Pradeep Dwivedi has donned many hats in his long illustrious professional journey, with over two decades of experience he has worked in Advertising & Media Business, Telecom & Technology Enterprises, Banking & Financial services Institutions and Automotive sector, with established credentials in digital infotainment business as well as Print Publication, News Television channels and Experiential Events.
He is an active participant in many media industry associations, such as Director of IAA (India Chapter) and a managing committee member of The Advertising Club of India.
In the part one of this Two-Part Leaderspeak with Pradeep Dwivedi, CEO-India, Eros International Media Ltd., he talks to us about his new role, the movie business in India and much more……
The person behind the Savvy Media Professional, who is Pradeep Dwivedi?
At heart I remain a student, at heart I remain a learner. I just have this insatiable curiosity to know everything about everything which at timesmay be not such a good thing. The number of industries that I have worked in and the number of places that I have lived in, has kind of engendered in me a sense of discovery that I keep exploring every time. I just cannot sit still and be stable for a long period of time. I obviously try to learn from every possible scenario. I do not think it is unique to me, as most people tend to go through experiences in life and learn from each one of them.I just try to keep an open mind to learn as much as possible and apply whatever is relevant to the context and that has worked for me so far and hope it will work for me in the future too.
Your role in Eros International?
Eros International, which is now Eros STX Global Corporation after the merger with STX entertainment in the US. If you look at the Eros legacy with 40 years of films and nearly a decade of OTT streaming business well ahead of some of the other contemporaries in India, clearly an SVOD with ago to destination for Indian movies, having a huge demand, not just in India, but in all parts of the world where the South Asian diaspora is active, whether it is US, UK, Australia, Canada, Europe, parts of North Africa, there is a massive demand and of course, Asia is given, including Far East and South Asia.
From a streaming perspective, we have done a lot of business and we continue to do well. The origins of the company, largely from a studio background of curating and producing good movies,co-producing, distributing even today, Eros is the go to distribution partner for a lot of movies. In a nutshell, it is an exciting place to be as the leader and the CEO for the India Business, everything that we do in India is the accountability and responsibility that I manage. What is more exciting for me is just the industry itself. In the media, I have worked with the organization largely on the news and print publication side, and in News television to some extent. My assignment with Eros is a big pivot that I had been wanting to do in my own career aspiration, because I do realize that movies will continue to play an important role. I wanted to have a much larger understanding of the entertainment ecosystem in India, which is obviously transforming hugely on the back of digital revolution the country is going through.
Eros International is the most natural place for me to start this journey and I am quite enjoying my role here. I joined in January and ever since then, it has been one massive, highly accelerated, rocket launch ride. Immediately after joining I went off to US as the negotiation’s and merger talks were in advanced stages and I led the India team and concluded all the arrangements, came back and finally the merger concluded in April and by that time, the lockdown happened, we had to get accustomed to what has now been called as the new normal. It has been a journey of interesting discovery, the resilience of human spirit to kind of acclimatize to and work with the constraints that are there till the work starts going back to normal. Obviously, there is a revenue hit and theatres have shut down and theatrical releases have not happened, outside of that, I think the business is now starting to streamline itself in the contours of the lockdown and pandemic permits.
What led to this merger between Eros and STX?
There are a couple of dimensions, on which this merger is based on,one of the key criteria for this merger was to build a global network. As a group, we always had global ambitions, our Chairman Kishore Lulla is a visionary who actually set up the largest distribution of Indian films worldwide and the origins of the studio were largely backed on distribution, and then pivoted into production and co-production. KL (Kishore Lulla) as we call him, really wanted to create the first Indian studio that is going global and the idea of going global was not just limited to a South Asian perspective or an Indian perspective, but to build global cinema that appeals to global audiences.
I can give you a case in point, if you look at a movie, like Parasite the Korean movie, which won the Oscar last year, it is a proper Korean movie in Korean context and language, and yet it had a solid universal appeal. And that is why audience all over the world loved it. The idea is to create a global compelling commercial cinema that appeals to audiences across the world and broadly cut and I am sure there are multiple other cuts as well. The three broad markets will be North America, Europe and Europe which is largely English or Latin based language market. Then there is Middle East and South Asia, which has a different kind of sensibility in ethos in terms of content and language, and then there is China and Far East. The advantage of this merger was that we actually could work with a partner and create a company that can appeal to audiences across the world.
STX comes with a very strong background of creating compelling movies in the US in the Hollywood context. We have strong experience in the Indian and Middle Eastern context. Incidentally, both of us have significant play in China. I think once these geopolitical issues get resolved, and I am reasonably confident that eventually they will get resolved. The bottom line is that India is a big market for Chinese goods and services especially goods and China is a very large market for Indian goods and services. Once the geopolitical tensions kind of subside, we will all realize the value of the global economy on what we can potentially do there and if we leave everything aside and just go to pure entertainment content, the kind of content that Asian sensibilities and Chinese sensibilities prefer is what Indian prefer. Family values, aspirations to grow big, romance etc.
Korean content is working very well so how do you see that?
Korean culture has now started getting a significant fan following across the world. My daughter is a big BTS fan and you cannot call them fans but apparently BTS army or something like that. Then there is legions of youngsters who are chasing every single move by each of the stars that are a part of these groups. But, if you look at the kind of scripted content for a web series or television, and the movies that they produce, clearly I think the Koreans are coming into their own and I think it is important that we recognize various kinds of cinema with various kinds of cultural content that is being accepted by global audiences. At Eros STX our effort is also to get and create those kind of movies which appeal to a global audience.
