| 21 Feb 2024
Bhushan Kumar: TV, Radio networks are our partners in spirit

Ever since tragic circumstances forced him to take charge of his illustrious father's mega music company, Bhushan Kumar, Chairman & MD T-Series,  has come a long way. Today, his company is valued at Rs 5000 crore and commands close to 85% of market share, he is exporting music to over 24 countries across 5 continents, and hopes to  make T-Series a US$ 2bn entertainment super power soon. In conversation with Pavan R Chawla, Director Content & CSO Indiantelevison Group and Editor –, Bhushan Kumar speaks of his plans and his take on various industry developments. Excerpts.

When, in 1997, after the tragic demise of your late father, the illustrious Gulshanji, who had founded and led T-Series to the top, you were forced to take control of the company, it must have been a very difficult, painful  time for you personally. What helped you then?

Yes it was a very difficult time, and I wouldn't like to dwell too much into it  My father had created the biggest and best music company in the country, and all I knew then, was, that it was his dream to make it better and bigger, always. And that is what I was determined to do, with the help, encouragement and support of my family.

What was the biggest factor that helped you back then, and has stood by you over the years since?

As I said, it was my family's support, and also the fact that my father had blessed me with his kind of far-sightedness and ability to identify opportunities and to capitalize on them. Another very important gift my father gave me was his ability to spot and recognize excellence in music. He had a tremendous ear for music, and I do feel that I have been similarly blessed.

And looking back, how do assess your achievements?

Well, through the operational transformations that we introduced over the years I hope to seeing Super Cassettes Industries Ltd become a US$ 200 Million entertainment super power in the near future  Currently, the Company is valued at Rs 5000 crore and leads with more than 85 per cent market share in the Music Industry  T Series is now the biggest publishing house where the licensing of music across radio, TV and digital platforms is handled. T Series has its own recording studios, shooting floors, blank and recording CD plants, transport, a strong A&r department, and a very robust nation-wide distribution network, among other strengths.

The government and industry have recognized our efforts and contribution too. A.C. Nielsen Org Marg awarded Super Cassettes as India's Number One Music Company, and in recognition of the fact that we have been instrumental in popularizing Indian music all over the world, we were awarded by the Electronics & Software Export Promotion Council of the Government of India, for establishing an Indian brand overseas.

You have been credited with a lot of â€?firsts' in the Indian Music industry – from being the first independent music publisher in India to the soundtrack of Don being on i-Tunes for on-line digital sale  simultaneously with its worldwide Audio release for the very first time  What gives you the greatest satisfaction?

I think the fact that I could contribute to enabling Bollywood music to make its mark not only in India, but also on the global charts. That we export music to 24 countries across five continents and have also been able to make a strong mark in the International mainstream markets of the West by entering into Distribution License agreements in countries like Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Spain and France, is a matter of satisfaction.

I think this stems from a desire to always reach the Global consumer and offer them the best of Bollywood. That is also why today, through our digital initiative, we are working to establish a more comprehensive distribution network in the mobile & digital space  We are very active in media like mobile, on-line, digital, IPTV and Radio by offering them exciting and original digital content.

You have such a strong catalogue. Ever thought of setting up your own Radio Network or Music Channel?

No I never wanted to go into business where I play only my own content. We take everybody as partners. Today, around 70 to 75 percent of the content on any successful music channel is from T-Series. So we feel it's our own channel, because they are our partners in spirit. I don't see any advantage in arm-twisting a channel to carry my logo too; a production house did that some time back with a General Entertainment Channel, but that partnership failed, unfortunately. I don't like to do such things. The music channels are our partners. We strongly supported Masti which launched some time back  We work on a win-win relationship with every music channel. That's why we haven't ever thought of opening a music channel or radio network. But yes, since they are so closely connected with Music, we did go in for Bollywood blockbusters. Patiala House released and did very well.

Which are your other forthcoming films

There is a Salman Khan starrer ready. We also have Game, which is an action film directed by Abhinay Deo and produced by Farhan Akhtar and Ritesh Sidhwani. It stars Abhishek Bachchan, Kangana Ranaut, Sarah-Jane Dias, Boman Irani and Jimmy Shergill 

Ra.1, of course, is another much awaited blockbuster starring Shahrukh. It will be a very interesting concept -- a science-fiction superhero film directed by Anubhav Sinha. Along with Shahrukh, it has Kareena Kapoor.

Then there is Desi  Boys starring Akshay Kumar, John Abraham and Chitrangadha Singh. Imtiaz Ali's Rockstar, starring Ranbir Kapoor and Nargis Fakhri, is another exciting film. We also have Pankaj Kapoor's much-awaited film Mausam, which has been written and  directed by him and stars Shahid Kapoor, Sonam Kapoor and Pankaj Kapoor himself.

So we are focused on the best frontliner films that would have great music too 

Tell us about your mobile handsets business that's about to be launched.

Mobile phone devices are becoming more of entertainment devices, and the communication function is pure hygiene. It's the fourth screen of entertainment after cinema, TV and the PC, and has highest penetration in India when compared to the other three screens. Entertainment content being our strength, it is logical that we will leverage this strength and will offer value additions to a consumer buying a T-Series Play Mobile Handset. We will have mobiles across a wide spectrum of pricing – from a low of Rs 1000-1200 to Rs 15000 apiece.

What is �Play' in the T-Series Play Mobile Handset?

Whether it is music or videos or games or FM, you play it; you press the play button on your respective device to enjoy it. Our phones will have dedicated entertainment icons with direct access keys to the pre-loaded entertainment. That's why we have created this sub-brand Play which goes well with our entertainment-centric brand image.

