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Farid Kureshi

CEO | 07 Mar 2007

“Logically, things should improve when you come out with better products. Eventually, you will have to look at advertisers as consumers. I think outdoors should become the Maruti 800 of the business. It has to be a volume business. Things will only improve if we have research.”

The out of home business in India has grown tremendously over time. The Times Group, which has to in bouquet almost all the media vehicles, saw an opportunity in the outdoor space and formally started its OOH division – Times OOH – in August 2005. Since then the company has come up with various innovations, including LED screens and video walls, among others.

Leading the company is its CEO, Farid Kureshi. Kureshi began his career with Indian Express in 1989 as a management trainee. He then moved to The Pioneer, where he worked for little over a year. He was also with the Chitralekha Group for two years, following which he joined STAR TV in December 1994. Kureshi, who was with STAR for six years, was initially based in Delhi where he was handling around five channels. He then moved to Chennai as Head of the Chennai branch. He was made VP-India for STAR Movies in 1999.

Kureshi has sold all genre of television, after which radio happened and thus began his association with Radio Mirchi in 2001, where he remained till 2005. In August 2005, when Times Group decided to venture into outdoors, Kureshi decided to take up the challenge.

In a freewheeling interview with exchange4media’s Pallavi Goorha and Sumita Patra, Kureshi talks about the important issues related to the outdoor industry. Excerpts:

Q. You have worked in almost all the mediums. Which one did you enjoy the most?

Television.

Q. Would you at any point of time consider going back to television?

I feel one should be in a business which should be sizeable, scalable and there should be scope of growth. Ultimately, it is not about which segment of media is more interesting, it is about whether you were in the right place at the right time. I am thoroughly enjoying outdoors.

Q. Since the time Times OOH came into being, what were the initial obstacles that you had to face and how did you overcome them?

I would answer that in a different way. Let me explain as to why we ventured into the outdoor business. Outdoors is the number three business compared to print and television as far as revenues are concerned. Radio is way below at number four. We as a group are a city centric media company. Newspapers are a localised media vehicle, radio is a localised media vehicle, outdoor is also localised. Since the OOH business is the number three revenue stream we could not afford to miss that.

But if you look at the industry, it is really in a bad shape. Outdoor has been around for 60 years, but there are lot of issues that one needs to grapple with. There is no research, there are no professional people, and no one has invested in this industry. It’s a mom and pop shop kind of business even today, so the initial problems that we found were that there was no independent research, there were no brands, it was a commodity business, extremely fragmented. Yet we looked at all these problems and opportunities and decided to enter this business.

Q. Why do you think people in the business had such a laid back attitude towards this medium? Why have these issues not been raised?

My take on that is that no one looked at these issues because people were too busy making money, so no one took a long-term approach towards this business.

Q. How do you compare the Indian outdoor advertising industry with the global market?

If you see the industry today vis-à-vis where the industry is internationally, it’s nowhere. Internationally, if you go, there is research, outdoor has rating points. There are internationally well-known companies, they have professional people running it. The roads abroad are clean, the pavements are nice, everything is aesthetically far more superior. In India, there is not much investment in this medium. There is lack of transparency in this medium, which will hopefully change with people like us coming in.

Q. When we talk about regulation, has this issue been raised strongly enough? Why is the government being so negligent about it?

I don’t think we can blame the government. No one in the industry has made any effort to lobby with the government.

Q. Over time, the OOH options available to clients have increased. How do you see this evolution?

I am just one-and-a-half years old in the business, I can’t obviously comment on the evolution. But I can say that traditional formats like bus shelters and hoardings would remain the main revenue earners.

Q. The outdoor advertising scene in India in recent times has seen the entry of several large players, including international players. With the competition heating up, how has Times OOH geared itself to beat the competition?

It’s a blessing in disguise for the industry. At least when international players come they know what is there outside, so they will bring a certain level of professionalism, they will invest in good quality construction. It’s very good for people like us. Thousands of competition have come and gone. And it is ultimately who understands the market better, who understands the customers better and gives a better solution will survive – whether he is international or local, doesn’t matter.

Q. Recently, you have won the Delhi Airport outdoor contract. What kind of innovations can we look forward to?

We will try our best to ensure that all the advertising sites, whether they are indoor or outdoor, will be of world class standard, where we will ensure that what you see internationally is what you will see in India.

Q. Currently, OOH accounts for around 6-7 per cent of the total advertising pie, but the sector is poised for a promising growth. What do you think needs to be done so as to make clients realise the true potential of this medium.

I think the onus lies on media owners like us where we should give international quality rights. In terms of aesthetic and functional value, we should have far greater knowledge of other mediums to be able to command and sell our mediums better, which currently many people don’t have. Research, etc are tools that will help you get better ROI and we will have to invest in that.

Q. Till what level do you think this industry is headed as far as the advertising pie is concerned?

Logically, things should improve when you come out with better products. Eventually, you will have to look at advertisers as consumers. I think outdoors should become the Maruti 800 of the business. It has to be a volume business. Things will only improve if we have research.

Q. How much time will it take for things to improve?

You will see change in 18-24 months. And consolidation is bound to happen. There would be so many players who would still not invest in any medium, so ultimately they will be either eaten up by the larger players or they will be wiped out from the market.

Q. Which category, according to you, shows more interest in the OOH sector?

The top five categories of advertisers are the same across all mediums. They are banking and finance, mobile operators and handset manufacturers, four-wheelers, white goods and lifestyle products.

Q. In a recent interview with ‘Pitch’ magazine, you had said that there was an opportunity to offer a brand need-based media solutions. Please elaborate on that.

Outdoor is sold as a commodity today because most of the people who are in the business of selling outdoor do not even understand the basic of brand advertising. People approach clients instead of giving a brand solution, they go in terms of commodity sales. Gradually, with good organisations coming in, people talking the same language, things can only improve. When you give a brand solution you have a better chance than when you are trying to sell a commodity.

Q. Share with us the vision of Times OOH. With a robust growth projected, where do you see Times OOH headed?

I wish I had a crystal ball to look into it. But we definitely want ourselves to be either the number one or number two player otherwise there is no fun in it and God willing, we should be there.

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