EXCLUSIVE | Amit Khanna: A Year of loss and some gain [Year-Ender 2020]

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Thought-leading Writer, Film Maker and Commentator Amit Khanna is an icon of excellence and impact as a strategic Media leader, and the only Media professional who has worked in every segment – Print, Radio, Television, Films, Music, Stage, LIVE Entertainment and Digital media, for over five decades.

Across his rich, diverse and illustrious career, Amit has been an integral, innovative and strategic leader-champion who worked tirelessly with government and industry to strengthen the Film, Media and Entertainment spaces in India.

As a young man yet to graduate college in 1970, he received a job offer from Movie legend Dev Anand himself to work as an Executive Producer, Writer and Film Lyricist at Navketan. Amit has written lyrics of 250 film- and non-film songs. In the Eighties, he wrote, directed and produced many critically acclaimed feature films, documentaries, commercials and TV programmes.

Amit also set up Plus Channel in 1989 India’s first integrated media and entertainment company where many award winning films, more than 3000 hours of original TV programming from news to fiction and non-fiction entertainment, and produced and distributed over 500 music albums in various genres and languages. Plus also pioneered Audio books, event management and streaming audio & video in India. Amit has also been Editorial Adviser to Economic Times, Probe, Take 2, Super Cinema and other publications.

In this exclusive piece, Amit looks back at 2020 and how it impacted every major vertical across Media and Entertainment. In what is definitely one of the most informative and insightful assessments of 2020 and guidance for the future, Amit says he believes happy days lie ahead for Media & Entertainment.

Read on.


2020 has been a year that most people would best like to forget. Life went awry as the COVID-19 pandemic swept across the world in waves. Almost all of us have spent varying amounts of time in lockdowns and isolation. Work from home, online education and in-home entertainment. During  the lockdown, watching TV and online entertainment have been the mainstay for nearly all of us. Of course, avid cinegoers are missing their regular cinema visits. Some of us who are fond of theatre and concerts are getting our fix via virtual concerts.  Now that — with the virus abating and vaccination on the rise — we are gradually and grudgingly beginning our usual routines, it appears happy days lie ahead for Media & Entertainment.

Now that we are gradually… beginning our usual routines, it appears happy days lie ahead for Media & Entertainment: Amit Khanna

What was missed in the year gone by was the presence of newspapers and magazines, to begin with. As lockdowns were enforced, the printing and distribution of newspapers became difficult. For the first time, mainline print media concentrated on beefing up their digital presence. Some brave enough created pay walls and have managed to garner at least some subscribers.

News aggregators like Daily hunt and IN shorts gained currency. Curated news via Google; Apple, Microsoft and other device manufactures tying up with media companies to deliver news and information to their users… While there has been a revival in the circulation and advertising of publications recently, the shift to digital is definite. Most experts believe digital’s share of the overall ad spend will overtake print and TV by the end of next fiscal.

While there has been a revival in the circulation and advertising of publications recently, the shift to digital is definite. Most experts believe digital’s share of the overall ad spend will overtake print and TV by the end of next fiscal: Amit Khanna

Broadcast TV struggled in the first half of the year as new content was hard to come by. IPL and reality shows have recently told us it is a bit early to write the obituary of linear telecast.

News broadcasters were the big gainers as more and more people tuned in to learn about the new developments in and out of the country. However, sensationalism driven by social media and grandstanding has created a credibility gap. Views have superseded news in the highly ideologically driven news channels. We are in the midst of trivialization of News. Google journalism supported by social media prompts has made news like the nightly gladiator show of this decade. With advertising slated for double digit growth it’s time for broadcasters and content creators to start working on innovation.

Sensationalism driven by social media and grandstanding has created a credibility gap. Views have superseded news in the highly ideologically driven news channels. We are in the midst of trivialization of News. Google journalism supported by social media prompts has made news like the nightly gladiator show of this decade: Amit Khanna

With 600 million people having Internet access — even if it is limited to a sketchy broadband access – India is devouring entertainment and information in gigabytes. Nothing exemplifies this more than the rise and rise of the streaming video services (OTTs) in the last twelve months. From a mere USD 100 million at the beginning of 2019, it is expected to be a USD 500 million market by next year and reach USD 3 billion in 3 years.

There are a dozen large streaming platforms including Disney+ Hotstar, Netflix, Amazon Prime, Zee 5, Sony Liv, Hoichoi, MX Player, Voot, Sun NXT and Eros Now. Almost every week new series are being unveiled in different languages across platforms.  With improved bandwidth — both fixed line and wireless, and 5G should be here by the year-end too — streaming audio and video are bound to become the preferred choice of a large number of viewers.

