With the broadcast and production markets in India and the UAE experiencing an unprecedented boom, the two countries are seeking to build partnerships that will reap mutual benefits. Vijaya Cherian reports.
The financial turmoil worldwide may have left some coffers dry and made food and oil more expensive but it does not seem to have staved people's appetite for entertainment.
In fact, with the increasing demand for good, high quality entertainment globally, emerging markets such as India and the United Arab Emirates are seeing an unprecedented growth in their broadcast and production sectors.
Both countries are now seeking to forge new relationships to take advantage of the broadcast and production boom in their respective markets.
The UAE and India have always enjoyed good trade relations and bring a lot of complementary services to the table.
As a young country with visionary leaders at the helm, the UAE, particularly Dubai, has aggressively sought to put in place the infrastructure necessary to attract international players to the emirate.
If its Media City provided smart offices, a tax-free environment and media-friendly policies that enabled international broadcasters to set up base here, its more recent Studio City initiative is addressing the production needs that have evolved since then.
Already, the first tenants have moved into Studio City and within a couple of years, Dubai hopes it will replicate the success of Media City and evolve into a sophisticated production hub that may one day rival Hollywood. Much effort is being made by the government body to woo Indian companies to set up shop at its free zone.
Jamal Al Sharif, executive director of Dubai Studio City confirms that two new Indian companies have already registered to begin operations from the free zone. "NDTV Arabiya was registered some time ago. We now have Mahendra TV and another channel. We are talking to two more channels from India," he says.
"In the meantime, a team has just come back from India after negotiations and we intend to repeat the exercise in June with other companies there. We are in touch with a few large post-production facilities in India.
The formalities are taking a long time but we want them to know that we are here to support them. We have had trade relations with India for several years and His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum is keen to take it further.
Additionally, the Indian community in this country is huge so we believe that Indian companies will feel at home here," he explains.
Al Sharif also reiterates that both countries will achieve much if they work together. "Indians have the experience and the skills while we provide a tax-free environment and state-of-the-art infrastructure to operate in. There will be mutual benefits for both parties," he says.
Dubai itself has undergone a massive transformation over the last decade and today touts an ultra-modern urban skyline, shopping malls that stock most well-known international luxury brands, a ski slope, clean beaches and fantastic hotels - all at a more affordable price than Europe.
All these features have made Dubai attractive not just to businessmen and tourists but also to the Indian film industry, especially Bollywood, one of the most visible faces of India on the international arena.
"Indian producers often find it easy to source costumes for their film stars from Dubai. Shooting on location and sourcing visas for crew are easily done with Dubai's Location Approval Services Department."
Additionally, with a staggering 70% of the population in the UAE being Indian, it is easy for producers to find extras and work in an environment that is very similar to their home base while at the same time, experiencing the luxury of being abroad.
Consequently, several Bollywood films including Naqaab, Partner, Race and Welcome have been shot partly in Dubai as have many South Indian movies.
Despite its song and dance tradition, the Indian film industry is gradually gaining more mileage on the world stage. According to a recent report published by Ernst & Young, the Indian film industry is the most prolific globally, producing more than 1000 films annually as opposed to the 570 that were produced by Hollywood in 2007.
More importantly, Bollywood is now moving away from the traditional, family-run way of producing films to the more brisk and professional studio model of Hollywood.
With corporatisation underway in Bollywood, we see a higher investment in production from key players such as Yash Raj, Sahara One, UTV and Reliance.
In fact, at Cannes last month, Reliance Big Entertainment announced that it would spend US $1 billion over the next 18 months building its movie businesses in India and globally.
At the event, the Indian conglomerate pulled back the curtains on a production slate of 69 Indian-sourced movies with budgets ranging from US $1 million to $40 million.
The company announced that some of the US $1 billion investment would be used to develop the company's film distribution and infrastructure on an international scale. Reliance is opening its own distribution offices on the East and West coasts of the US, Europe, the Middle East, Malaysia and Australia.
Although Bollywood is the most well marketed, it is not the only segment witnessing such accelerated growth in India. The country's animation sector, its television industry, the Direct-to-Home as well as cable markets are seeing significant growth, and interest in new media platforms is on the rise.
A Nasscom report states that the Indian animation industry, which was estimated at US $354 million in 2006 is forecast to reach $869 million by 2010, representing a CAGR of 25% over 2006-2010.
According to the report, there are presently 300 animation companies in India employing approximately 12,000 full-time people and an additional 3,000 freelancers.
This huge growth has come about thanks to Hollywood outsourcing a lot of its animation work to India for cost reasons.
In fact, seeing the high quality of the animation produced in India and how cost effective it is, even Freej, the first professional attempt at animation by a UAE national, was outsourced to India. Today, this animation series has become a huge success in Dubai.
Likewise, the television industry in India has become hugely successful. A report from Reuters in September 2007 stated that an estimated 100 new channels would be launched by the end of this year in India. The report added that by 2010, the country would have more than 700 channels up from 346 in 2006.
