Dear Santa, my Christmas tree has a small red stocking on it. It is symbolic because I don't expect you to give me any large material gifts. Instead, I would urge you to wave your wand or do whatever you do to make sure that we, media reporters, can get data on every company and segment without having to beg, borrow and fight for it. Reporting on the Rs 83,000-crore Indian media and entertainment industry over the last 14 years has been a joy. But with every passing year, its opaqueness, the lack of data and, therefore, the inability to analyse it, like other industries, is exasperating.
Here is what I would like you to do.
Can the website of the Ministry Of Corporate Affairs, which hosts the annual reports and other filings of private limited firms, become easier to navigate and more transparent? It is teeth-gnashingly difficult to figure out. After three years and several attempts, all I have got is blank documents. It would be such fun to be able to compare the top 10-20 companies on everything from profitability to returns to corporate governance. But none of this is possible without financial data - the biggest bugbear in analysing this industry. It is all very fine to keep discussing the European or American markets, but one look at the analysis there and here tells you that the quality and quantity of financial data available on the Indian media and entertainment industry are pathetic.
Big broadcasters have arm-twisted TAM Media Research, the only rating agency for television, into not sharing data with the media. Can the Indian Broadcasting Foundation re-think this silly stance and allow TAM to share top line numbers? Currently, we request a broadcaster, usually any of the ones who are being interviewed for a story, to give us the numbers. More often than not, the broadcaster gives data cherry-picked to make him look good. And while you are at it, could you also ensure that the new stuff coming out of the Broadcast Audience Research Council passes muster? The thought of being stuck without TV audience data for a year a la print is simply awful.
Speaking of print, please make publishers get over their fear of the new Indian Readership Survey. The point of a sample survey is not to maintain your ranking, but to show a broad trend of what is happening in the market. They are still squabbling over why they seem to have lost numbers or gained them, in a new, re-hauled readership survey with a larger sample based on the 2011 Census data.
- Box office numbers are a complete mystery to me. Most of the trade sites carry bloated numbers to ensure that "good relations" with a star or production house are not spoilt. Can someone please make a business case for having a site offering authentic data on the Indian film industry - box office, satellite rights, overseas (by country and admissions), other revenues, releases, genres, screens, admissions and so on? With more than 60 per cent of the screens in India on a digital and, therefore, computerised system, surely that is possible. It usually takes me weeks to put together anything on what the Indian film industry looks like - in numbers. What is the point of being the world's biggest film industry (by volumes) if you don't even know enough, to know, that it is the least profitable one?
You know Santa, everyone cribs about the quality of journalism in India, including me. But at least give us the basic tools that our colleagues in the telecom or information technology sector have - access to corporate and market data. There is very little available - on costs, profits and revenues - to do any analysis on the health of this industry. It is only when there is complete transparency that one can answer questions like why this industry offers such pathetic returns - is corporate governance a big reason or is it simply a poor use of capital?
So Santa, please see if you can fix the data problem. That would make me as happy as if you gave me the third season of House of Cards or the fourth one of Sherlock before their release.
Regards and a big Ho Ho Ho,