Feb 182016
 

Right now, India is furiously debating, on traditional and social media, the rights and wrongs of the JNU case. The debate revolves around one question – is it ok to chant anti India slogans (in whatever shape and form) in a democratic republic ? The informed, expert view is yes, it is – no matter how distasteful it is for the rest of us ; the counter view is ‘arrest the traitors and hang them at dawn’, and if you can’t hang them (because it might be illegal) then at least beat them up till they agree with ‘us’.  There is so much outpouring of patriotism, and outrage, that it seems to have polarised everyone – words such as traitors and anti national flowing freely – and  it has managed to drown out every other news, including the Make In India week going on in Mumbai.

A few continents away, there is another debate. In the USA, the FBI wants tech giant Apple to create a backdoor in its OS, to enable them to gain access to the iphone of San Bernardino shooter. A simple enough request you would think. Afterall, who will say no to something that has a potential national security/law and order angle?

 

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(image courtesy : here)

Well, the CEO of Apple, Tim Cook has said no. Firmly. Politely. And, without any ambiguity. In an open letter published on the company’s website, Cook has this to say,

The United States government has demanded that Apple take an unprecedented step which threatens the security of our customers. We oppose this order, which has implications far beyond the legal case at hand.

He goes on to explain the grounds, the need for encryption, the need for privacy – and a corporation, like Apple, not doing anything that compromises the privacy and security of the individual. This in particular stands out,

The implications of the government’s demands are chilling. If the government can use the All Writs Act to make it easier to unlock your iPhone, it would have the power to reach into anyone’s device to capture their data. The government could extend this breach of privacy and demand that Apple build surveillance software to intercept your messages, access your health records or financial data, track your location, or even access your phone’s microphone or camera without your knowledge.

He suggests that the Government take a legislative route on this, rather than a judicial one – trying to get agreement based on an approximately 250 year old law

The entire letter is here, and is worth a read. The CEO of Google, Sundar Pichai, has waded into the debate supporting Tim Cook and Apple’s stand. The two largest tech companies in the world, weigh in on the side of the consumer. The cynical among us may say it is good business, individual consumers are looking for privacy, especially in more mature markets. But, the bottom line is that it takes courage to stand up to your Government or any authority. And, that is a refreshing sign in a world where the first response to Government demands is abject acquiescence.

In a complex world, with competing agendas, the core question is Are the rights of the individual greater than the demands of National Security? Where do you draw the line ?

My own view is that unless the State protects the right of the individual, no matter who that individual is and how offensive his/her words or actions are, it is down the slippery slope of loss of rights for the rest of us. And defend does not mean give a free pass. It means ensure that constitutional rights are protected – including the right to speech, the right to a free trial, the right to defense, the right to association, and the rest. There cannot be hair splitting on this. It is just too dangerous for all of us, if there is.

Feb 132016
 

As we sit and brainstorm about businesses and business models, one key discussion revolves around video. How long should be the video. As someone working in video, the answer traditionally would have been, the duration it takes to tell the story. But, in a world where consumption of video is on a smartphone, by a distracted millenial, do the old theories still hold.


One second, can you tell a story in one second ? There is someone who did. Cesar Kuriyama, shot a second almost every day to try and tell a story of what makes his life special. As he describes it

The purpose of this project is, one: I hate not remembering things that I’ve done in the past. There’s all these things that I’ve done with my life that I have no recollection of unless someone brings it up, and sometimes I think, “Oh yeah, that’s something that I did.” And something that I realized early on in the project was that if I wasn’t doing anything interesting, I would probably forget to record the video.

The story, however, only makes sense when edited together to tell a larger story. Confession : i still don’t get it – it looks pretty, and has nice shots, but the visuals are montages, but like most modern forms of Art, i really don’t get it. As a personal, individual visual experiment, it is interesting. But, i am not sure we are going to see a surfeit of 1 second videos in the near future.  Incase you want to experiment with one second story telling, there is an app for it.

While one second may remain experimental, how long should a video be. Too short, and you may not deliver content. Too long, it may end up not getting consumed. Given that most video is getting consumed on the mobile, shorter rather than longer is the way to go, at least that is conventional wisdom. And, the nature of the narrative has changed.

