It was less than fifty years when first digital gadgets appeared in the sixties-Calculators and clocks and such like. In the 70s, 80s we were exposed to PCs, Walkman, Scanners, Printers, Cameras, Mobile phones and then the onslaught began, By 1990s we had emailed, Microsoft, Apple, Yahoo, and Google. Cellphones became ubiquitous. Then printing, music, Movies, Broadcasting, Advertising and all communication became digital.

By 2010 we had entered the digital age and then came the knowledge and later attention economies. BY 2015 we were experiencing an analogue switch off. Media production is all digital today. From Page Make up to ad layouts all are delivered digitally across the world. Newspapers and magazines and billboards and points of sale displays are the only physical media around (yes there are a few CDs and records there too) but for how long is the question. Music, Movies and TV are all digital across the value chain from pre and post-production, distribution, delivery and access and devices. We are now a wireless generation. OTT and Smartphones and now smart cities are changing the way we live. There is a whole thumb generation, which is obsessed with social media. Facebook, Twitter. Whatsapp, Snapchat, Instagram, Hike will continue to be important interlocutors. How effective they are in marketing and influencing people is a moot point.

Where is media headed next year or in the very near term? Well, the defining global deal in Media and Entertainment was the Disney buyout of 21st Century Fox and Murdoch’s TV assets (except Fox News and Fox Sports). This immediately makes Disney the No 1 Media company in India. Times Group (rumours talk of a sibling split is in the offing there) and Mukesh Ambani the other 2 major players. Unfortunately, ZEE TV has failed to scale up and is still perceived as a Lala company. Hindustan Times, Jagran, Bhaskar, Living Media, ABP, Malayala Manorama and Hindu to my mind have already lost the race and will remain also-rans. The trend globally will be integrated media and communication companies rather than stand-alone media houses. So get ready for acquisitions by Apple, Google, Amazon, Facebook, Alibaba and Wanda. In India I see Bharti buying a media asset. Kumar Mangalam Birla already has a small presence, which will get scaled up.

Over the top (OTT) is the current catchword in media with companies like Netflix, Amazon, Hotstar, Voot, Wink, and Alt are getting a bigger slice of the pie. YouTube should start a channel next year and other replicas follow. What was once called User Generated Content will become more participative and interactive. Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) will be available in hi-end smartphones with a year. Hotstar will start VR with the IPL matches and the next Olympics, World Cup and other large sporting events will to introduce VTR too. Gaming will be another media, which will become more layered and complex, as new technologies will enhance user experience. Mobile phones too will introduce MMORG games.

The problem is content. The world currently produces 2 Exabyte of content daily on the net. Most of this is ultimately trashed into virtual space. In India, we are over producing films and YV programming neither of which is a sustainable model. Content is in a crisis. TV programming is bereft of any innovation. Channels like Colors and Zee TV have zero innovation and STAR has too little. Unless you have the courage to break the mold you will generate more fatigue than engagement. This leaves a lot of scope for the more adventurous OTT players. News TV in India now entertainment which unfortunately is watched by less than 10 per cent of the audience. And the audience is dwindling. Expect more people to access news online next year. Slanging matches don’t endure and these channels have only a few years before they are dropped unless they reinvent. Advertising too is suffering from this complacency. Even Big Daddy sorrel is completely out of depths in the new power game a mere pawn in the big boys game. One good thing is the recent spate of some excellent long commercial online. Some of the new creative brigade in films, TV and advertising is more rooted in Bharat than their peers.

Two dozen stars and two dozen Production companies dominate films across India. Between them, they corner 70 per cent of the screen time and box office in a terribly under screened market. Films have a lot of hype but little money. 95 per cent films produced lose money. Again the silver lining is the return of the small offbeat films (ala Newton, Tumhari Sullu, Shubh Mangal Savdhan etc.). One cannot fight technology but one can harness its strength. In this new post-digital world Cinema has to rediscover itself. Engage the audience better and monetize this engagement. Either through spectacle through dazzling special effects or more engaging slice of life films appealing to the youth.  What can ease the pain further is if we learn to harness the awesome power of the digitization.  Curate and customize is the new mantra.

The Internet is a force multiplier if used correctly. Up till now, the film industry has been using the net like a stepchild. It is the defining trend of the coming few years. Those who ride this wave will survive others become a part of digital memory.

– The article first appeared in BussinessWorld

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