As Zee media and Essel Group gear up to launch the first edition of Aesthetics Youth Conclave, a three-day extravaganza specially curated for the students and professionals across the AVGC sector along with other initiatives, We spoke to Essel Group’s Innovation head Mr Sidharth Balakrishna to get exclusive insights about their drive for propelling the AVGC scene through these initiatives.
Can you tell us something about your work at Zee?
I am responsible for implementing strategic initiatives, especially pertaining to innovation across the Essel Group entities; as well as revamping some of the current business models. As part of this, I have brought in the use of new technologies such as Artificial Intelligence and Augmented Reality across many of the group entities, some of these for the first time in India.
For example, a large number of videos that we produce today is through AI. We are looking to take this forward and use more and more of AI in the newsroom. We are also looking at initiatives to make our programs more interactive with the audience and drive engagement.
Education is another business where we are looking to extensively use technology. Learning in future will be more ‘real’, more interactive and much more personalized. We have also introduced teaching AI and Augmented Reality to the students of our journalism and filmmaking courses at ZIMA as well as the creative arts side at ZICA.
Besides my work at Zee, I myself have trained both students and industry professionals in these technologies so that a wider set of people can understand, use and benefit from the usage of technology- this has been through MDPs and other sessions at IIM Indore, FMS- Delhi and other management institutes.
Besides this, I am implementing or helping to implement other initiatives like a global conclave, new platforms to aid sales, sourcing differentiated content etc
Considering the fact that there is a serious lack of education in the fields of Animation and VFX, We are happy to learn that ZICA is taking steps to address that issue. Could you tell us a bit about “Aesthetic 2019- Youth Conclave”?
We thought it would be best to bring students and youth industry professionals under one platform and provide them with a good industry interface besides fun activities. Accordingly, we have senior speakers from major consulting firms, tech firms such as Adobe, Gist etc to interact with the audience as well as senior professionals from our own entities. There will also be competitions where students can showcase their talent, with their productions being selected to reach a large audience.
Thus those working in the industry can attend the trends as well as new technologies in the space; more than that, they can understand what the industry needs and produce content accordingly.
Do you think people in India are aware of how lucrative courses in VFX and animation are?
Not really. This is because while people see the end product of animation, they do not really understand what all it takes to produce world-class content using VFX and animation. Perhaps because the producers of this content are ‘behind the scenes’, people do not know how much they are respected and paid. It is certainly a highly lucrative sector for professionals, especially with a lot of production being done in India even for global movies.
We have seen a flurry of Indian movies loaded with VFX and Indian animated IPs over the course of the past year. Surely the quantum of work has increased. Do you think we have the required training that can prepare students to stand the test of current times?
That is exactly the area we are working on. This has two aspects:
- One, students have to be trained in the latest tools and techniques including understanding where and how Augmented Reality (AR) can come in, as an example
- Secondly, they need a regular interface with the industry to understand the latest skill-set required and industry needs.
This is where we are trying to bridge the gap and provide a platform. Within our group, we have studios and a production house. We are going to supplement this practical angle with global exposure- for which we are getting the building blocks of international partnerships in place. We are clearly thus able to offer an edge to students- as reflected in how well our students have done in the industry already. We have a number of franchisee centres- and they pleasantly surprise me every day by telling me that their students have been engaged in the production of films, advertising videos etc besides winning awards and recognition.
What inspired you to come up with this concept?
Our Group Chairman, Dr Subhas Chandra, is the biggest inspiration- this is because he is able to translate his thoughts into action so well. He has chosen this tagline for the group: “Extraordinary Together”. We realise that this is exactly what works- if we leverage the strength of the group as a whole, we offer our customers i.e. students, in this case, the maximum value.
Sidharth Balakrishna holds an MBA from the Indian Institute of Management (IIM) Calcutta and an Economics degree from the Shri Ram College of Commerce (SRCC), Delhi University. He has over 14 years of experience in the media & entertainment, energy, infrastructure and education sectors. He is currently an Executive (whole time) Board Director and heads Strategy & Innovation with the Essel (Zee) Group, India’s largest media entity, and is leading several strategic initiatives in digital transformation, Artificial Intelligence etc. In the past, he has led strategy and headed many large projects including in the fields of oil & gas, renewable energy, education, water etc. Mr Sidharth Balakrishna has also been a Strategy Consultant with Accenture and KPMG. Some of the projects that he has led have been awarded nationally and internationally. He is a mentor with MIT, Boston, USA as well as MassChallenge Boston & Tel Aviv to startups. He is a columnist with the Economic Times, India’s largest English business daily and other reputed publications.
We hope Indian institutes take a leaf from such initiatives and continue to inspire the budding aspirants.