Saturday, April 18, 2009

Google's Bus to Internet Nirvana launched in Tamil Nadu

Google India has launched what is being dubbed the Google Bus. It is a specially furnished bus with Internet connectivity, which will be touring different towns in Tamil Nadu - a state of India. The aim of the bus is to introduce, inspire and educate the general populace on the power of the Internet and how it can benefit common people

Seeking to attract more people on the information superhighway, the bus will be touring 15 towns in Tamil Nadu over a span of 45 days. India is projected to have Internet connectivity of around 20 million by the year 2010. And perhaps, the Google bus is Google's way of ensuring it gets to garner maximum portion of this pie. Google is providing updates of the bus trip at the specially set up web page The Internet Bus Project

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Google gets really local

The search engine now helps you find that restaurant with uncanny accuracy

Ever wondered how you can search for the most esoteric information in the world on and find thousands of results with pictures? But try finding the address of the nearest barbershop and the experience is drastically different. Indeed, an entire family of local search engines and directories such as and have sprouted up to help you do just that—locate products and services in your immediate vicinity with contact details and sometimes even directions.

Google map

But if you like to do all your searching in just one location, then we have good news. Google has just announce the global roll-out of a map enabled local search function within the traditional Google search interface. Type in the word “groceries” into a search engine and chances are that among the first few results is a small map of the location you are in with grocery stores marked out in typical Google Maps fashion.

It is by no means a 100% accurate depiction of the number or location of those stores. That’s because is simply using the IP (Internet protocol) address of your computer to make an approximation of where in the world you are. So it might know you are in Mumbai, but it definitely won’t know you are in Dosti Acres in Wadala East. But as a quick and dirty first-cut search the service is excellent. Clicking on the link further takes you a Google Maps site where you can browse through even more results. Some searches for restaurants and cinemas come with links to reviews, photos and detailed contacts.

And all this without using any complicated search strings or changing advanced settings. So before making plans this long Easter weekend give Google a whirl and see what it throws up.

47 Indian companies among Forbes ‘Global 2000 List’

New York: As many as 47 Indian companies, led by corporate behemoth Reliance Industries and the country’s biggest lender, State Bank of India, have made it to the list of world’s biggest 2,000 companies by US magazine Forbes.
However, five Indian companies — scam-hit IT firm Satyam Computer, realty firm Unitech, Suzlon Energy and two Anil Ambani group firms Reliance Power and Reliance Capital — have been dropped out of the Forbes ‘Global 2000 List’ this year.
Four Indian companies, Hero Honda Motors, Sun Pharma, Indian Bank and Jindal Steel and Power Ltd are the new entrants to the list.
Mukesh Ambani-promoted RIL, State Bank of India, and Oil and Natural Gas Corporation are among the top 200 companies ranked 121st, 150th and 152nd, respectively, on the list.

All the three top Indian firms have improved their ranks considerably from their last year’s positions, wherein RIL had been 193rd, SBI at 219th spot, while ONGC was ranked 198th.
Overall, the list is topped by industrial conglomerate General Electric, followed by Dutch oil and gas major Royal Dutch Shell, Japan’s Toyota Motor, ExxonMobil and UK’s BP in that order.

The rankings have been compiled on the basis of a composite score of sales, profit, assets and market capitalisation.

However, British banking giant HSBC Holdings has dropped to the sixth place this year from its numero uno position in the last year’s list.
The other top Indian firms on the list include Indian Oil (207th), NTPC (317th), ICICI Bank (329th), Tata Steel (463rd) and Bharti Airtel (508th).
The Indian presence is almost evenly divided among the private and state-run companies. While none of the Indian companies has managed to find a place among the top 100 firms this year as well, the elite club includes a firm run by person of Indian origin.

Lakshmi Mittal-headed steel behemoth ArcelorMittal is at 41st position. However, Vikram Pandit-run banking giant Citigroup has dropped to 472nd rank this year.
Further, Indra Nooyi-run beverage major PepsiCo has been ranked 115th, India-origin Francisco D’Souza-headed Cognizant Technology Solutions at 1389th place. Motorola, headed by Sanjay Jha, is at 658th place.

According to Forbes, the Global 2,000 companies have combined revenue of $32 trillion, $1.6 trillion in profit, $125 trillion in assets and $20 trillion in market capitalisation.

Other Indian companies on the list include SAIL (582), Reliance Communication (689), Larsen & Toubro (773), BPCL(795), Bhel(796), HDFC (808), TCS(834), Hindalco Industries (848), HDFC Bank (864), DLF (883), Infosys( 891), Punjab National bank (946), ITC (987), Wipro (989), Bank of India (997), HPCL (1,002), GAIL (1,037) and NMDC (1,057).

