James Murdoch: India is a 'Sleeping Tiger'

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News Corp. scion calls global media firms "gray and tired."

NEW DELHI -- “India’s creative force is still a sleeping tiger waiting to be awakened,” said James Murdoch, News Corp’s European and Asian operations chief, while describing global media firms as “gray and tired” in his keynote address at the inaugural session of the 12th FICCI FRAMES confab in Mumbai Wednesday.

“We all know that, even while resting, tigers are impressive - other animals are careful to give them respect. Yet only when a tiger is awake and engaged can we appreciate its force and majesty,” added Murdoch.

“India’s $15 billion media industry should have been $120-odd billion -- given its creative human talent and historical depth,” said Murdoch on the heels of this year's FICCI FRAMES report on the entertainment industry, prepared with consultants KPMG India that predicts the Indian biz would double its revenues to nearly $30 billion by 2015.

In typical Murdoch fashion, his' speech was as attention-grabbing as his previous FICCI FRAMES address in 2002 when he openly attacked India's cable operators for not giving broadcasters their fair share of revenues by under-declaring subscribers and urged the Indian government to speed up digitization.

He again attacked cable operators while repeating his digitzation mantra, “With the cautious liberalization of DTH (Direct to Home) broadcasting, the cork on the bottle was removed. Thirty million Indian families have responded. So today India boasts not one, or two, but a whole sector of 21st century digital TV companies. We all would do well to note that when it comes to first movers and innovators in this sector, none come from the cable fraternity. They all come from this new class. Grappling with the challenge of incumbency, the cable sector has too often failed to take into account the only constituency that matters: the customer.”

India has around 120 million TV households but there are only about 30 million homes which have digital channels, he noted, highlighting the need for a relaxation in investment and ownership regulations to boost digitization that would unleash a “content revolution” in India.

“The impressive achievements of the last two decades have not even begun to fulfill the potential of this great land,” said Murdoch.

The three day FICCI FRAMES confab was inaugurated in the presence of veteran filmmaker Yash Chopra, southern Indian actor and filmmaker Kamal Haasan, upcoming Bollywood actress Anushka Sharma, Murdoch and Indian Minister of State for Communications and Information Technology Sachin Pilot.

Supporting Murdoch's digitization push, Pilot said, “In the coming decade consumers will demand more information and entertainment-heavy data in the digitized format... And I ensure all the support to the industry-led initiatives to meet this demand."
Murdoch also spoke about the experience of News Corp.'s Star network in India since 1999 when the company went aggressive with its India expansion stating “not that its been an easy ride. We have had fierce competitors in the past and we have them today, and I anticipate even more in the future... To our rivals as well as our partners, I have only admiration for your work. And I believe that we are together at a time and place in history that offers us the chance to raise up something that the Indian people have not yet seen: a media sector that will be the envy of the world – and all the benefits that flow from that.”

Perhaps offering a slight hint that he is, after all, a chip off the old block, Murdoch said, “My father says that no country has a monopoly on creative content. Allow the new generation of Indians to reap the rewards of their success and enterprise. Encourage them as they build a creative sector that reflects the passions and energies and beauty of this incredible nation. If we do, we will find not only that India will have changed, but India will be changing the world.”