Viewers are seeing video content in more places by more brands than ever before. And because of this, their attention spans are getting shorter and their expectations are becoming greater. Marketers have just 10 seconds to capture and engage an audience before they continue to scroll down or click away; and engagement drops off significantly beyond that. If you have not fully engaged your audience after the first 30 seconds, you’ve likely lost 33% of viewers; and after one minute, 45% of viewers have stopped watching.

Conversations on creating digital video, now, are as likely to focus on what the thumb nail image should be, as what should be the opening scene.

There is still no one answer on duration. No one size fits all. I have been trawling through youtube and vimeo. There are videos there over an hour in duration, with millions and millions of views, and then there are really short content 3 minutes or less, with less than a 100 views. It all depends on how well you tell a story, i have seen 2 hour documentaries that have been so incredibly well told that i didn’t even look at the time once. On the other hand, i have seen 7-8 minute films that are so badly made, that viewing it feels like being stuck in eternity.

In India, the rapid proliferation of smartphones in the sub Rs.5000 category, and the anticipated unclogging of bandwidth has led to a tremendous amount of buzz in the digital video space. Content is being created, in different shapes and sizes, different languages and genres, to prepare for the boom. Where ever you go you will hear the buzz words – MCN, OTT, digital video, serialised story telling, and the rest. And, it is expected to be big. But, the question still remains – what is the optimal length of the video.

If you searched google for the ‘average length of video consumed on youtube’ you will get results all over the place. some will say 2 minutes, others will say 3. yet others will say, under 5 minutes. I read one which said less than 20 minutes. The answer is not as clear cut. When you look at the average time, it includes at one end of the spectrum, really long videos (20 minutes + , and the really short ones – and they have averaged out the time spent0.

I would maintain, do not sacrifice narrative for time. The narrative is the key. People watch a story, they don’t watch the clock (if they watched the clock, the film maker has done something wrong).

There are apps for creating really short videos (sub 20 seconds) , there is Vine, Periscope, snapchat, MixBit. and while there are people creating, co-creating and the rest, I am not really sure about consumption. How many of you will consume, someone else’s home video equivalent? Maybe 1 of them in a million. maybe, lesser.

We can, of course, professionally, create 15 and 20 second video narratives. This is usually the duration of a good TV commercial. But, then the costs go through the roof, and you really don’t know whether it would work or not. I still have to wrap my brain around a 15 second narrative. One could possibly do that for news. But, a story in 15 seconds – is a bit more difficult as a proposition. You could, of course, serialise it. Create a 10 minute film, in scenes that don’t exceed 15-20 seconds. Put those scenes up sequentially and hope that people view the next episode.  you could do that. but, would that be a gimmick or a way of adapting to consumer rhythms of consumption – i still don’t know.

Which brings me to Shield 5 – touted as a 28 part series on Instagram, no episode lasts more than 15 seconds. In other words, it is a 7 minute film, constructed with 28 scenes of 15 seconds each. According to the Guardian

For the time being, the Instagram TV series remains a work-in-progress – but we shouldn’t write off the genre before it’s even gotten off the ground. Instagram Video’s rival platform Vine, whose six-second video time is even more restrictive, has produced plenty of funny and creative standalone vids that make a virtue of the platform’s brevity. There’s no reason that someone couldn’t tell a layered, complex and engrossing story in seconds rather than hours.

will it work?  i honestly don’t know. i might watch it to see how it was constructed. comic strip type story telling for a new medium – you have to find the right stories to tell. Otherwise they are just gimmicks to break through the clutter, and attract attention.

 

Feb 122016
 

Sometimes, in the middle of the hustle and bustle of a city like Mumbai, you come across a scene like this. It makes you stop and pause.

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Shot on a one plus one. It just was a golden hue, at sunrise …

The last few days i have been hearing this song, almost on a loop

Rashid Khan at his mellow best. Raga Todi. And, here is a variant of the same composition by Naseeruddin Saami

Every time i see a boat set out, the song comes unbidden to mind.