The list also has Canara Bank (1,059), PGCIL(1,085), Tata Motors (1,157), Bank of Baroda (1,184), Power Finance (1,324), Axis Bank (1,332), Union Bank of India (1,350), Grasim Industries (1,380), Indian Overseas Bank (1,462), Sun Pharma (1,522), M&M (1,529), Allahabad Bank (1,629), Indian Bank (1,659), Syndicate Bank (1,663), IDBI Bank (1698), Central Bank of India (1,724), JSPL (1,793), NALCO (1,794), OBC (1,869), UCO Bank (1,872) and Hero Honda (1,939).

Saturday, April 11, 2009

The Indian animation industry started out by doing work for foreign companies. Increasingly, it is developing characters, lines and voices of its own

Lord Hanuman did what Ghatotkach, Ganesha and even a Romeo couldn’t. He got
people to watch his antics as he burnt Lanka and wreaked havoc on Ravana’s army. The animation movie Hanuman 1, released in 2005, thus did what no other Indian animation flick had done before—it got the audiences to the big screen, and made a tidy profit in the process. The film, produced at a cost of about Rs 3 crore,

grossed almost Rs 10 crore at the box office. Conceived and executed by Silverline Technologies and released by Percept Picture Company, Hanuman 1 marked the coming of age of the Indian animation industry.

Until recently, Indian animation companies were mostly back-end production houses for American studios. Today, however, the industry is coming into the limelight with its home productions. "Animation studios are spending close to Rs 30 crore per project," says Alpana Mishra, COO, UTV Motion Pictures. UTV plans to release two films next year: Arjun-The Making of a Warrior and Alibaba Aur Chalis Chor.

Tapaas Chakravarti, Chairman and CEO, DQ Entertainment International, agrees: "The animation industry started as a pure services business, like the IT industry, about 10-12 years back. But players soon realised that the entertainment sector did not work like the technology sector. They had to move up the value chain."

The success of Hanuman 1 has spurred many other players. A Nasscom-Ernst & Young report says the industry will grow from $460 million in 2008 to $1.2 billion in 2012—a CAGR of 27%. The numbers are small compared to the $80 billion global industry. But the growth is encouraging Indian animators.

The winds of change are already visible in the shift from low-end outsourced jobs to concept-to-screen contracts. And increasingly, animation houses are partnering with Bollywood and Hollywood studios to come out with international quality shows and films. Margins have gone up by 10-15% due to this shift, says Chakravarti of DQ. Of the 100 or so films that are currently in the pipeline, 28 are already in production, and about 15 are scheduled for release in 2010.

Still evolving

However, progress has been slow. Four years after Hanuman 1, the Indian animation industry is still waiting for its next big hit. Even on television, Japanese shows dominate, though the characters and themes are alien to the culture here. Pokemon and Dragon Ballz on Cartoon Network, Doraemon and Ganso Tensai Bakabon on Hungama and Ninja Hattori on Nickelodeon are some of the popular Japanese shows here. Hollywood films are far ahead of any Indian production in terms of quality and storylines. Moreover, some recent local launches have bombed badly. The biggest failure was Roadside Romeo, produced by Disney and Yash Raj Films. Analysts say the Tata Elxsi team did a great job on the animation, but the theme and target audience did not sync. "The romantic theme did not appeal to the kids and adults could not appreciate the dubbing by the Bollywood stars," says a critic. Jumbo, a Thai movie that was dubbed in Hindi with Akshay Kumar doing the voiceover, also tanked.

"None of the Indian animation films have got the desired audience, but that is more
to do with the content and a poor script," says P JayaKumar, Managing Director of Toonz Animation. "If Indian audiences can consume Western animation films, why won’t they consume homegrown content?"

Perhaps, the biggest constraint has been tight budgets and lack of characters with global appeal. The Rs 10-12 crore budget for an Indian animation movie means the financial risk is hedged, but quality takes a beating. "How can we compete with a $100-200 million Hollywood production that is three to five years in the making with something produced within $2.5 million?" asks Toonz Animation’s JayaKumar. The company recently acquired rights to produce a movie and a TV series based on stories from Chandamama. It’s also working on a movie based on Lord Shiva.

Toonz was the first company to animate a folk character, with its Tenali Raman series. The project, which cost around Rs 6 crore, established the studio’s—and India’s—credentials in producing original animation films. However, the show took nearly five years to turn profitable.

Partnering for profits

Studios are looking at new business models, including partnerships, to produce films and shows. Sometimes, the partnership may just be an investment. In return, they get to own a big chunk of merchandising rights. Some are even negotiating distribution rights. This ensures flow of money even if there is no cash flow in the short term. For example, Toonz has bought the rights for the PlayMobil characters and will be producing content (films, TV serials, etc) to be distributed by Sony Pictures.

