Last Wednesday, we had just settled down at the opening ceremony of the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (Ficci) Frames, 2015. There was Rahul Johri, executive vice-president, Discovery, South Asia, on my right, and former executive editor of Bloomberg UTV, Pranjal Sharma, on my left. When Harit Nagpal, CEO of Tata Sky, came on stage and made some scathing remarks about regulation, I took a picture and wrote a tweet. It wouldn't go. Soon, actors Kamal Haasan and Aamir Khan spoke. Khan made some unflattering remarks about the quality of kids' television (which I agreed with).
Johri, Sharma and many of us found that we couldn't tweet any of these interesting tidbits. Clearly, 3G (mine is Vodafone) was not working at the Renaissance in Mumbai. So, we tried looking for a conference Wi-Fi, a standard around the world. Most organisers hand you a password or announce one just before a conference begins. There was none at Ficci-Frames. The lucky few whose 3G was working continued to tweet or talk to the outside world. By afternoon, almost everyone in the speakers' room was asking the other - is your Wi-Fi working? Neither the hotel nor Ficci seemed to have a clear explanation for this.
This was the biggest faux pas at Asia's 'biggest convention on the business of media and entertainment'. How could a country that hosts some of the top IT companies in the world, has the largest film industry and the second-largest television industry in the world, where digital advertising is growing by over 40 per cent year-on-year, miss this one?
Ficci-Frames 2015 is an annual pilgrimage for most of us in the Rs 1,00,000-odd crore media and entertainment industry. It is a great platform to meet people in the industry - there were 2,500 delegates this year, about 150 from outside India. And some of the global speakers were brilliant (this year, Ryan Kavanaugh of Relativity Media was very good). The lack of connectivity must have cost Ficci a few crores in publicity via social media, which almost everyone uses incessantly during a conference.
The good bits? To get over the whole dejà vu of panel discussions and the accompanying chit-chat, Ficci has been doing some interesting experiments every year. These include script-writing and technical workshops, awards for excellence in animation and so on.
This year, it addressed the developmental need of the entertainment industry in a more direct way - by becoming a platform for anyone to pitch their ideas for a film, TV show or in animation/gaming. Two weeks before the event, Ficci started promoting 'Frame Ur Idea'. Anyone could get in with a token fee of Rs 2,500 per idea. Over three days, the script development teams and representatives of some of the largest entertainment companies in India - Disney, Fox, Zee, Star, Dharma, Endemol and Turner, among others - had 600 meetings with the 200 people who had pitched. The Film Writers Association did a free pitching workshop for the participants. It also had a desk for people to register their scripts. "The (desk) also helps them understand why they should protect their idea," said Leena Jaisani, senior director and head of Ficci's media and entertainment division.
This is a huge step forward. The only other body that invests in the development of ideas, concepts and writing of films is the National Film Development Corporation of India (NFDC). It has a Screenwriters' Lab held in partnership with international film festivals such as Toronto or Venice, among others. It begins by inviting ideas for film scripts and culminates over a year into six pitches made at NFDC's Film Bazaar, held in Goa every year. NFDC then facilitates many of the projects through meetings with sales agents, production firms and so on - a process that has thrown up films such as The Lunchbox and The Good Road, among dozens of others. Many happened in partnership with private firms combining their distribution and marketing chutzpah with NFDC's not-for-profit developmental approach.
Largely, it is at the developmental end of the value chain - whether it is in TV or film or any other creative industry - that India's reasonably competent private sector fails. It doesn't have the patience and money to listen to, handhold and nurture ideas. If Ficci can take the Frame Ur Idea 'idea' further into the script and project stage, especially in the starved-for-ideas TV industry, it would have more than done its job, Wi-Fi or no Wi-Fi.