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South Asian media and entertainment: An overview

Prof Ujjwal K Chowdhury
16 Jun 2022 00:00:00 | Update: 16 Jun 2022 00:38:20
South Asian media and entertainment: An overview

Media and entertainment have grown phenomenally in the last two decades in South Asia, though the pandemic had inflicted a body blow, the sector is now fast recovering again. When we talk about this sector, it includes journalism in all forms, entertainment in all forms, brand communication in all forms, the rise of the digital medium and the emerging technologies revolutionizing the sector now.

Rising from a poor base of less than Rs.40,000 crores INR in India for this sector, it has grown to a robust Rs.2 lacs crores approximately now, around 29 billion dollars, almost 1 per cent of the 3 trillion economy of India. Digital, animation, gaming and radio are in double digits growth, while print is stagnated below 1 per cent, and television, still the leader in the segment, and cinema have both been below 10 per cent. In the next five years, year on year growth is pegged at 14 per cent (FICCI Frames Report), while the overall economy will be way below 10 per cent growth-rate.

Bangladesh has the second largest overall economy and media industry as well, in South Asia. In 2016, industry was of 27 billion taka, annual growth 12 per cent, according to Shikdar Akhtar Uz Zamaan, Grameenphone. In 2021, roughly 48 billion taka. Between 2010 & 2016, TV grew by 200 per cent, print by 150 per cent, radio by 350 per cent, while internet by 1500 per cent, according to Sujan Mohammad, PRAN RFL Group. In 2021, there were 11.4 m internet users; 20+ TV Channels (all may not be running well, and there were only 7 channels in 2020), NGOs’ Radio Network, and 26 Major newspapers while portals innumerable. Bangladesh ranked 144 in Press Freedom Index. Media Industry lacks research & data tools, according to Mazhar Chowdhury, MD, Havas Media Bangladesh, speaking in a brand meet before pandemic. Bangladesh Brand Forum & Media Forum good platforms, with 170 million media consumers in the country. But sadly the total revenue of media and entertainment in Bangladesh is still below 0.5 per cent of the total economy of nearly 380 billion dollars.

It is interesting to note here that while in the most evolved two liberal democracies like US and UK, the media industry as a percentage of the total GDP of the nation today is around 3.6 per cent and 2.7 per cent respectively, it is 0.9 per cent in India, 0.4 per cent in Bangladesh and only 0.2 per cent in Nepal from what the industry insiders say. In case of Nepal, unlike the other two South Asian nations, the leader in the market, Kantipur Group, almost controls close to 50 per cent of the media economy for quite some time now. While there is nothing wrong with that, the point of concern is that the industry itself is almost in its infancy, yet.

Among many reasons why media and entertainment industry as a whole is weak in South Asia, one major one is the lack of efficiently trained manpower, specially in contemporary media and emerging technologies. While there is no dearth of good stories to tell, there surely is an acute crisis of multi-skilled multi-media talent, the need of the day.

Though there are several outstanding schools of media education in India today (Symbiosis, Whistling Woods, Asian College of Journalism, IIMC, Jamia Milia, Amity, MICA, FTII, et al), there are very few in Bangladesh (except a few notable ones like ULAB, Dhaka and Rajshahi Universities, Daffodil University), the scarcity is still more poignant in other South Asian nations.

If we have to identify what are the top ten things that the South Asian media schools hardly focus on, addressing which the industry will be immensely benefitted going ahead, then these are the top ten.

First, there is still lack of proper recognition that media industry has completely converged in its platforms (print, television, radio, events and internet are all now merging on to the handset), in its audience interests (primary audience interests of readers, viewers, listeners are gradually merging with second audience interests of marketers, advertisers and sponsors), and in its operations (content at the core of communication, technology to deliver it to the target audiences, and management with monetization to keep the industry rolling). Educational curricula do not reflect this convergence. Today’s media education is less competent to produce the multi-media Communication Officers of tomorrow for organizations and corporate houses.

Second, there are hardly deep dive discussions on media management, media business and media revenues. How do portals, newspapers, radio, television and events earn are rarely discussed largely because the teachers themselves were never taught these. The mentors are comfortable to remain in the large dreary desert of unending theories, models and history (a basic grounding of these is necessary though). While there is great content coming out, the business side is still lorded by regular sales and marketing guys, often to the detriment of quality of content sold.

