotstar has also built a credible platform that has great potential in international markets. It’s important not to get carried away in the content wave, simply build platforms, IPs and expect them to deliver.

One of the world’s fastest growing economies is also one heck of an exporter of expats around the globe. This large expat community, glorified as the NRI community through our films, forms the first of the four pillars that form the foundation to exporting Indian content overseas.

A more mature market, this comprises of established pay TV markets like the Americas, the UK and Middle East. The second pillar is the dubbed Indian television content that has consistently opened new markets in over 20+ languages so far. These include geographic regions with comparatively weaker economies but with socio-cultural similarities to India – the African, Far East Asia, CIS Countries and LatAm markets. The third pillar is the digital ecosystem in the more developed markets where OTT Video-on-Demand platforms are comparable to traditional content delivery platforms. The fourth pillar is actually a phenomenon – Indian celebrities, like Priyanka Chopra, who are travelling the globe, creating content and popularizing the pull of Indian entertainment. Together these four pillars provide a robust base to grow the global appeal for Indian content. With all these growing in unison, the Indian Media and Entertainment industry looks well set in its drive to breach the US$ 100 bn barrier in the next half decade with a much bigger global footprint than ever before.

Dinesh is the Founder & MD of Sacom Mediaworks, a content company that creates, markets and distributes Indian content in international markets. Over the past eight years, Sacom has distributed over 5,000 hours of premium Indian entertainment content dubbed in 15+ languages. The company owns four music and entertainment IPs that are currently distributed across 82 countries. Dinesh also co-founded TripFactory.com Dinesh is at MIPCOM and can be reached at dinesh.gupta@sacom.in

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