Entertainment CEOs Call on India to Accelerate Digital Transformation

Indian prime minister Narendra Modi with entertainment CEOs in NY - H 2015
Courtesy of Government of India

A New York roundtable, hosted by Rupert Murdoch for Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, was attended by the CEOs of Time Warner, Discovery and other big entertainment companies.

CEOs and top executives of U.S. media and entertainment companies held a roundtable discussion with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in New York Thursday, hosted by 21st Century Fox chairman Rupert Murdoch and CEO James Murdoch.

As reported, the Murdoch-hosted event was part of Modi's ongoing visit to the U.S., which will include interactions in San Francisco with Silicon Valley giants Facebook, Google and Apple.

According to an official Indian government statement, the media CEOs “were enthusiastic about the digital transformation that is taking place in India through the Digital India initiative,” but also called on the government to focus on “speeding up” of television digitization and enhancing the country's mobile and broadband infrastructure.

The CEOs in attendance also included Fox's Star India CEO Uday Shankar, News Corp CEO Robert Thompson, Discovery Communications CEO David Zaslav, Sony Entertainment CEO Michael Lynton, Time Warner CEO Jeff Bewkes, A&E Networks CEO Nancy Dubuc, Vice Media CEO Shane Smith, Interpublic Group CEO Michael Roth and WPP CEO Martin Sorrell, among others.

Last year, Modi launched the Digital India initiative, which aims to transform the country into a digitally empowered society and knowledge economy. In his address, Modi “suggested to the CEOs that India represents both the biggest opportunity and the biggest challenge for them, and urged them to keep regional languages in mind, as they firm up investment plans for India," according to the statement.

“We are committed to protecting IPR (intellectual property rights), that's essential to fostering creativity,” Modi was also quoted as saying by India Abroad News Service. He added that in a technology-driven era, the “growth of digital infrastructure is as important as the growth of physical infrastructure.”

Modi also shared his government's vision  to connect 600,000 villages through broadband connectivity and “asked the CEOs to visualize the citizen of the 21st century, and think about what values he will represent and what challenges he will face,” according to the statement.

Posting on his twitter account, Rupert Murdoch wrote: "Great hour with Indian PM Modi. Best leader with best policies since independence, but massive task to achieve in most complex nation."

India has about 280 million internet users compared to 825 million TV viewers. A recent report by consultants KPMG India predicts the country is expected to reach 640 million Internet users by 2019. Internet speeds in India are still low at an average of 2mbps compared to the U.S. average of 11.5 mbps though mobile connectivity is expected to get a boost with the launch of faster 4G services by year-end. Meanwhile, India has over 930 million mobile users and is expected to soon touch the billion figure, making it the world's second largest mobile market after China.

Addressing reporters after the meeting, India's Ministry of External Affairs spokesman Vikas Swarup was quoted as stating by the Press Trust of India that all the CEOs considered India their biggest market in terms of the growth in entertainment channels and in terms of the youth in India wanting more such content. "They asked for speedier digitization of Indian systems," he said.

In addition to being a long-serving diplomat, Swarup is also a well-known author whose 2005 novel Q&A was adapted for the big screen as Danny Boyle's Oscar-winning Slumdog Millionaire.

Modi earlier chaired a financial industry roundtable with top U.S. CEOs from JP Morgan, Blackstone, Warburg Pincus, AIG Insurance and Tiger Global, among others.

Modi will now head to San Francisco where his schedule includes a town hall interaction Sunday at Facebook headquarters as confirmed by CEO Mark Zuckerberg.

“Prime Minister Modi and I will discuss how communities can work together to address social and economic challenges…. The event will be on Sunday, September 27 at 9:30 a.m. pacific time,” Zuckerberg said in a Facebook post earlier this month.

Modi is also slated for meetings at Apple, Tesla and Google, which recently appointed its new India-born CEO Sunder Pichai. “I will also see some recent technological innovations at the Google (Alphabet) campus and Tesla Motors,” Modi said in a tweet posted last Sunday, adding, “It would be after a gap of almost 33 years that an Indian PM would be visiting the west coast — the home of start-ups, innovation and technology.”