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Devdatta Potnis

Interview: Devdatta Potnis, Senior VP, Cosmos Maya

August 31, 2021

Cosmos-Maya (estb.1996), the animation and visual effects company that has two facilities in Mumbai including a 25,000 square feet studio at the Dadasaheb Phalke Chitranagari aka Filmcity,  has been delivering award winning animated content, VFX work and game cinematics. In July, Hong Kong-based private equity platform, NewQuest Capital Partners (“NewQuest”) acquired a majority interest in Cosmos Maya from Emerald Media, an investment platform that invests in fast growing media and entertainment industries across Asia. In a freewheeling chat with Dipta Joshi, Cosmos Maya’s Devdatta Potnis, senior vice president – revenue and corporate strategy talks about the value proposition offered by the company and the benefits of working in the animation sector during a pandemic.

1) Tell us about the ‘NewQuest’s acquisition of a majority interest in Cosmos-Maya and its impact on the company’s working?

A) Since its establishment, Cosmos Maya has been like a microcosm of the Indian animation business with commissioned projects for television and digital platforms including Viacom 18, Disney Networks, Sony Pictures and Amazon Prime Video among others. Apart from ‘Motu-Patlu’ which was our first animated intellectual property (IP), we have our own IP bank and run our own digital business including 34-37 channels on YouTube that have 67 million subscribers. We did an international co production for a Spanish feature film which was produced and delivered during the pandemic.

Our belief in sustained and sustainable growth has created an environment where the investors who acquired a stake in the company feel secure and also get a very profitable exit. With us operating on a larger scale and providing a much higher value, we had NewQuest coming on board. In terms of impact, when you have an organized financier backing you, maintaining day-to-day consistency becomes easier and one can focus on growth and will continue to explore forward, lateral or backward integration possibilities. 

2) How challenging was the pandemic for the animation industry?

A) Fortunately the nature of the animation industry is such that it has a longer gestation period.  So our contracts are signed much earlier and the production of the content done earlier for the work being seen today. When the first wave of the pandemic hit, we already had everything planned which was in production. Then again,  the advantage of the animation industry is that it is easier to adapt to a work from home (WFH) scenario. During the pandemic induced lockdown, entertainment ended up being a need rather than a luxury. So the need for good content benefited the entire animation and entertainment industry. For Cosmos Maya in particular too the pandemic didn’t pose a problem as all the forward planning helped us. In fact, we were having our intense discussion with NewQuest during the pandemic. 

3) There is a perception about the Indian animation not being at par with international animation companies in terms of quality. Comment

A) It is a known fact that DreamWorks opened a dedicated animation facility in India before it opened its unit in China (animators at DreamWorks Bangalore unit worked on feature films like ‘Puss in Boots’ and ‘Kung Fu Panda 3’ before the unit was shut in early 2017 as part of the company’s expansion strategy). So, despite the general perception about Indian animation, our content quality is not disputable. We are also very good at adapting to new technologies and picking up new skills. The problem is the severe budget constraints Indian animators are expected to work under. Good quality content does not come cheap so when Indian animation film makers want to make movies where the quality parallels the Hollywood animated film, ‘The Good Dinosaur’, they must remember ‘The Good Dinosaur’ was made with a US$150 million budget and not US$10 million.

Also the Indian animation industry has clocked less than 40 years as compared to its international counterparts. Japan’s anime market has been developed over the years and today teens there watch animated romcoms too. While Indian children have the willingness to consume animated content on channels like Cartoon Network, Nickelodeon and Disney etc., Indian teenagers remain wary of paying good money to watch an animated movie. Besides across sectors, industries become viable when entire ecosystems are built around them by the policy makers. Unlike in India, most European countries, Canada, and even Asian countries like Malaysia and Korea offer several tax benefits to the animation industry. 

4) Tell us about Cosmos Maya’s move into the edtech space.  

A) We have always tried playing on our strengths and so though we stepped into the ed tech space around three years ago, we have been selective about the work we take on in the space. Our IP – a show called Vir – The Robot Boy has garnered around 15 billion views on YouTube and is a successful digital brand. In a co-branded initiative with Vedantu – the edtech platform, Vir has been used in several video content as part of their live tuitions package. We are also in talks with some big international partners in the edtech space to discover new possibilities and expect to make positive announcements soon.

5) How attractive is the employment scenario for students who have graduated through online learning in the field?

A) While there are jobs in the field, we have always felt a disconnect between what fresh graduates bring to the table versus what is expected of them. So, students were not really ready even in the pre-COVID times when there was the in-class model of education. There is a certain amount of training that needs to be imparted.

A couple of years back we at Cosmos Maya initiated a customized training programme called MIST i.e. Maya Institute of Training, wherein fresh graduates were trained to work in our studio environment and made studio ready. We also have training modules going on for our employees. We are looking at scaling our training programmes further.

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