Feb 112016
 

This morning’s amusement was Amol Rajan, editor of the British Paper, Independent, stating that his paper was going to refer to Mumbai as Bombay, to prevent “Hindu Nationalists” from getting their way

“The whole point of Bombay is of an open, cosmopolitan port city, the gateway of India that’s open to the world. If you call it what Hindu nationalists want you to call it, you essentially do their work for them.”

Obviously, it caused a storm (also known as an outrage) in the twitter teacup.

The Independent, is owned by the Russian Oligarch Alexander Lebedev, and has been struggling for mindspace and audiences, since it launched in 1986.

Given that they are reacting to an even that took place over 2 decades ago – Bombay officially became Mumbai in 1995, and a few generations of Indians (at least 3 by my reckoning) have grown up knowing Bombay as Mumbai, one can’t but help wonder about the timing of this. I can understand, if they took this stand in 1995. But, 2016, is late reaction even by print standards.

But, given that one believes in the Freedom of Expression, and the right of people to behave in inexplicable ways, i have some suggestions for Mr.Rajan, in terms of nomenclature

  • Refer to the USA as The Colonies or The New World– that should be the simplest. The first lot of colonies to go independent. Post that there was the genocide on the native Americans, mass colonisation and violation of human rights and the rest. modern history (post world war) has 2 nuclear bombings, the devastation of south east Asia, the cock up in the middle east, the screw up in South America. And, these are just things that i can rattle off without too much research. there are a lot more, and the Brits should stand up for human rights and freedoms by reverting to the British name for America. Also it will cock a snook at Mr.Trump #justsaying
  • Caledonia – was the ancient name for Scotland. And, since we live in a post colonial world, it is time that we reverted to ancient names, and not allow the colonial apologists to win 🙂 It will also, confuse the Scottish National Party.
  • Eire – well Northern Eire, sounds a lot nicer than Northern Ireland
  • Chai – well, chai is much nicer than Tea. Besides, Tea is a term associated with bonded labour, forced plantations, and environmental degeneration. Time to change that too.
  • Arabia – dudes, the ‘Middle East’ is to the west for most of the world’s population. Stop using geographically inaccurate terms, and those that  are intrinsically wrong. Revert to Arabia, or the Arabian peninsula.
  • Bedouins – before Saudi Arabia came to be, and it’s citizens were called Saudi Arabians, they were the Bedu’s – tribes that ruled the Arabian peninsula. They seemed a lot nicer than modern Saudi Arabia. Atleast they didn’t export Wahabism and Salafism, and set the world on fire. Can we please revert to that too.

I could go on and on, but you get the drift. Besides, in a start up mode, i cannot afford the time to be too snarky about the silliness of the world.

Sufficient to say, Mumbai is neither intolerant, nor is it non inclusive, and it is cosmopolitan – except not in a western, elitist definition of cosmopolitan. It just is a name for the city – an ancient name based on an ancient goddess who is the guardian of the place.

Before i sign off, a cynical theory. Why is a British newspaper taking a stand on Indian city names. The answer is quite simple. India is a major source of web traffic. The Guardian has 7.5% of it’s total web audience from India, and this does not include the Indian diaspora (so if you were wondering, why the Guardian carries so much content on India, you have your answer). And, the best way to attract audiences, is to cause a controversy in a twitter tea cup. Outrage drives pageviews (but, those don’t last).

 

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(Guardian, source Alexa)

Similarly, the Independent has a sizable chunk of it’s audience coming in from India

independent(The Independent : Source Alexa)

If i were trying to increase traffic numbers, i hopefully will desist doing something this inane, and try and improve the quality of content 🙂 And, to the team at independent, if you want to get a better insight into targeting Indian audiences, call me 🙂

 

Feb 092016
 

…. and there is a part of me that is terrified, and there is a part of me that is terribly excited. I missed this sensation for the time i worked in corporate land. This sensation of being completely attuned to my universe and being alive.

Friday was my last day at my last employer. I had put in my papers towards the end of the last year. I had a great, great time in Zee. Fabulous boss and fabulous teams, and  quite a large number of very nice people – people who make it a great workplace. And, I had the opportunity to work and interact with one of the greatest media visionaries in India, and that itself was a great experience and a great education.