The second thing that led to the merger was really a desire to build a world class streaming service that again is universal. We do look at services like Netflix or Prime Video, Hulu, HBO Max, which is not available in India now, but will eventually be available at some point of time. The kind of content that is there we wanted to create an Asia first or an India first kind of content offering. That is what Eros Now has been doing extremely well over seven to eight years now.
Last, but definitely not the least, I think the phenomenal chemistry between Kishore Lulla and Bob Simmons, who is the CEO in the new combined company.Bob and KL have known each other for over a decade, they have been on board of directors of the UCLA, School of Arts and film craft together. I think the way the companies operate culturally is very similar,in size, in terms of the number of people and scale of operations. Obviously Hollywood movies are made with bigger budgets, so from a top line perspective their number is larger but we have larger profitability. I think put together the combination just works perfectly well and last but definitely not the least there is the financial synergies, and collectively our ability to raise funds and deploy funds into a new content is much better.
As part of this merger, we have raised 125$ million of equity capital from people like TPG, Muni Capital, Liberty global and taken a line of credit from JP Morgan US for 350 Million $ and that makes us from the Indian perspective as the best capitalized companies that can get any talent or any project, we have been very picky about it. Right now we literally have dozens of ideas coming to us every week and we are very choosy on what kind of projects, talent and storylines we want to promote and we want to see a revival of the Indian studio ecosystem in a very significant way.
You headed Sakal a newspaper and now an International movie division for Eros Now? How different is this?
If you look at the contours of the job, it is essentially evaluating projects, evaluating decisions on capital spent and looking at various consumer segments. I think there is a certain amount of science to business and a certain amount of rigor and that does not change whether you are evaluating the launch of a new edition of a newspaper or a movie; you have to make sure that the content you are offering has an appeal in the market, what is the audiences willingness to pay, the investment you are making for that content and the payback period that you are looking at and to recover your money. This whole financial sensibility is extremely important and that discipline stays in any business. My stint in the Automotive business and handling product launches orin banking launching financial products and in telecom launching enterprise products or offering B2B services to clients with the clear criteria as to how does it fit financially into the client’s requirements. All of these industries including in the film, entertainment and OTT business that I am in now, compared to the earlier part of media, which is television, etc.
There has to be a quick acceleration and development of the qualitative sensibility of what works in that industry. That is not something that can be substituted by the science of business or the business economic logic, it will get you to understand the structure, the construct and the value drivers of the business. But the appreciation of the qualitative dimension of the business takes some time to come. I spent six years in the news industry and I would say that within a year, thanks to the grounding that I got in the Bhaskar group, I could quickly learn and understand what drives news consumers and demand patterns.
The best thing about Bollywood, in India is, everybody is a Bollywood or a film champion. We have all grown up watching movies, we all have a point of view even if we have nothing to do with the industry. As pure play consumer who over the years have watched films over the weekend or on television and now of course OTT, we all have a point of view on stars, point of view on stories, as to what will work and what will not. I think that there is a very unique and individual sense of perspective one brings to the table. I have realised now as a leader and business head is to combine individual sense and sensibilities we have grown up with and at the end of the day we are consumers.
There is a David Ogilvy statement that says, ‘The consumer is not a moron. She is your wife’. Basically you have to put yourself in the consumer’s shoes and figure out that if a story that is pitched to me and if I were to take my family or go alone would it appeal to me. When green lighting a project, one needs to keep this in mind. Collectively when you work with other professionals in the industry and the Lulla family significantly, our content head Riddhima Lulla has a brilliant mind in terms of evaluating various genres of content, and figuring out what is working in the market today.
It is a combination of the consumer insights, statistical research and what comes out of it but also there is this unique feel about a movie that you need to have. Let us face it, movies in India remain a bit of a punt, you invest significant amount of money. The movie can do extremely well or just fail miserably, even if the monies invested are similar. For every Bajirao Mastani that did exceptionally well for Eros there is Laal Kaptaan which did not do as well as we would have expected it do, even with a stellar star cast.
For me personally, the biggest learning curve that I am going through right now is the ability to understand what potentially will work and what will not and as my learning curve grows, I will be able to do better. Presently, I am working with very senior colleagues who have years of experience in doing this and we are collectively arriving at those decisions. I started this discussion by saying that I am a keen learner, a student for life,and this ability to learn from this collective wisdom,is the first step. Another learning is you have to keep your ego outside the window.
If you think you are the boss, you are the CEO and you can kind of just go ahead and start dictating terms, you will fall flat for sure. You need to have the humility of being able and willing to learn from the person who is doing the most routine or mundane tasks, whether it is production, planning, scheduling, organizing resources, doing talent, agreements and negotiations, every part of the business is important.
I am pretty excited and happy to learn from everybody and take the business forward and hoping that the theatres open up post-pandemic very soon. We have a slate of very interesting movies coming up and new projects that we are now green lighting. So 2021 will be an exciting year for us, if theatres open around Diwali it will be good for us, otherwise I see most of it coming back to normal from January to March next year.
To be continued…. in Part 2