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“Conserve Now To Last Longer”

As the media & entertainment sector finds itself excluded from the government’s stimulus packages, Emmay Entertainment & Motion Pictures’ Partner, Monisha Advani, points out that there is some “welcome” cognisance at state-level governments. She cautions on areas that must be considered for long-term growth. By Noor Fathima Warsia

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The Indian film industry alone should be prepared for an estimated Rs 2,500 crore loss as cinema halls are expected to remain closed till August 2020. This trade analysts’ quoted number does not factor in the halt in production of other forms of mass media content such as for TV broadcast or even online that along with other affiliated businesses including display and distribution comprise the Indian media and entertainment (M&E) sector. Even a rough calculation shows that Covid-19’s repercussions will be much deeper than anticipated on the M&E sector in India. Not only programming and content delays but several aspects that determine the revenue generation of this sector have been compromised in unfathomable ways. 

In this backdrop, and without any structured assistance from the government, companies such as Emmay Entertainment & Motion Pictures are taking a closer look at all cards on the table to determine the next plausible set of actions. The production company’s Partner, Monisha Advani, retains some amount of optimism as she breaks down the key areas that the sector itself will need to focus on. She also explains some of the steps the industry is already taking in order to combat independent India’s worst recession.

As diverse and multi-layered as the M&E sector in India is, what are some of the areas that need immediate attention for long-term sector growth?

There are three priorities before the M&E — the first deals with human resources. There is immense dependency on migrant labour that comprise both the skilled as well as unskilled crew and service providers. This makes it imperative that we normalise our businesses with health and safety reinforcements. Producers will have to seek funding and plan for this additional cost. But it is business critical as it will be one of the key ways to attract talent to return to base and to work. The situation arising from Covid-19 has eroded confidence and the onus for restoring  it will fall now on employers, irrespective of the fact that culpability may sit elsewhere. 

The second is risk management. Protecting production interests and theatrical exhibition risks will now require thought. Like any other industry, this is an ongoing discussion with agencies that underwrite such risks. Without a blanket support in this area, and with the uncertainties before us, this can become a challenge for even the most profitable companies in this sector.

Finally, the theatrical exhibition business is at as much a confidence risk as any other similar mass consumption service business. Besides financial restructuring, the consumer needs to be protected with safety norms that are in place and incentives to not abandon this mode of entertainment. In this context, end consumption ticket prices should be protected, or even subsidised where possible through tax breaks despite increased overheads.

Clearly, some steps from the government are needed on some of these aspects. Was it as per expectations that the M&E sector did not benefit from the stimulus package?

It was not a surprise that the M&E industry is not a direct beneficiary of any of the relief packages rolled out thus far. While this sector is a definitive social and ideological thought influencer, and is one of the largest of its kind, in terms of size of consumption in the world, the fact is it does not rank as one of the largest sectoral employers. The crux of the stimulus packages has been to protect and create employment. Hence, while this exclusion may be understood, it would be good to qualify for financial breaks that can enable the employers in this sector to pass on benefits. Longevity of personnel pay-outs during the lockdown and benched periods have to be created.

Are you expecting any changes in this at the government level?

We are definitely seeing cognisance by state-level governments to listen to industry representation and consider best routes possible for resumption of business. This is a very welcome initiative that has seen traction. We are hopeful it will see fruition in the coming months, if not weeks, where we can go to work, make content and continue to reach our consumers. Already there are informal plans to work out ways to mobilise interstate shootings, incentives are being structured which will help create local employment. 

What are some of the next steps we will see from the industry and companies like Emmay?

I do believe this question is more relevant to each respective company in the sector, and which aspect of the business it operates in. For Emmay Entertainment’s part, having always been conscious of output variables, we have consistently maintained very strong fiscal discipline with regard to our inputs. Hopefully, this prudence helps us continue to weather the tough days. I will share this mantra though — conserve and spend less now to last longer in the game.