Working in a corporate structure is like climbing the Himalayas with a safety net. Working for yourself is like jumping off the Himalayas without one (and then climbing up again, and then jumping off again).. Ha ha , i am doing the latter again, I must be nuts 🙂

So what am I going to do ? Right now – i am taking a month off to just get my priorities straight. And, at the core of the priority list is me and what i want to do. Am having lots of conversations on what all can be done – and there is a lot I can do, news, entertainment, education, across forms, formats and media. But, it is humanly impossible to do it all. The screw up is that all of it is terribly exciting, but there are only 24 hours in a day 🙁 So, i am sitting and pruning the list. |No, you cannot go to central Uttar Pradesh and create a web series … no. no. no, says my rational business mind.  Not yet, agrees my creative mind, and things go from the junk to the maybe one day list 🙂

I am thinking maybe 2 out of the list. And, even that means a lot of time commitment. As, i get older, i have begun guarding my non work time. I get so little of it, that it is important.

Finally, as i go back into figuring a start up ecosystem – some thoughts based on my last experience (as much for me, as anyone finds it interesting).

  1. Ideas are the easiest things in the world. Everyone knows how to fix the world, intellectually. Fixing the world, however, is about implementation. And, implementation is about roadmaps – you need to know what you are fixing, why you are fixing it, how will you fix it, and who will fix it. How much will the fixing cost, and how do you make money out of this. You, at the very least, need to have a pragmatic fix on this. And this goes beyond spreadsheets and presentations. oh, and it also goes beyond coffee shop conversations.
  2. While it is important to meet people and discuss your idea, do not meet so many people that you get confused about what you are doing. Refer to point one – everyone has a killer idea, the devil is in the implementation. Spend time meeting people who have implemented anything.
  3. Have a time plan — what are you going to do with your time and how. It is important to be disciplined. This is not an extended break, it is work. Work for yourself You only have two assets now – your intellect and 24 hours each day. The former needs to be sharpened and sharp focused so as not to wander. The latter needs to be used well. else the tendency to fritter both is huge. Use a small mantra – there is no tomorrow, only today. Stuff needs to be done today.
  4. While you are talking to random people in this journey, remember to talk to people who have undertaken the journey, successfully and otherwise. Success does not mean unicorn funding alone #justsaying.
  5. Your personal space is just as important as when you are working for someone else. Don’t let work crowd out your personal time so much that you begin resenting work.
  6. Be honest – there is no substitute for direct, and sometimes brutal, honesty. No point committing to stuff you don’t believe in, or don’t think can work. But, at the same time don’t burn bridges.
  7. Be clear – do you want to be a vendor or do you want to be an entrepreneur – in the former, the only risk is 90 days credit will become 120 days. The latter can be trying to do an obstacle race in a minefield.
  8. Don’t ignore paperwork — Government, who is God, loves paperwork. As does everyone in each of the Government departments. If you think you have done this paperwork before, you possibly have – except it was for another Government department, not this one. Just because the Government is talking about #StartupIndia doesn’t mean the paperwork will go away.  Paperwork is in our dna … even the private sector has it. Hire an accountant if needed. Far more important initially than getting that fancy alienware laptop you are eyeing 🙂
  9. Meet the audience regularly. Figure if they really want what you are plugging – no point discovering there is no market for it.
  10. Have fun – if you are not having fun, you are doing this wrong, and go get a job. Being in a start up is not like being burnt at the stake – it is loads of fun, joy and excitement. there is a tremendous sense of achievement If you are miserable, maybe you should be doing something else.

Does this mean, being entrepreneurial is only a function of starting up.  Not really, you can find a company that is entrepreneurial and join that. There is no one path – all are equally valid. Just don’t be miserably unhappy at whatever it is that you are doing.  There is more to life than that (and, no i wan’t miserably unhappy – i had just become placidly smug. and, i didn’t like myself quite as much as i did before ) 😀

 

boats-at-the-ghats-4---Benaras-(1-of-1)

(shot a couple of years ago (but processed last year) — the boatman on the Ganga, Benaras)