The year 2003 is ending on an upbeat note for India — entertainment included. As we emerge unscathed from the dotcom bust, the digital age is beckoning us. Time for some crystal gazing?
Virtually every week someone somewhere claims a breakthrough product or a killer application. Sifting through cyber chaff and tracking the technology babble, one thing that emerges loud and clear: Digital intervention in our lives is irrevocable.
Perhaps what we are witnessing are the first signs of the much talked about, much anticipated digital convergence. Interestingly, from mobile phones that can stream audio-video to digital theatres, it’s all happening right here in India. In the next two years, true broadband (upwards of 10 Mbps) will be commonplace and affordable. Thus the consumer will not only have a wider choice of content but also of means of access.
India here has an advantage over most other developed countries. We do not have legacy systems with huge investments and hence we are leapfrogging in the convergence sweepstakes.
From visual and sound effects to digital production, distribution and exhibition of motion pictures — everything is poised to make the greatest technological leap since the introduction of sound and colour.
The accomplishments of today are just the beginning. In time, new technology changes not only what we do, but also why we do it. Film is poised on the brink of change so vast as to make the introduction of colour or cinemascope seem as trivial as smell-o-vision.
Technology is usually disruptive and hence faces a lot of resistance from existing players. How does one introduce a new technology whose image quality exceeds that of the home system, while at the same time using commonly available technology?
The answer lies in good “cost engineering”, an attribute of good system architecture. In today’s prototype systems, we may not see much in the way of price difference between architectures; today’s once-in-a-while sales volume requires that all prices remain high. But when rollout begins and the volume of sales goes up, system architecture will be a factor in defining how low prices can go.
Ultimately, technology enforces its own rules. So in a not too distant future, we will have a stable and progressive regulatory regime. This is what makes media & entertainment a sunrise sector. Countries like China and India have had such low per capita media spends that the only way to go is up. Broadband connectivity will in any case change the way content is delivered and accessed. After 2005 under WTO hopefully Indian entertainment services will have better access to global markets.
After a five-year downturn we are now on an upward swing. It is also important that we need to create media companies of global scale. For this there has to be some consolidation in this sector.
There are some challenges too. The most important is of Intellectual Property or Copyright protection and digital rights management. The second is professionally managing the business. This has been the dilemma for all creative industries around the world. Indian media and entertainment giants have the opportunity to capitalise on their inherent strengths even they avoid the pitfalls. If we could do it in IT why not entertainment? It is time for us to move ahead with a new faith and vigour if we want a share of the digital moolah. It’s a multi-billion dollar question!
(The author is chairman Reliance Entertainment & the views expressed are his own)