Indian entertainment searches for business on little screen
Thursday, 23 November 2006, 06:00 Hrs
Panaji: The little 'screens' are there - in the millions of mobile sets - and so is the creativity. But can these little screens work to promote the big screen, ask members of India's entertainment industry as they search for new ways to rake in the moolah.
California-based screenwriter Rex Weiner told filmmakers in Goa that the small screen could "work to promote its bigger sibling". Weiner built a scenario where mobile phones would be handed out free-of-cost in the years ahead, provided their users were willing to tune into the promotional content that came together with them.
"You could get Kingfisher phones that sell beer, water and the 'good times'," he said, pointing to the possibilities of the small screen being roped in to make money for the entertainment sector if it learnt how to piggyback it.
A team of Indian experts discussed this at a panel meet titled 'Is the Big Picture the Small Picture?' ahead of the International Film Festival of India (IFFI) that began here Thursday.
They pondered, with some pessimism, on where the country is headed to in terms of emerging mobile entertainment and what opportunity was available in this space.
"You can't watch a three-hour movie on a mobile phone," reminded Pankaj Sethi, Tata Teleservices vice president for value-added services. "Try watching a football match on a mobile handset. It's a silly kind of activity."
But more than the format, it was the finances that are proving to be a big headache; in particular, how various players in the market share the pickings.
"Today, less than 5 percent of the revenue (of mobile phones) comes from value-added services. In countries like South Korea, this is 40 percent," said Bobby Bedi, Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) national entertainment committee chairman and a New Delhi-based producer.
Bedi was particularly critical of the fact that 80 percent of mobile revenues were taken by the telcos (telecom companies), leaving just 20 percent for those putting together the content - producers and story-creators among others.
"Figures are the reverse in other parts of the world. Change is necessary (giving the content people a higher share). Otherwise, the production of high-quality content is not going to happen," Bedi said.
Pankaj Sethi suggested that IVR (telephone-based interactive voice recordings) could also be successful, and that contests and cricket were shown to work well in India.
"There is a large entity in the country wanting to interact with film stars or their voices," said Sethi.
Speakers pointed out that doing "original shoots" for the little screen was still not viable "as in this country, the growth in mobile use is coming not from the high-end segment".
Screenwriter Rex Weiner said the success of YouTube.com could offer possible models.
"People are creating their own entertainment packages and sending it back and forth (in cyberspace) on their own. But who is going to pay for it, I don't know," he said.
Indiagames.com CEO Vishal Gondal pointed to the speed with which digital entertainment products could be copied. With the growth of high-end mobile phones, "you and I and everybody in the country is a potential pirate".
"Only the small percentage that don't know how to use Bluetooth technology were not prone to such large-scale piracy," he suggested.
Microsoft's MSN India executive producer Krishna Prasad said: "If anybody is hit by piracy, it is Microsoft."
He said India had 45 million Internet users, but pointed out that it was not possible to pay production houses for mobile content.
Content people were also blamed for "undercutting" each other. But some participants at the seminar blamed it on the industry.
One speaker gave an example where he was first offered 5,000 per song made available via mobile, but later told he would be paid only 500.
"If they paid just one paisa per phone per song downloaded per year, it would amount to a payment of 60,000 per song," said the content person, arguing for a better deal.
"We are trying to find a business model that would work," said Pankaj Sethi.
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