OK, now to speak about perhaps the most contentious development of 2010: The music royalties proposed for authors and composers…

The entire concept that music directors and lyricists are trying to work upon is not a practical solution, which is something they are not ready to understand because they believe they will gain after the law is passed. They are being guided by people who are giving them fake assumptions  Today I share royalties with so many producers – with Farhan Aktar for Don, with Shahrukh Khan for Om Shanti Om… with producers whose music has worked and even those whose music is with us on an MG basis. So far, music directors and lyricists have been giving the rights to the producers, who in turn gave them to us. Today, they want 50 percent publishing rights.

Let us examine the rights first. The music rights comprise of Master Sound Recording Rights and Publishing Rights. Master contributes nearly 75% to music revenues, the balance, which is around 25%,  comes from Publishing income. Publishing income is the underlying musical & literary works in the Master sound Recording. All over the world, the Publishing income is shared 50% between the Publisher (Film Producer in India's case) and 50% goes to Author & Composer jointly  Now, the Standing Committee report wants this 50% of rights to be shared between the music director and the lyricist, which works out to 12 and  a half percent of the whole music collection, and they want it from Day One.

Why does the music business not seem to want to share half the revenues from the Publishing income with the Authors and Composers?

Let me correct you first and foremost: we have never said we are not willing to share revenues with the Authors and Composers. We are more than happy to share but only after recoupment of MGs paid by the Music labels. Producers invest crores in shooting songs on big stars. Music labels purchase rights with high financial stakes in a film. And remember, 7 or 8 out of ten of the films flop. But they spend millions to promote each film. Shouldn't we be entitled to recover at least the cost of the MG we pay before sharing any revenues with the Authors and Composers who never take any financial risk at all, and are also paid very well in advance by the Producers for writing and composing songs. In fact, the top two or three Composers charge more than Rs 1-1.25 crore per film comprising 4 - 6 songs.

Would the Authors and Composers agree to work for very low fees as a token of their contribution to owning and creating the music elements? To share the cost and risk of making a film or even just its music? If they want to share from Day One, then Producers and Music Labels could surely ask these questions. Even if they agree to work without any upfront advance and are willing to take risk of success or failure of the music, only a few big shots will be able to survive; what will happen to the small author or composers who run their livelihood by writing or composing small bhajans, or people who write in vernacular films which have limited audience and limited commercial viability? Who will help them feed their families? Will they be willing or even able to bear this risk?

Singers and Composers make millions through TV and live shows. And remember, they perform songs that become popular only because of the investments and promotions from Producers and Music Labels, who get only 1% or less of such income that is earned by Singers and Composers. Why should the sharing formula not remain the same across all verticals, so that Producers and Music Labels too get a bigger share from such income?

If the Standing Committee's proposals do become law, how will it impact the business?

How will Music labels pay any MG for fractured rights? For only the Master Sound Recording Rights, and that too without future formats available for commercial exploitation? They won't, because it is not viable to recover any MG through fractured rights from areas like Mobile, TV, Public Performances and Radio. So Music Labels will have to minimize their risk exposure, and so there will be no MG whatsoever for any film -- big or small. That will curtail the fund flows of the producers, whose financial risk will increase.

I hope better sense prevails. And when it does, the rights should be administered only through a single window, as is the current industry practice, to assure better monetization for the rights and assured MGs to the producers and income to the Authors and Composers and the entire value chain. It will ensure assured advance remuneration to the Authors & Composers and also MGs to the Producers plus share in royalties to Authors and Composers and Producers according to freely negotiated terms.

So what is the final word on the Statutory Licensing provisions?

They will drastically reduce the negotiating power of the rights owners, and the concept of copyright will have no meaning. It will  kill the entire value chain, resulting in negligible and minimal royalties. Do the composers and lyricists want to tell us labels, â€?We are creating an association, you too become members and park all your rights with us, make them profitable for us and pay us royalty from Day One'?  Today we are successful because we know how to monetize our rights; we have been doing this for 20, 25 years! Why have so many other new music companies folded up?  Because it isn't easy to survive in this business unless you understand the business like we do. The labels that are surviving today are doing so because they know the space and how to do business.

Your views on the revenue-sharing formula as prescribed by the Copyright Board for the FM Radio industry...

It isn't a workable solution at all, that's why there is so much litigation against it. The rate of 2% of net revenue is completely arbitrary and uncalled for  If it is not addressed immediately there will be further chaos with claims and counter claims.

In fact, the proposal on Statutory License should be dropped, and the Compulsory license should be limited to the national broadcaster, which is All India Radio. But do not restrict the copyright owners from freely trading their rights according to market conditions  This is what happens with cricket matches too, where BCCI provides a very concessionally priced feed to Prasar Bharti, but negotiates at realistic market rates with other TV channels. Why have different rules for different arms of the media and entertainment industry?

How strong are your hopes these proposals will be reversed?

The entire Film and Music industry is making strong representations because it goes against our right to conduct our business freely. How can such unlawful and unconstitutional restrictions be justified? On what grounds?  The most successful Radio Network today has a 10-second advertising rate of Rupees 1500 to 2000; by the time we end our conversation, they may decided to jack it up by Rs 500, without any restrictions. But to monetize my musical content which I acquire for 4, 5, 6 crores, I will have to work according to the rates decided by the government – that's what this Radio Royalty proposal is telling me. How do we pay the producers? Will the government step in and tell the producers, â€?We have to support radio, so keep the cost of producing your films very low, so that music labels can afford your music, to be able to give it away at the pittance that we are deciding?' Will the government tell producers how much to pay the actors, the music composers, the lyricists?

I am sure the Govt will take a balanced view in the larger interest of the industry and will not do anything in haste, and definitely will not favour one section or industry at the cost of another.