Let’s just mull on the two contrasting scenes before we go into some self-introspection. The past six months have been some sort of eye opener for us. It’s perhaps time that we learn from our mistakes. Today, I am going to talk about one such mistake that I feel we are all making. It’s a mistake that can be corrected easily if we make up our minds.
Scene 1: The News Production House Over the past six months the TV News industry has gone through an unexpected churn in India. Hundreds of journalists have lost their jobs. Some channels are even struggling to make two ends meet because money is not flowing in easily. The costs are rising and the profit margins have shrunk so much that costs are threatening to take over the already shrinking profits. Running television channels are becoming expensive by the day and on top of that the media regulations about revenue collections are becoming stricter. The same media houses which were lavishly spending even two years ago are now drastically cutting down costs because they need money to invest in their businesses. The writing on the wall is clear: If TV channels don’t start consolidating their operational costs right now, they will soon have to down their shutters.
Scene two: The Bollywood Production House The budgets of Bollywood films are becoming lavish by the year. Bollywood production houses are also letting the cash flow when it comes to publicity. Bollywood is also spending humongous amounts on media relations, acquiring billboards, road shows and events, across the world. According to unofficial estimates, any big budget Bollywood film (which is made at a cost of Rs 60 crores) is spending at least Rs 40 crores on promotions and publicity. Bollywood films that are clicking in the market are taking home huge amounts as profits and coupled with rights selling across media platforms (like music and satellite), most of big budget hit films are making a neat profit of Rs 100 crores and upwards. A total revenue return of Rs 150 crores is becoming an industry norm for any super hit Bollywood film. The scene is bright, sunny and looking up towards even a brighter future.
Why Bollywood should afford its publicity
It’s really great news that our film industry is doing so well. So, when the industry is doing so well, the entertainment departments across TV channels should be doing well too, right? Wrong. Just put your ear closer to the ground and you will see that a lot of reputed media houses, mainly TV channels, are fast scrapping their entertainment shows. The channels which generously advertised its entertainment shows are fast replacing them with news and human interest segments. Some channels are reportedly operating on such tight budgets that hiring is being done with extreme care while there are some who have stopped it altogether. When the revenue departments of these media houses should be talking about profits, they are instead head-butting to bring in the operational costs. A lot of channels have drastically reduced their budgets on entertainment sections. Let me tell you here that when a media house decides to increase the costs of a certain section or a department, it means that the department is doing very well in terms of ‘return on investment’. So, looking at the trends, one can say that the entertainment sections of media houses across platforms are, in fact, doing the worst. So, why this dichotomy? Why are entertainment sections of media houses (that primarily covers Bollywood) doing such awful business when Bollywood films are doing so well? The answer lies with all of us. And if we just change the way we look at things, I see the entertainment journalists ensuring that a lot of cash flows in for their company which will ultimately go in paying their salaries or may be that odd welfare policy might get implemented again. It’s simple math. If a channel earns a Rs 100-crore more in a financial year from a market section (roughly the earning of one Bollywood big budget film), they will never think of scrapping the department that covers that market segment. So, if Bollywood is bringing in the money to the media houses, Bollywood as a beat will be alive and kicking. We need to let our companies earn the legitimate revenue out of a film’s publicity budget and not become a stumbling block. Right now, in some cases, it’s the journalists themselves who are blocking the revenue flow to their company’s coffers. May be unknowingly. Here is how big budget Bollywood films utilises the media to get free publicity when ideally they should be paying for it.
1. Star interviews: Every big Bollywood star goes into hibernation when they don’t have a film release coming up. They come and talk to the media only when they have to talk about their forthcoming films. Unfortunately the media laps up every byte because the star had been absent from the scene for a long time. We think that when a star is absent from the media for a long time, the public at large is generally interested in him or her and hence we should cover him/her. In the process, we start covering the upcoming film because the star only talks about the film for a major portion of the interview. The star gets free air-time and talks about his/her future 100-crore film, while media loyal advertisers pay through their nose to sponsor that slot. Ideally, the situation should be other way round — Bollywood films should pay to get media attention and not make somebody else pay for them.
2. Star parties: In the same way, a star jealously guards his/her privacy when no film is about to open. But when a film release is about to happen, the floodgates open. During a release of a film, nothing is out-of-bounds for the media – even the inners of a star home which lures every big media house inside it. The stars invite the media cameras at their homes or ‘venues’ for parties or interviews and the media is too happy to oblige.
3. Butting into news: Issues of national interest become issues of star interest too. The star is suddenly active on every media outlet possible expressing outrage or doling out opinions when he or she is not an expert or even remotely connected with it.
4. I am coming to town: Suddenly there are a slurry of events across the country. This is the time when a star moves out of his/her Mumbai home and comes to your city. There has been a good spurt in media growth in all the vernacular markets and small cities and a star’s team too have those statistics. We all know now that these so-called ‘small markets’ is the biggest market, if all of them are taken together. So, when the star comes to your city, arranges for road shows in malls and five-star hotels, members of the media get the best seats. Press conferences are held and interviews are doled out generously to the local channel. The media representatives who don’t get to see the stars up close, ‘cover’ them generously in the local city media outlets. This too is free coverage and doesn’t cost the filmmaker much because it is a simple PR exercise.
5. You have to ‘see’ it: Last but not the least, the film promotion team ensures free publicity even if a channel desk decides to edit out most portions where the star talks about the film. These days it is all about visual advertising. So, the stars are dressed up as their film’s character, there is a poster of the film hanging in the background or standee just behind the star’s head when they are giving interviews. The star consciously refers to the film after every sentence to draw a conscious reference to the film. The questions suddenly look stupid and the answers, even more.
Here is a typical example:
Journalist: What do you think of Manmohan Singh ‘s nuclear policy?
Star: The nuclear policy is not clear in this case but I can give you a clearer example. In my film there is a joke about England’s nuclear policy. I can’t tell you how much we laughed while filming it. Viru (the director) was constantly making faces behind the camera and I kept forgetting my lines. It was so hilarious that I can’t even tell you…
Journalist: Err… But I was talking about India’s nuclear policy…
Star: I think it (the nuclear policy) is on a firm footing just as a scene in my forthcoming film where we talk about a similar issue in Haryana…
I am sure the above lines look stupid to you now but go and see some of the star interviews on YouTube and I am sure you will find similar examples. Remember, all the above ‘publicity’ comes free. That too at a time when journalists are losing jobs because the industry is struggling to get the money to pay them. How stupid of us!
Short-link of the post -> http://goo.gl/4cefhF
The picture of the ‘cash cow’ has been taken from here.