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BW Businessworld

In Indian Frame, Digitisation & Print Go Hand In Hand

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The two clear trends evident at the three-day conclave of the media and entertainment industry in Mumbai last week were: first, the determination by government to push through digitization of the disorganized cable television industry; and second, the importance given to the print industry not seen earlier in these annual jamborees held by Ficci under the ‘Frames' brand.

Stating that "we are on the threshold of a revolution", Uday K Varma, Secretary, Ministry of Information & Broadcasting, said the central government was committed to the ‘sunset' date of July 1, 2012 from when on the metros would shut off their analogue cable networks and go digital. By December 31, 2014, he was hopeful the last hamlet in rural India would also be part of the digital network making the transformation of 80 million cable homes "the fastest digital changeover in the world."
Delivering his ‘vision statement' for the Information and Broadcasting Industry, Uday Varma said the digitization programme this time would go through because "all stakeholders including cable operators were supporting the drive." He also said the government was determined to broaden the communication footprint by releasing licenses for an additional 839 FM radio stations and setting up 1,000 community radio stations. To mark 100 years of Indian cinema, the government would be investing Rs 500 crore to set up a Film Restoration Mission "to save and archive the country's rich celluloid history.

Echoing the I&B Secretary, J.S Sarma, the Telecom Authority of India (Trai) chairman said that much of India's growth was linked to the communication revolution that digitization would bring in its wake. He pointed out that in the developed world the growth in communication technology had worked its way systematically from a 100 per cent wireline telephone density, to cable TV, onwards to mobile telephony and finally the 4th layer – fibre optic broadband systems. In India, many of the stages such as full wired telephony, had been skipped while there were doubts whether mobile technology had the capacity to provide comprehensive communication. In this context, digitized cable TV had the capacity "to provide communication to the masses."

In the discussion that followed, I&B secretary Varma indicated there would be no compromise or postponement in the sunset dates for analogue TV, and added that a Task Force of stakeholders had been set up to iron out problems and hear grievances. Sarma, on the other hand, acknowledged that it was indeed a challenging task for the cable industry to gather the financial resources necessary for putting in place 10 million set-top boxes in homes by the time the first phase of digitization kicked in July 1, this year. 

Interestingly, later sessions at the Ficci-Frames dwelt at length on the challenges of galloping digitization of the news and entertainment media on print. T N Ninan, Chairman, Business Standard, for instance conceded that the print media was "showing signs of stress". He said the print industry strangely was displaying trends of both proliferation and consolidation simultaneously. Advertising was drifting towards entertainment media while those who were advertising on news programming were moving towards the internet.

Rajiv Varma, CEO, HT Media, on the other hand, said "the print medium has a bright future" and based his assessment on the market dynamics in the eastern part of the world – Japan, Korea and Singapore – where newspapers are thriving. While Rajiv Varma pointed out that in the U.S. print newspaper advertisements had declined from $ 60 billion in the late nineties to $ 20 billion in 2011, mainly due to the impact of the internet, Lynn De Souza, Chairperson, Readership Studies Council, noted that the Indian print market remained buoyant with ad spends during the last five years doubling from Rs 15,000 crore to Rs 30,000 crore. The share of the print media at 40 per cent has remained unchanged, she said.