Bodhi Tree Systems co-founder and former Disney APAC chief Uday Shankar has made it clear that though he was nurtured by the TV ecosystem, which he also lovingly helped grow while in various media organisations in India, the time has arrived to create an alternative to television.
According to a report in the Deadline, Shankar outlined his new venture, along with Reliance’s Viacom18, where he is building a digital-first company that would be an alternative to legacy media in one of the world’s fastest-growing markets.
Speaking on Tuesday at Media Partners Asia-organised APOS conference in Bali, Indonesia, Shankar, in-conversation with MPA ED Vivek Couto, recounted how Reliance Jio created a “fundamental digital revolution” in India with the introduction of low-cost data plans in 2016, the Deadline report stated. (https://deadline.com/2023/09/uday-shankar-bodhi-tree-systems-jiocinema-reliance-apos-1235557035/)
“I was created by and love television, but its limitations have been exposed for a long time,” said Shankar, who headed Star India before serving as president of The Walt Disney Co APAC until 2020.
He is now invested in the next stage of India’s media evolution through his partnership with James Murdoch in Bodhi Tree Systems – part of a consortium of investors that are building out the JioCinema streaming service.
Over the past few years, the platform has made a series of splashy content deals, including the Indian Premier League (IPL) cricket and programming from Warner Bros Discovery and NBCUniversal. The service has also folded in the streaming channels of Viacom18 (jointly owned by Mukesh Ambani’s Reliance Industries and Paramount Global).
“We were able to see that opportunity very clearly. When you have a population of 1.4 billion, and leaving aside the top segment of the population, the rest have been completely bypassed – most of them have only looked at video on their mobile phones. The appetite has always been there but it’s been limited by access and affordability of the content,” Shankar said, according to the Deadline report.
“What we believe is that you can create an alternative to television, and I’m not talking about just one streaming service or channel, but delivering the whole range and diversity of content. We think the time is right in India to create an alternative through an app – and that is JioCinema,” elaborated Shankar, a print media journalist-turned-high-profile-TV-exec-turned-investor-enterpreneur.
JioCinema delivers multiple channels, sourced from businesses within the Reliance Industries/Viacom18 stable, as well as outside partners, but Shankar swatted aside the term “aggregation” as being associated with legacy media.
He, according to Deadline, said only a broad, centralised service with multiple channels can deliver content to the massive “social and linguistic diversity of India”.
He called out India’s SVOD segment for being too focused on the top end of the market with programming that is too expensive to realistically recoup.
(Photo courtesy Uday Shankar’s Facebook page)