Sudhanshu Vats turns the spotlight on moral dilemmas that M&E industry faces
Excerpts from the Theme Address at CII Big Picture 2018 given by Sudhanshu Vats – National Committee on Media & Entertainment and Group CEO & MD – Viacom18.
Namaskar ladies & gentlemen, many thanks for investing your valuable time with us at the CII Big Picture Summit. It is my privilege to host all of you, over today and tomorrow to discuss, debate and deliberate on the rapidly changing media and entertainment landscape in this country.
The first CII Big Picture event I attended was in 2012, I believe it was also the first edition of the event. As a regular learner at these events, I can say with utmost certainty that a lot of the issues we discussed back then – ambitious revenue targets, radio auctions, TV measurement, digitization and so on – a large chunk of it – while still relevant – are in various stages of development today. And that’s only fair – such is the nature of the beast we ride. Also, this trend of convergence and consolidation – the 2 ‘Cs’ – is a universal one – taking place all over the world. That brings me to the theme of this edition of Big Picture – from convergence to transformation.
This is an interesting thought, convergence is a reality – one that is here to stay. It’s being driven by consumer needs and industry’s response to those needs – meaning that it’ll be a long-lasting phenomenon. Transformation is a much bigger – and more daunting – phenomenon. That said, what do we mean by ‘transformation’? It’s a big word. I’m going to do what my professor at university used to do when we asked her the meaning of a ‘big word’ – throwback 2 bigger words – MORAL DILEMMAS.
On a serious note, I want to take this precious opportunity to share a point of view that may not make headlines like aggressive industry targets do, but is, in my humble opinion, even more important.
If you step back and introspect about all that is happening with our industry across the world, you will agree that we are battling several changes - and most of them are a result of moral dilemmas and our response to them. If we can tackle these dilemmas successfully (and defining success is the hardest part), we can believe that we have transformed.
Interestingly, our rich cultural heritage is a treasure trove of insights when it comes to handling moral dilemmas. I recently had a young director from the South approach me with what he called was a ‘modern adaptation of the Mahabharata – told from the perspective of the Kauravas’. It was an interesting thought and we’re testing it - but that’s beside the point. We all know about Dharamraj Yudhishtira and his half-lie – when he told Drona - on Krishna’s counsel - that Ashvathama is dead. Yudhishtira was referring to an elephant who had died in battle – knowing that Drona would mistake Ashvathama to be his son of the same name. On hearing that ‘Ashvatahama is dead’, Drona put down his arms and was killed by Dhrishtadyumna. Was Yudhishitra right in doing what he did? It’s a debate that divides many till date.
I gave this example to showcase the greyness of moral dilemmas. Let’s look at our industry and the moral dilemmas we will have to face or are facing –
- How do we deal with the power we have? What do we do if we find out that our reach and credibility is being used to influence electoral processes across the world?
- How do we ensure fairness in the terms of availability of our content to our consumers and parity across distribution platforms? Especially in a foreseeable future when convergence is going to dial up vertical integration across value chains.
- As consumption moves online, our access to data will increase. In many ways, data will be a competitive advantage and drive advertising revenues and personalized user experiences – what processes do we put in place to ensure it is not misused – how and where do we draw the line differentiating personalization versus privacy?
- Human resources – our people- are our biggest asset – on screen and off it – how do we react when their individual, personal behaviour questions the fabric of the society we want to create? Think of this especially in light of the recent issues around diversity and inclusion that we’ve experienced. It’s important for everyone, but especially so for our industry.
The list of moral dilemmas is endless. We need to be cognizant of these dilemmas – as organizations, industry bodies, policymakers and governments - as we look to scale up our businesses.
I’ve always been an ardent supporter of data and its importance in driving decision making. In this address, I have not used a single data point – because I believe that the course we take over the next decade will be determined more by these fundamental issues of values and how we tackle moral dilemmas than just commercial considerations. Driving consensus will be difficult yet more important than ever before. This is even more so given that India is today amongst the world’s largest ‘open’ media markets and home to a multitude of players from all over and of all sizes.
Yudhishtira had to spend a day in hell to make up for his half-lie. He was willing to spend a lifetime there to atone for his sins. I’m not sure that we are as brave as him. We must tread carefully, follow our dharma in the toughest of times and be patient. Only then will we have truly transformed.
Thank you ladies and gentlemen, thank you.