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March 16, 2007

Mumbai’s Big Idea

Boy did I ever miss the mark. For two days leading up to our media and content deep dive in Mumbai, I’d read everything I could about Bollywood, scoured the local newspapers for entertainment news, and prepared myself for the glitz and glamour this city is known for its movie business. I boned up on all the big stars by reading their bios on the Internet Movie Database. I kicked myself for not building enough time into the trip to tour the movie studios. And so when the day of the big discussion finally came, and we had assembled India’s thought leaders in the media and entertainment industry, what did they want to talk about?

Literacy, of course.

Actually, illiteracy, to be more precise. What started as a soaring discussion, full of optimism about the potential for India to be a major global force in the content creation business, quickly turned inward, and focused more on using technology and content to bridge the gaping wealth chasm between India’s Haves (its urban populations) and its Have-nots (the residents of India’s approximately 600,000 rural villages.)

Perhaps it was because all the people in the room knew that before India could beam its considerable collection of creative content around the globe, it was going to have to figure out how to get it to its own people first. And that is a major challenge.

First, let’s talk about who was in the room. The group consisted of representatives from some of India’s brightest stars, and not just from the media and entertainment business. There were creators of content (Big FM Radio, newspaper publisher Malayala Manorama, TV and movie producer Zee Telefilms, and music and movie producer Saregama India). There were advertising companies (WPP, FCB-Ulka). There were content distributors (cellular and satellite giants Reliance Communications, Tata Sky, and Bharti Airtel). There were companies that use media as a vehicle to get their message across (oil giant Hindustan Petroleum and retail chain Sankalp Retail Value Stores). And there was an academic representative from the Indian Institute of Technology.

Not surprisingly, there were dozens of opinions flying around the room, and not all of them in accord. But there were two things that all in the room seemed to agree on: 1.) India has a very bright future ahead in the media and content space (note: this was in sharp contrast with our deep dive in New York one week prior, in which the mood was much more dour and pessimistic) and 2.)India is not without its problems, namely the vexing challenge of delivering content (not just entertainment) and connectivity to the hundreds of millions of rural residents.

The discussion that resulted was right up the GIO’s alley. The idea was that by connecting India, likely through the use of mobile technology, a social unity of sorts could result. As IBM’s own Kris Lichter put it, mobility at the right price can create microeconomic opportunity that would connect India’s villages to the world community.

There was the usual, and warranted, debate over the price of access to this technology. But there was also a lot of concern with cultural barriers to adopting technology. For example, what would the value of Internet access be to a farmer that could read or write?

But what if that farmer had a phone that was entirely voice activated, and could check weather forecasts, order fertilizer, and see commodity prices without ever typing a word into a keypad? Or, perhaps even more compelling, what if there were a visual language that developed, through the use of mobile devices, that was universal and could bridge the technology divide, not just in India, but in Central Asia and throughout Africa as well.

This idea of overriding illiteracy through the use of a visual medium, of overcoming language barriers through the use of simple and intuitive icons, and the potential for India and China to talk to each other without the need for translation, had the room buzzing. And I guarantee that every person in that room is sitting at home tonight thinking about the power of that kind of solution.

The GIO team left Mumbai without laying eyes on a single Bollywood celebrity. But we left town with something far more exhilarating: a big idea.

March 16, 2007 in Media and Content | Permalink


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Quite thoughtful post. You are right in many ways. Keep writing.

Posted by: Balti Singh (visiting Mumbai soon) | Apr 13, 2008 1:24:54 PM

I like your post. This is good. Pls check my post also http://bollywoodchutney.blogspot.com/
We can also exchange links. Pls reply me back at nsharma1402@-----.com

Posted by: Bollywood Adda | Jan 19, 2009 1:48:21 AM

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