Innovation is in the DNA of Viacom18

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It is critical that as leaders we build organisations that strengthen more open and learning culture, encourages dialogue, tolerates failure and is receptive to new ideas says Sudhanshu Vats, Group CEO Viacom18 Media

After two decades at Uniliver you have stepped into the media sector as Group CEO of Viacom 18 Media. Where do you see deployment of innovation/innovative practices — in FMCG or media sector?

Innovation is at the heart of every business, even more so in the consumer oriented businesses. Innovation has a role to play in the entire value chain of the business. We need innovative ideas, innovative programming styles, and innovative processes. In the boarder sense of the word, “innovation means doing things better”. And thus, innovation entails new ideas, programs, thoughts and “improved execution in programming and processes”.

In FMCG, innovation has taken deep roots and is deployed across the entire spectrum of the business value chain. Whereas in Media, innovation is primarily focused on programming and platforms (including digital). It still needs to find its rightful place in processes.

In the CII Big Picture Summit 2012 you made a point comparing media content with laundry (product variation). Why are we not able to have that same spectrum of pricing and products for media? What is the need of the hour? How do we change?

Pricing is a very important element of any successful business model. It is critical that we allow more free and market driven pricing models in the broadcast media sector. This is needed to strengthen the business models and in turn drive innovation, leading to enhanced consumer experience. It is also true that we need to provide entertainment to every Indian. In my judgement, the way to tackle it is to give base level of entertainment comprising of free-to-air channels across genres available to every Indian at a nominal price. For all others there should be a free and fair pricing mechanism deployed through our pay TV channels across genres. This is truly consistent with any segment of goods or services across consumer product categories in India starting from apparel (shirts, trousers, saris), shoes, groceries (toothpaste, laundry detergents, soaps, skin creams etc), cars, bikes, restaurants and hotels.

How do you view innovation transforming M&E sector. It is happening all over the world. Why do we see fewer innovation in Indian M&E companies than what it happens globally? As we stand, do you see innovation propelling growth for the M&E sector?

Innovation is at the core of M&E sector and continues to propel it forward. We see fewer innovations in Indian M&E sector because of our business models. The Broadcast industry is in its “teens” in India. After having gone through an initial investment phase we now need to find more profitable and sustainable business models that will allow adequate investment in development of concepts, research and dialling up of experimentation in the Indian M&E sector.

How is innovation deployed at Viacom 18 Media across verticals?

Innovation is in the DNA of Viacom 18. Colors redefined the rules of the game with its launch in 2008. Our programs like Balika Vadhu brought in a fresh perspective and a different point of view when most others at that time were stuck with the more conventional programmes. We premiered big films soon after their domestic theatrical run. We dialled up the non-fiction space. More recently we are bringing ‘24’ to India. MTV has been at the forefront of innovation and experimentation with music and youth oriented programmes. COKE Studio, MTV unplugged, Sound tripping in music at one end to the now very famous MTV Roadies at the other are some examples of the same. As a studio, Viacom18 Motion pictures has rewritten the code making “Good content is good business” as its credo with films like Kahanni , OMG- Oh My God , Special 26 and our latest Super hit Bhaag Milkha Bhaag.

Experts believe that Innovation begins at the top. What is your view on innovation and leadership?

Innovation does begin at the top and it needs a leadership and culture that nurtures the spirit of experimentation, thinking out-of-the box and an ability to tolerate and learn from failures. It is critical that as leaders we build organisations that strengthens more open and learning culture, encourages dialogue, tolerates failure and is receptive to new ideas.

Why are start-ups active and drive innovation than traditional companies? Is this culture developed in India?

It is often seen that startups more actively drive innovation as compared to their traditional counterparts. This is primarily because at the start up stage most organisations are willing to take risks and do not fear failure. This is also aided by the stakes being lower at that stage in their journey. As organisations become big the fear of failure tends to make them more straight jacketed leading to lower innovations and reduced ability to experiment.

Similar to the way companies look at innovation, there is a need or innovation in policy making process. As an industry leader do you expect innovation policy thinking from government and regulator?

Once again if we define innovation in its broadest sense (Doing things better) there is a clear need for innovation on policy thinking from government and regulator. In keeping with the changing times, we need to always ask the questions focusing on ‘What’ and the bigger objective , while constantly revisiting / innovating on the ‘How’. The problem is that the government tends to get caught up a lot on the ‘How’ and loses the requisite focus on the ‘What’. This is even more pronounced in a rapidly evolving and dynamic M&E sector.

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