[Interview] The term ‘Innovation’ is very loosely used these days: Aditya Bhat, Jio Studios

Aditya Bhat

In an interview with Media Samosa, Aditya V. Bhat, Head – Reliance Jio Studios talks about how relevant communication is the key to this lockdown for the M&A industry and more.

Bhat stresses how the stalling of production processes has impacted the industry at large and sudden changes in consumer tastes and engagement habits are likely to make things challenging for content creators further. He also puts the spotlight on how the consumption pattern & change in consumer behavior during COVID-19 will be a defining moment for advertisers.


How do you view the impact of COVID-19 on the production industry?

First, the global pandemic has really brought to light, the significance and the power of contingency planning.

Second, as an industry, we have fared well conventionally, but COVID-19 might call for many changes. We also have to look at what the West is doing and probably build similar models around that approach.

Third, GEC and Television have taken a hit, as the content pipeline continues to dry up, but at the same time, newer avenues have opened for OTT platforms and digital platforms.

Fourth, the daily wage workers in the industry, from a spot boy to hair & makeup artists to technicians and many others are badly affected. Companies like Sony Pictures Network India, Zee Entertainment Enterprises, Netflix among others are offering financial help particularly to daily wage earners in this industry.

Fifth, Bollywood in itself is likely to suffer a blow of about ₹300 crores by the end of April as film releases are getting shelved and shootings have come to a standstill. Today, all producers, distributors, and exhibitors are in a tough spot and the ambiguity around the situation is making it increasingly difficult for them to make any decisions regarding their films and theatres.

Sixth, the sudden changes in consumer tastes and engagement habits are likely to make things challenging for content creators in the television space. They’ll be facing a huge task of restoring audience engagement and interest in their television shows and channels as soon as the crisis is over.

While this isn’t an exhaustive list and the stakeholders of the industry who are getting affected by COVID-19 are many, we can only hope that it all subsides soon so that things can get back to the new normal. As it is, there aren’t any textbook answers to “ways of recovery for the media industry post-COVID-19”, so I believe only trial and error will determine the shape of the industry in the coming months.

As a company, how are you approaching COVID-19? How are you trying to help your users survive this difficult phase?

We believe in the power of storytelling. While content is not being professionally shot at multiple locations, we still have created many public service announcements and coronavirus related advertisements for our clients and even now, we continue to do that.

If you were to look at it from a macro lens for the company then I can say that we have taken a 3P approach, which is Probing (about the various recent and past events), Planning (about business continuity and micro-processes) and Predicting (the things that can go right or wrong in the process and making changes to the plans accordingly). And hence, we are already looking at the next picture, how we should approach our clients, what are the various nuances of the short-term and long-term strategies that we will devise for them and how can we deliver ROI friendly work to them. All this while making sure that the content that is getting generated is differentiable, clever and clutter-breaking.

Do you think digital innovations are the only way forward post the lockdown too?

Innovation is loosely used sometimes; I believe that relevance is of far greater importance than only innovation. As long as one can continue to innovate and differentiate while keeping things relevant to the consumer base, they can stand apart from the clutter.

But this has to be done in a manner that is content worthy, entertaining and engaging for the consumers. This is why a fresh appeal often latches-on to the consumers in a sea of content. Another factor of importance is the discoverability of content and it often remains one of the biggest challenges that this industry faces despite digital innovations.

Today, many shows are running on various platforms, but an average consumer is not likely to have heard about such shows, let alone catch them. Hence, we see companies pushing increasingly for analytics and paid promotions to drive the discoverability of that content.

While it can be easily said that we have pushed the envelope for content creation, we really haven’t crossed that bridge of content discovery yet.

According to you, what kind of message should be put out by brands considering the sensitive time?

Today there already is a problem of information overload. Especially in the digital world, when all this is happening, perceptions of consumers can go a long way in determining the applicability of that message.

Brands should avoid talking about their products and coronavirus together, or should know when to draw a line. While a hand sanitizer can surely be a preventive method against the virus, I don’t understand why brands are talking about the effectiveness of their own soaps to combat the virus, which is contrary to our previous information that all regular soaps are effective against the virus.

Steps like these should be avoided in sensitive times. While we understand that coronavirus has become a tangible differentiator, any soap or any mask will work if it is used in the right manner. This is where marketeers need to draw a line and avoid milking this corona bandwagon to re-position their brands.

How are consumer behaviors and consumption patterns changing in this state of lockdown?

Habits are surely changing, from day to day activities like reading a newspaper with our morning tea has now changed to consuming news online or via television. People listened to the radio while commuting to work, the peak hours for radio channels, have plummeted in this lockdown. This has forced radio channels to go digital to retain its audiences.

Outdoor mediums are taken over by the Government of India and the revenue has been impacted in that space as well.

However, television is still impacted and the consumption patterns of the population are changing, be it for short-term or long-term. There is definitely a heavy diversion of traffic towards digital mediums. From cult classics to YouTube films to regional hits, everything is being consumed digitally.

This is where adversity has evolved us and thrown an adaptable opportunity at us.

What is interesting to witness is that this lockdown has turned people into content creators on all digital platforms. People give more time to their hobbies and talents and this has given new content creators a platform of their own. We may also see some of them wanting to take it up professionally as well in the future.

As for other conventional marketeers they are re-evaluating their digital plans, social media strategies and companies are looking at how they can keep their businesses running, often termed as business continuity planning. Businesses are trying to plan ahead in case the lockdown remains stringent for longer than we expect and trying their best to make the most of it.

Also Read: COVID-19: Nostalgia, re-runs, marathons – TV channels use every weapon in their arsenal

What according to you would be beneficial for the studio and production industry when it comes to the adage – ‘the show must go on’? What steps need to be taken?

Brands that have always aimed to increase loyalty amongst the consumers, they are in a deep dilemma now because many consumers have temporarily retired from using those brands and this is not something that can be easily restored to normalcy.

Our preferences, our taste, our thoughts, all have evolved & altered amidst the pandemic. So, while the show must go on, it has to go on in a careful and planned manner.

3 things that the COVID-19 situation taught you in terms of marketing, advertising, and production?

Well, the answer lies in the question itself. If you pick the syllables M, A, and P from the three words and shuffle them then you can arrive at the thought process of Planning, Attuning and Monitoring.

  1. Planning for the short-term as well as the long-term risks and formulating strategies on the basis of this assessment.
  2. Attuning all stakeholders to the current scenario and keeping them well aware of the dynamics of the situation so as to deliver them the value for the money that they are spending.
  3. Lastly, monitoring, the evolving nature of the situation & simultaneously making the changes in the strategies, plans, outcomes and making adjustments accordingly.




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