The new moguls

BY ninan| IN Media Practice | 13/10/2006
Twenty-first century media is going to grow very differently from media as we understand it.

                                  Reprinted from the Hindu, October 8, 2006 


The new moguls

Sevanti Ninan




THE old media moguls were not created overnight. Rupert Murdoch has been growing his worldwide empire over half a century, Ted Turner built his for over a decade before he sold out, and closer home the media empires of the Times group or Jagran Prakashan have accelerated their expansion over the past decade and a half. A cross-media empire created in a year is probably unprecedented. But then a new animal has entered the arena, the large Indian corporate. And the game is set to alter dramatically. An Ambani does not have ordinary ambitions, and technological convergence has transformed the nature of media empire building.

Changing times

After a half century of dominance by family-held media, the character of media ownership has begun to change rapidly. First the foreigners came in, Murdoch`s Star, Sumner Redstone`s Viacom, Sony and CNN. They fuelled expansion, and today industry federations are falling over themselves to predict how many billions the Indian media and entertainment industry is going to be worth by 2010. (Rs. 800 plus billion.) No wonder the Indian names contemplating an entry into media now begin at the top of the industry ladder. When you can raise cash in a jiffy, little time is lost between the contemplation and the plunge. Anil Ambani began building his cross-media empire a couple of months after his family settlement last year. And the Tatas have made an entry with DTH.

From July 2005 to September 2006, Ambani had bought 51 per cent in Adlabs` wide-ranging film business, picked up licenses for some 45 FM radio stations, announced entries into DTH and gaming, and bought into the software company which had produced "Kaun Banega Crorepati". The Ambanis` failed newspaper venture, attempted in the late 1980s, is now a distant memory. The new media businesses are much sexier: movie making, FM radio, multiplexes, digital theatres, and taking gaming and movies into homes. Twenty-first century media is going to grow very differently from media as we understand it. Distribution will be as crucial as content. So what Mr. Ambani is stacking up is an empire with a solid telecom base.

A variety of options

Between Reliance Infocomm, Reliance Communication Infrastructure, and Reliance Telecom R-ADAG (Reliance-Anil Dhirubai Ambani Group), he can choose whether he wants to build his future empires via broadband or mobile telephony or both. And the real playground for this new media empire in the making will be small town India. Adlabs will expand its network of multiplexes and digital theatres across smaller cities. Its chairman and managing director, Manmohan Shetty, told an interviewer recently that the company wanted to build new digital cinemas in B-class stations. When the theatre network is in place, films can be digitally transmitted to theatres via Reliance Infocomm`s fibre optic network or even through satellite. And with Internet Protocol TV having just come into India through a different player, Reliance can use its fibre optic network for IPTV options.

Small town India will also be covered through the FM radio stations that Reliance has begun setting up. When Big FM began its rollout from Delhi late last month, its chief operating officer talked grandly of reaching 45 cities, 1,000 towns and 50,000 villages. And presented Mona Singh, Jassi of yore, as its star radio jockey. Not just Jassi, but Nandu too, as Gaurav Ghera has also been roped in as an RJ. Radio will now draw upon TV brands to popularise itself, because Big FM`s chief operating officer was previously a helmsman at Sony Entertainment Television.

Anil Ambani`s trajectory as a future media moghul is to produce entertainment content, put in place a variety of distribution networks, and then leverage the synergies that can be created between the two. Make a film at Adlabs, process it there, distribute it here and abroad (the company has already set up wholly owned subsidiaries in the U.K. and the U.S. for overseas distribution of Indian films), show it in theatres you own, put it on your DTH platform as pay per view, play its music on your FM stations, and show it on IPTV once you enter that business. In the run up to that, tie up with leading film makers so that a Ram Gopal Varma is committed to making a certain number of films for you. All this while the government fiddles with its Broadcast Bill.

New dawn

And with that, you will have the old media eating out of your hand as well. As a fortnight of flogging Gandhigiri across all the news channels and in newspapers and magazines has shown, prime time and mainstream media discourse now derives from the movies. As it did from "Rang de Basanti" earlier. No moviemaker needs to spend money promoting his films. Entertainment rules, and journalism has become content. Welcome to the new era.

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