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In India, infrastructure always comes later: NDTV New Media Congress

The second session of the NDTV New Media Congress discussed Convergence: Current Trends and Impact. The session was moderated by Sanjay Trehan, CEO of NDTV Convergence, who said the new media is like a universe with infinite possibility.

The second session of the NDTV New Media Congress discussed Convergence: Current Trends and Impact. The session was moderated by Sanjay Trehan, CEO of NDTV Convergence, who said the new media is like a universe with infinite possibility. Other members of the panel included Jai Menon, Group CIO, Bharti Enterprises; Rajesh Sawhney, president, Reliance Entertainment; Ajit Balakrishnan, chairman and CEO, Rediff.com; Kevin Bertram, CEO, Distributive Networks; Pankaj Sethi, president, VAS and enterprise market planning, Tata Teleservices; and Martha Bejar, corporate vice president, Communications Sector, Microsoft.

Ajit Balakrishnan asked the audience, “When TV, internet and mobile converge what will people watch?” Obviously, he had a story to tell. He gave an example of a 45-second video titled, ‘Workers Leaving the Lumière Factory’. It was the first commercial movie created by the Lumière brothers, and screened in Paris, in 1895. It was the first time when admission was charged for a movie screening.

Plays, movies, TV serials and now mobile IP TV (internet protocol television) have witnessed their duration getting shorter and shorter and the nature of the content getting more and more varied, according to Ajit Balakrishnan. He said that the ideal duration for a mobile video would be 45 seconds, the kind of programme which one could watch while waiting for a meeting. But how would users be able to find the mobile TV content that they are really interested in? Link these videos with appropriate tags and make them search engine friendly, suggested Balakrishnan.

Jai Menon of Bharti Enterprises said points of capture (read digital and mobile cameras) is exploding which means that user generated content is going to be very pervasive. According to Menon, new media is no longer niche but it is for everybody, especially as mobile becomes more and more popular. He said technology will get faster and service providers will start focusing more and more on aggregating and simplifying content. New business models will evolve. Voice, data and media will start co-opting and customers will enjoy affordable and simple service. Difference of rural Vs urban, east Vs west, and language will vanish. Telephony, TV and PC will converge into a new utility digital service providing computing, communication and entertainment.

Rajesh Sawhney of Reliance Entertainment talked about the emerging entertainment networks and said telecom ecosystem is going to develop into an entertainment eco-system. According to him, social media and traditional media will converge. As for the new media players, Sawhney said Microsoft is shifting off the centre and players like Google and Yahoo are occupying the space.

Talking about the Indian youth, Rajesh Sawhney said 35 per cent of Indian population comprise of young people below 15 years in age. For these people, instant is the key word. They want everything instant, anytime, anywhere. This young generation is vocal about ‘Me’ and wants to co-create.

Kevin Bertram of Distributive Networks pointed out that most of the conversation on new media had been centred around the convergence of TV, PC and mobile. But he said print is still an important part of the media.

According to Pankaj Sethi of Tata Teleservices, convergence of media to make a real impact would need broadband pipes, always on connectivity and open source. Walled garden, in which the mobile service providers have been operating, will have to give way to open platform. Sethi also said that creators of free (UGC) content should get paid in some way by the traditional media as they pay to their in-house creators of original content.

While answering a question if India was ready for the new media initiatives, Rajesh Sawhney said, “In India, infrastructure always comes later.” First, there appear a huge number of cars and then roads are built. “You can find modern airports without a proper road to connect the airport with hotels.” So, what should one do? Wait for the infrastructure and then build the content and application or should these things be done first? “But today I think it’s all coming together,” Sawhney said. “I am no longer pessimistic. If not in 2009, then in 2010 we are going to see the inflection that we have been looking for.”

Ajit Balakrishnan made an interesting observation on why convergence may not happen that fast. “When you build interactive content you may discover that users are more interested in interacting with each other than with the content,” Balakrishnan said, adding, “So, it may be very challenging for your business model.” Pankaj Sethi agreed, “There is a danger that if convergence happens it may replace the existing monetisation model and not add something to it.”

But Rajesh Sawhney thought value is migrating from a walled garden to an open platform. “The fear is would there be enough business or would our business shrink?” he said, adding, “My belief is there would be a revenue model though it’s not there yet. But it will.” Jai Menon concurred, “We are very sure that walled garden is not going to work. And we are there to help the developers.”

While responding to the issue of online piracy, Rajesh Sawhney said, “Piracy is as much offline as online. It’s just that in online it gets accentuated.” Sawhney even suggested a three-pronged strategy to successfully deal with the online piracy: take out the incentive and make it easily affordable and reachable, create social barrier and stigma that privacy is not a sexy thing, and make some regulatory changes to dissuade people from indulging in it. “We need to deal it with business model, regulation and social awareness,” Sawhney added.

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