With scope for such huge growth in the Indian TV industry, Rammya Choudhury, technical manager of ON-AIR Systems, which recently deployed a tapless solution for a South Indian TV station, Angel TV, reckons there will be continuous demand for new equipment and technology in the country.
"There is clearly a big opportunity for a large spectrum of broadcast manufacturers to operate in the Indian market," confirms Choudhury.
It is estimated that the Indian TV industry alone has been spending around US $5 billion in recent years, while the spend in radio is approximately $118 million. At the moment, TV reaches up to 40% of the people in India, where 91 million households are said to have a TV set.
The broadcast industry plans to reach an estimated 85 million people via DTH/IPTV by the year 2010. At the moment, 48 million viewers have access to cable TV. The growth rate is high and, as a whole, the broadcast industry is growing and stepping up to a new phase right now," he adds.
One prime reason for the large volume of channels in India is because of the huge linguistic diversity in the country, which places a big demand for language-specific channels in different genres to cater to people living in different Indian states.
It is not wrong, however, to add that some people and channels were responsible for revolutionising the television industry in India.
One name that springs to mind is Ekta Kapoor, who has made a name in India for her soaps with elaborate backdrops, filmi music and men and women groomed from head to toe.
With Kapoor's soaps, Star Plus became the most dominant player in the Indian pay-TV market although Zee TV is now giving it some competition. Irrespective of the bad press that Kapoor has received for her unrealistic and often, ludicrous storylines, one has to admit that her Hindi serials have kept many viewers riveted to the screen.
As a result, the Hindi General Entertainment market has attracted the largest share of viewing (32%, according to Ernst & Young) and advertising revenue in India.
We see rivalry of a similar sort, although on a smaller scale, between Malayalam channels, Asianet and Surya TV, both of which vie for viewers' eyeballs among South Indian residents not just within the domestic market but outside as well. These channels have a huge fan base in the Middle East, especially the UAE and this explains why it has been hugely beneficial for them to come down and set up shop here.
Seeing the impact of their programmes on NRIs and wanting a share of the Middle East advertising pie, many Indian channels today have a production facility in Dubai.
Asianet has an office in Dubai Media City while Zee Network's Middle East headquarters will include several production studios and editing facilities when it is completed. Indian news channel, NDTV has launched NDTV Arabiya from Dubai Studio City while Star and Sony, among many others, also have a huge presence in the region.
While Indian media networks are looking to acquire or launch new channels and expand their operations, the Middle East has also experienced a huge broadcast boom.
Presently, the region has more than 360 free-to-air channels with 22% of them hosted from the UAE. As most TV channels here are still state-owned and media deregulation is still in its infancy, the potential for further growth is huge.
This is further compounded by the increasing interest in reality TV shows as well as sports events such as the Indian Premier League and the Dubai World Cup. We see a lot of room for the production of sports and live events in High Definition and the demand for specialised technology and crew to cover them.
It is this kind of growth that led Harris Broadcast's president Tim Thorsteinson to come down to Dubai for CABSAT this year. He told Digital Studio that India and the Middle East were two of the fastest growing regions in the world along with China and Brazil for broadcast. "These regions used to represent only 8% of our business but now we see a 40% growth in our business in these countries. These have become some of the most important markets for us."
Additionally, India is teeming with talent and skilled professionals. It has a well-honed TV, film as well as advertising industry and its animation segment is seeing huge growth with more and more Hollywood studios outsourcing work to the subcontinent.
The UAE, being a young nation, does not yet have a film culture but it has the capital and the marketing muscle to create and develop an event like the Dubai Film Festival and bring many international celebrities to grace the red carpet. Making DIFF an international platform appeals to Bollywood stars.
What the UAE lacks currently is skilled personnel here to take advantage of the production facilities and new job opportunities that will become available with Studio City.
The country has only one 35 mm film-processing lab and other related production and editing services are not yet fully available. However, India has these services as well as specialised crew to operate this technology.
While skilled operations personnel in India will find the job opportunities in the emirate appealing, their presence will also help to bring more international production and editing opportunities to this market. It will, in turn, help to not just grow the local broadcast and production market but its related industries as well.
In short, with the increasing opportunities for growth in this market, broadcast manufacturers, systems integrators, specialised systems providers and companies specialising in the production of live sports events will benefit hugely from operating in these markets now.
• Digital Rapids opens office in Gurgaon, India.
• All India Radio (AIR) selected Thomson's M2W medium-wave transmitters for the launch of the first local radio channels to India's Lakshadweep Islands.
• Pixion, one of India's most influential postproduction companies installed the BrightDrive media recording solution to provide the infrastructure for its facility in Bandra, Mumbai.
• Angel TV goes for a tapeless solution from On-Air.
• Digicable Network (India) Private Limited selects Strategy & Technology Limited's MHEG-5 technology to create a complete end-to-end interactive TV solution. This is the first operator in India to select MHEG-5 based technology.
• Indian media giant Shemaroo used Digital Vision's Film Master colour grading system to complete an animated feature titled Bal Ganesh.
• The Andhra Pradesh government announces plans for the country's first ‘Digital Entertainment City', which is expected to house a mix of gaming and animation companies, film production houses and music studios as well as training academies.