Third, that there is a vast emerging Creator Economy in front of us is hardly understood if you are in a typical South Asian media institute. Creator economy is a software facilitated economy that allows creators to earn revenue from their creations whether they are on YouTube, Tiktak, Reels, Instagram, Facebook, Twitch, Spotify, Substack, OnlyFans, Patreon or wherever. The creative industries today spread across video games, live events, video entertainment, retail, etc. There are an estimated 50 million and more creators in the world, but less than 2 million really earn enough to run their livelihoods. Ratio is poorer in South Asia.

Fourth, coming to brand communication, while media education still meanders around traditional above the line advertising, below the line events, and media attention seeking public relations, the reality of the industry is increasingly different. The branding world is moving towards content marketing of branded content, online reputation management, engaging story-telling through acts and not ads, blended and e-events with a higher footfall, and merging all of these to create engaging Brand Stories and not brand publicity of olden days. Engagement is the new media currency, hardly comprehended by the shenanigans of media education.

Fifth, entertainment is going through an unforeseen paradigm shift due to the use of emerging technologies like immersive virtual reality, augmented and mixed reality (healthcare or engineering too). Golman Sachs estimates a 95 billion dollar market of AR-VR-MR technologies impacting gaming, entertainment, et al. Earlier people knew by reading, then observed through pictures and video, heard on radio, and today they are immersed, participants in the content through the use of AR-VR. Consumers are not just viewing content, they are placed inside it. Smartphones enlarged scope of photography, and today immersive technologies are ensuring higher quality content at lower costs and faster production. Gamified learning is another frontier. Virtual prototyping shortens time and cost of iteration in content development. The timeline is heavily reduced from content to production to commercialization. But these do not constitute even one course in usual media education.

Sixth, there is the large area of Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning of the fourth industrial revolution now impacting media and entertainment big time. They are bringing in three remarkable functions: recommendations, voice recognition and media automation. Content can be personalized to a unit consumer now through content classification and categorization, specially in music, stories and news. AI-ML can contribute to identifying false information, using social media for sentiment analysis (social media listening), virtual personal chatbots, targeted digital advertising, metatagging subtitles and automated transcription leading to understanding content of any language. These do not appear in media learning at all.

Seventh, social media interactions have started getting some mention in media courses, but sparingly, and never anything on avatars and metaverse. Avatar in metaverse is user’s identity in that universe which is an alternative virtual world. While computers or phones are two-dimensional, a metaverse is an internet experience in a three dimensional space (there is a debate on single versus multiple metaverses like Atari, Snoop Dogg, Steve Aoki).

Eighth, journalism has decidedly moved to multi-media and mobile journalism, more particularly in the post pandemic times. One single story shall now be reported first as a tweet for social media, then an audio story for electronic and digital media, a photographic story for print and digital, then a flash in words online, then a full video story for television, then a report for the daily next day, a detailed studio-based discussion merged with a field story for the television, and may be a deep dive story for the weekend print supplement or magazine. These field skills will need corroborative news-room production skills, as is illustrated by Washington Post convergent newsroom for years now. But ask yourself, is journalism taught this way in our schools? This rise of web-led news media also needs a serious media literacy movement to combat mis-dis-mal information spreading its tentacles in every digitally networked society today.

Ninth, the digital media has virtual democratized visual story-telling today. From and 10 seconds internet recall add to 3 minutes branded content through an act, from 10 minutes short documentary to 40 minutes featurette to 150 minutes feature: all are films today, and the world of OTT based web entertainment and television serial expand the audio-visual world further. But video production learning still needs to navigate this diversity of story-telling content to such an extent.

Tenth, the fast-emerging world of diverse digital assets in media is rarity on campus-based learning in South Asia still. Non Fungible Token (NFT) has emerged to be blockchain based digital assets, which actually are small pieces of software with 14 lines of code stored in a blockchain network, and they store information, music, images, etc. NFTs prevent copying of digital content, allow investors to achieve sole ownership of digital assets like original painting, limited edition music etc. (as used by Kings of Leon band and many others). Film funding through NFTs is possible now giving digital certificates proving part ownership and box-office shares to the owners of NFTs protected by a complex web of digital passwords. But then these are alien to entertainment education.

Not mentioning all that are already there in media schools, these are the ten areas which need urgent attention and integration to help grow the media economy to the next frontier (as in many nations of the West), and not just create another battalion of unemployable and non-entrepreneurial media degree-holders.

The writer is the Strategic Adviser and Professor of Daffodil International University. He can be contacted at [email protected]