Today, global companies are looking at India for co-production. "Indian studios are now on par with American, European or Japanese production houses in terms of skills and infrastructure. But it will be another three to four years before we can actually produce world-class content," says DQ’s Chakravarti. Almost 70% of the company’s content is co-produced or with back-end rights (including home video, TV, DVD, music, merchandising, etc). Some of DQ’s production properties include Iron Man, Large Family and Little Nick.

The impact of the economic downturn also cannot be ignored. Big companies like Riding on own content, the industry’s size is projected to increase from $460 mn in 2008 to $1.2 bn in 2012—a CAGR of 27%

Toonz or DQ may not be severely hit as they have a number of movies and content deals, both their own and co-productions, in the pipeline. But smaller companies will suffer as they depend on outsourced work.

Still, the industry is young. The Japanese style of Anime has a robust domestic market, but it took almost 50 years to develop that style and build that market. Indian companies started end-to-end productions only about five years ago. So, they’re still on the learning curve.

Should Advani, Manmohan Singh Debate On TV?

Whenever you have a discussion about presidential debates on television, somebody or the other will inevitably bring up the Kennedy-Nixon debate of 1960. By now that debate has passed into legend. According to folklore, Richard Nixon was comfortably ahead of John F. Kennedy when the two presidential contenders agreed to meet for a televised debate.

Judged purely on content, Nixon won the debate—or so the story goes. But television is a visual medium. Kennedy seemed cool and assured. Nixon had a sweaty upper lip. He was lit so that he looked like he was unshaven (what they call 5 o'clock shadow).

Viewers went with the visuals, not the content. The telegenic Kennedy won. The more experienced and cerebral Nixon lost the debate and eventually, the election.

Those who tell this story make the point that TV is not about content or substance.

It is about image and performance. The West may have fallen prey to the cult of televised politics. But fortunately, we in India can still avoid a situation where politicians are elected on the basis of TV ratings. And that's how it should remain.

Those who take this view argue that Manmohan Singh was right to reject L.K. Advani's offer of a televised debate. Why turn everything into a television event, they ask. Why not focus on old-fashioned campaigning and on issues of substance.

It's a powerful case but I don't necessarily buy it. First of all, the Kennedy-Nixon folklore is more myth than reality. Yes, Kennedy did look better but it's not clear that he won the debate. The polls were divided on who the actual victor was. Many said that Nixon had won. Moreover, that debate did not swing the election. In the event, Kennedy won by a tiny margin, almost entirely attributable to the votes that Mayor Richard Daley had stolen for him in Chicago's Cook County. Had the election been fair, Nixon might actually have won.

Nor do I believe that television necessarily favours the shallow and superficial at the expense of substance and depth. Take George W. Bush. You need only to watch him on TV to recognise that he is a moron. And yet, he ruled America for eight years in a tele-visual era.

The advantage of a television debate is that it allows voters to see where the candidates actually stand on the issues. At present, party spokesmen slug it out on news channels but the big leaders pass unchallenged.

Does Advani see no contradiction in supporting the legacy of Sanjay Gandhi while attacking the Congress for its undemocratic nature and its commitment to dynasty? Does Manmohan Singh regret his single-minded advocacy of the nuclear deal at so high a cost? Is Prakash Karat embarrassed that he has never won so much as a municipal election? Does Sonia Gandhi share Manmohan's commitment to economic liberalisation? Would she like to see Rahul as PM some day?

These are significant questions, the answers to which could determine India's destiny. But we never get these answers. We never find out where the truth really lies because these leaders appear only in controlled situations and rarely open themselves up to genuine, hard-nosed questioning.

Take Manmohan Singh. He must be the only prime minister of India to have never given a full-length interview to an Indian. (I don't include that brief comment about the Left and the nuclear deal to The Telegraph, made to serve his own political agenda.) Instead, he has spent five years giving interviews only to White people who he knows will not ask him questions on domestic politics he does not want to answer. Is it not shameful that the prime minister of India should shun any interviewer who is a citizen of his own country?

Sadly, our politicians avoid probing questions because they know they can get away with it.They are rarely questioned on the issues, never confronted with their contradictions and rarely asked to justify their actions. They like it that way. Manmohan is ready to leave the debates to Abhishek Singhvi and Kapil Sibal. Advani would much rather let Arun Jaitley do his dirty work for him.

A presidential-style debate would cut through this edifice of evasion. Our top politicians would be forced to explain their stands and to defend their positions. They will not be able to hide behind party spokesmen or to take refuge in enigmatic one-liners.

But of course, they'll never agree. The only reason why Advani has challenged Manmohan Singh to a debate is because he knows that the PM will never say yes and the debate will never happen. Advani is as reluctant to have his contradictions exploded as Manmohan is to explain himself.

So, they fall back on the old excuses: we don't have a presidential system; TV is a superficial medium; etc. And the people of India are denied the answers we deserve.

By Vir Sanghvi