Meanwhile, DTH operators like Tata Sky , Sun and Airtel also up their game with more options including dedicated pay per view offerings.

One looming shadow is the impending regulation (self?) of online content. Government has to be light-handed in regulating content. Existing organizations like the TRAI are ill equipped to handle the fast-changing digital ecosystem. The Industry too has to be a little more responsible. Self-regulation with clear-cut guidelines is the way forward:  Amit Khanna

A new trend is the release of films on OTT platforms. As cinemas have only partially opened and in certain geographies are still shut, film lovers and producers alike have sought out online options. Dil Bechara, Sadak 2, Gulabo Shitabo, Shakuntala Devi, Lakshmi Bomb, Raat Akeli Hai, Loot case, Thappad, Khuda Hafiz, Khali Peeli, Coolie No 1 and AK vs AK are some of the films which have bypassed the cinema circuit altogether and premiered online.

In other languages too it is the same story. In Tamil, for example, Soorarai Pottru, Mookuthi Amman, Ka Pe Ranasingam and Maara are some of the new OTT releases.

In Telugu, there have been Gatham, Middle Class Melodies , Colour Photo and Guvva Gorinka, to name a few. Similarly, a number of bold and often darker pieces of content were made available to viewers on OTT. To an extent, online viewing has flattened the star curve.

Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Pankaj Tripathi,  Jaideep Ahlawat, Amit Sadh,  Swastika Mukherjee, Sweta Tripathi, Isha Talwar, Ananya Goenka, Rasika Duggal and Sobhita Dhulipala were among the many popular actors online.

Some of the older stars like Nasiruddin Shah, Bobby Deol Sushmita Sen, Saif Ali Khan, Manoj Bajpayee, Neena Gupta too had made a shift to digital. One should see other big stars too turning to streaming platforms.

Increased viewing patterns mean more content is being watched and created. There is much more diversity in the kind of stories being told. Video-on-demand helps sharper segmentation of the audience irrespective of location. Technology is driving the changing lifestyles in the post-pandemic world.

In a year where thousands of media professionals lost their jobs, digital content is proving to be a new lifeline as newer apps, services and content-delivery platforms,  fresh with capital, have gone into production-overdrive. On a happier note, there is a resurgence of new talent across platforms. In every medium, the number of newcomers — better trained and often more talented — are breaking the hegemony of established players.

In a year when thousands of media professionals lost their jobs, digital content is proving to be a new lifeline as newer apps, services and content-delivery platforms, fresh with capital, have gone into production-overdrive… In every medium, the number of newcomers — better trained and often more talented — are breaking the hegemony of established players: Amit Khanna

As cinemas reopen and the blockbusters are released, films will be back on familiar ground. Yet, we have to realize only some films will make it to the theaters.

The top 100 films (in all languages) will garner maximum eyeballs and revenue share. Another 200-odd films will get a patchy theatrical release; some films even getting as few as one or two shows a day.

Earlier the only possible source of for these filmmakers was to try and sell to one of the satellite channels or, since the past two years, one of the streaming platforms. Since one does not — thank God for small mercies — require a license to make a film, India has been overproducing movies far beyond what can be consumed, both financially and time wise. Multiplex owners actually need the top 50 films to shore up their balance sheet.

One thing is certain: budgets will have to come down for both films and Broadcast TV. Advertising revenue is shifting fast from analogue media to digital. Most of marketing will shift to online promotion and Digital Out of Home (DOOH) reducing the extensive to marketing budgets to more manageable ones. Start-to-finish filming in a sanitized location is the new option.

Another entertainment option which has been severely impacted is live entertainment. This segment has only partially succeeded in going virtual. Concert lovers and stage enthusiasts missed their regular outings, and I am not sure that this will change in the coming months. Already, online games like Poker, Rummy, Ludo as well as the MORGP are gaining traction. In India it’s the rise of fantasy sports which is dramatic. I am sure that in two years gaming should double its revenues.

A big part of our life has changed forever. Both information and entertainment too will evolve to fit new lifestyles:        Amit Khanna

One looming shadow is the impending regulation (self?) of online content. Government has to be light-handed in regulating content. Existing organizations like the TRAI are ill equipped to handle the fast-changing digital ecosystem. The Industry too has to be a little more responsible. Self-regulation with clear-cut guidelines is the way forward. The Government has to understand while rules are fine, dissent in the digital space should not be eliminated. On the other hand, the constant cry by a group of a ‘loss of freedom’ is becoming mere political rhetoric. Trolling is par for the course, but can never be the hallmark of excellence.

We have seen in the last few weeks a return to optimism. Some of what we were used to will once again become the norm. However, a big part of our life has changed forever. Both information and entertainment too will evolve to fit new lifestyles.

Your thoughts, please