FICCI FRAMES MISSES THE BUS

HEN AN INDUSTRY holds an annual jamboree, it should turn the spotlight on itself and frankly recognise its pluses and minuses. Unfortunately, ‘Ficci Frames’, the annual three-day conclave of the media and entertainment (M&E) industry, held this year in the last week of March, lacked any serious introspection. Over the years the forum has become a net­working site where people exchange business cards. They also listen to suspect ra-ra figures from management consul­tants about the performance of the different segments such as television, cinema and print.

The one person who spoke sense and disturbed the audi­ence’s smugness was Aamir Khan. Pointing to the research that he had delved into during the making of his TV show, SatyamevJayate, the actor said he had realised the country was good at its ‘hardware’ — everybody had the latest phones and gadgets, and information technology was booming; but there was a‘software’ weakness. There was a real weakness in understanding the ‘fabric’ that makes people and their feel­ings. For instance, the kind of content children watch today is scary; that is because no relevant cinema or TV content is being produced for them, he said. Rubbing in the point, he said: “… If you look at the matrimonial columns, you will realise that we have not moved an inch.”

After Khan, came the outpouring of statistics that tried to convince us that 2014 was a great year, and that future pros­pects are equally bright. The KPMG report on the perfor­mance of the industry described 2014 as “a watershed year, with advertising bouncing back”. It estimated that Indian advertising grew 15 per cent in 2014, while digital media was expected to gallop at 30 per cent over the next fewyears. The report predicted that the Rs 1,09,400 crore M&E industry is poised to grow at 13.9 per cent over the next five years to reach

Rs 1,96,400 crore by 2019 (See M&E graphics on Page 130).

What was lost in the noise was KPMG’s data on the perfor­mance of cinema, the heart of the country’s entertainment industry. Revenues from films grew less than one per cent to Rs 12,640 crore in Calendar 2014 from Rs 12,530 crore the previous year. This year holds poor prospects too, with growth for filmed entertainment pegged at less than 8 per cent.

Why did the conference not focus on the regulatory and licensing regime, which is key to the growth of the sector? The B JP government, like its UPApredecessor, has kept up the dubious reputation of using film stars on stage when it suits them, but doing nothing for the health of the industry.

Take radio. It has shown robust growth of 18 per cent, with more than 200 channels in 70 cities. Forthelastthree-and-a- halfyears, the Centre has been promising to take radio com­munication to another level with the auction of839 stations across 227 cities and towns, but postponing on one count or the other. Finally, after many false starts the Union cabinet in January this year announced it would go ahead with its third phase of radio auctions by the end ofFY2014 -15. That has not happened. At ‘Frames’, J.S. Mathur, additional secretary. Union information and broadcasting (I&B) ministry, said the government had “started proceedings” into the auction of FM channels for 135 channels in 69 cites, and “we hope to auction 1,000 new FM channels by 2016”.

Again, on digitisation of cable TV, pending for over a de­cade, the B JP government got cold feet last year: It pushed back by more than two years the deadlines for implementing Phase 3 and Phase 4 of the Digital Addressible System that will cover over 80 per cent of the population —December 2015 for Phase 3 and December 2016 for Phase 4. What’s the bet that these deadlines too, will not go begging?

Why were I&B minister Arun Jaitley and I&B secretary J.S. Mathur not grilled on the government’s pussyfooting? Instead, the conclave discussed: Print media versus digital: and arrived at the ‘weighty’ conclusion everybody knows — ‘yes’ the two will coexist! ‘Ficci-Frames’ should do everyone a favour by either examining why the industry is showing such dismal growth and investment; or it should hang its boots. E

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