Chairperson & Managing Director | 24 Dec 2010
Advertisers do not want to go beyond their set platforms of media planners and buyers. But this divide (between English and Hindi news channels) is ending. And if they can’t read the writing on the wall, then there is something wrong. Today, an aware person does not mean that he has to be an ‘English’ person. Media planners and buyers have to get out of this misconceived notion. They need to understand that buying power is in the Tier III and IV cities. They cannot be ignored.
Anurradha Prasad is the Chairperson cum Managing Director of the 360 degree media company B.A.G. Films & Media Ltd. From a young journalist to one of the most recognisable media personalities in the country, Prasad has traced a successful journey in her two-decade long career.
After completing her Master’s in Political Science from Delhi University Prasad ventured into the media industry with an assignment in a popular business magazine. Having discovered a flair for media and journalism here, she went on to work in many different positions in the industry, writing, producing and working both behind the scenes as well as in front of the camera. Soon, she decided to create television programmes that she strongly believed in by starting out on her own. The year 1993, saw Prasad launch B.A.G Films & Media Ltd (then known as B.A.G Films Ltd), her own production house where she created programmes like ‘Poll Khol’, ‘Red Alert’ and ‘Sansani’ on Star News; ‘Mitwa - Phool kamal ke’, ‘Kumkum’ and ‘Khullja Sim-Sim’ on Star Plus; ‘Siddhant’ on Star One; ‘Dahhej’ on 9X; ‘Ek Thi Rajkumari’ on Zee Next; ‘Gangaa’ on Colors; ‘Har Dil Jo Love Karega’ on Zoom; ‘Rozana’ and ‘Khabrein Bollywood Ki’ on Doordarshan.
In 2007, Prasad launched an umbrella brand, Broadcast 24, under which she launched ‘News 24’, a 24-hour news channel. In March 2008, under the same brand she launched India’s first Bollywood news channel, E 24. Prasad heads a successful radio network Dhamaal 24, a 24-hour radio network on air now in nine cities across the country. Besides this, she continues to run the successful production arm of B.A.G. Films – Studio 24. She also reaches out to aspiring media professionals with The International School of Media and Entertainment Studies (iSOMEs), a school dedicated to teaching and training media professionals of tomorrow. She has kept pace with technology and has her channels present on cyber space through her web network – B.A.G. Convergence.
For her immense contribution to Indian television, Prasad has won accolades and awards over the years. She is a member of CII and FICCI Entertainment Committee. She is on the board of Uttaranchal Film Development Council, and is an executive member of Film Producers Guild of India.
In conversation with exchange4media’s Nitin Pandey, Prasad speaks at length about the journey of News 24 and E 24, news channels and their content strategies, fighting the perception in the minds of advertisers regarding Hindi news channels and more…
Q. News24 has completed three years in industry now. How has your experience been running news channels?
It’s been tough, but enjoyable too. Tough, because when we launched News24, suddenly global recession hit the entire industry and we were no exception. But, I always see the glass half full, not half empty. The recession made me tougher. At that time, it was extremely important for us to survive and we went into complete survival mode. Everybody became rough and tough as we can weathered out the recession. Also, it gave us an opportunity to look at our strategies. When you are in the expansion mode, you go a little haywire and try to do everything. But I think the recession gave us time to think and work. It’s been a very eventful and rocking journey for us. There were huge challenges, but eventually great satisfaction too.
Q. Is the impact of slowdown still there in the industry?
Slowdown is no longer a problem for the industry, but there are a few problems that the industry is struggling with. The broadcast industry has never been sold as a knowledge industry, but like a commodity. Another thing is that we still don’t have digitisation in place in the industry, therefore, distribution becomes very expensive for us. You are being marred by the analog system and there is competition, hence you have to pay much more for distribution. The distribution budget for every channel has gone up. Another thing is that when you go to an advertiser, because the whole system works like a commodity, it is sold like a commodity and not like knowledge or information.
Q. After a few months of the launch of News24, you launched E24, a channel dedicated to Bollywood news. How did this idea come about?
I have always thought that Bollywood is a big industry and there was no dedicated representative of it. I thought I should cash in on it. And the idea worked out well.
Q. There are lots of news channels coming into the market, what is the revenue model for them?
It’s true that a whole lot of channels are coming in the market. First, one has to look at why they are launching a news channel and what is the motive behind the launch. Because it is a glamorous and attractive profession, people come into it not realising that the road ahead is very tough. It is only the fittest that will survive. If lots of news channels are being launched that is fine, but the system also has to be designed in a way that these channels can survive.
Q. Are there any news channels in the market only for ‘Power Play’?
There are. And it is fine because that is their business model. But for somebody like us, that cannot be a business model at all. To create an impact from consumers’ and advertisers’ perspective, it is extremely important how credible you are. It’s always important to remain credible and how people perceive you.
Q. In the last three years, what are the challenges that you had faced?
The biggest challenge was how to make a dent as a brand. That we have fortunately been able to do. For me it’s extremely important that my wicket should not fall. It was extremely important to float for survival. Once you have survived and passed through the first two years, you will be able to walk properly. When we launched, nobody was interested in putting money in advertising, everybody was cutting down their marketing budgets, besides there was challenge of revenue generation too. But now, the challenge is that revenue has to grow. In our case, News24 and E24 have been able to make a dent in such a competitive market. God has been kind to us.
Q. Then why is it that only Hindi news channels are perceived to be after the 3C content?
It is created. It is extremely important to change the perception for Hindi news channels. You should be seen as a news channel. News only does not mean political news or business or Parliament news. Anything is news for somebody that we cater to. I don’t have misconceived notions about news.
Earlier, English news channels may have created that perception. I don’t think it exists now.
Q. Is this perception there in the minds of advertisers too? How does it impact?
It is there. And it impacts advertisers. They do not want to go beyond their set platforms of media planners and buyers. For example, if I study in a college and my peer friend group is from that college, I obviously will like that group. If I am from an English background, I think that is the only world. But this divide is ending. And if they can’t read the writing on the wall, then there is something wrong. Today, an aware person does not mean that he has to be an ‘English’ person. People must understand that the awakening that has happened across the country does not mean that only English speaking people are aware. Media planners and buyers have to get out of this misconceived notion. They need to understand that buying power is in the Tier III and IV cities. They cannot be ignored.
Q. Does sensation still work?
It’s been working. Anything that is created for that moment and for viewership is important for me, but it need not be only sensational. How people address news, how they view and see news has changed now. The meaning of news has changed. Earlier, it used to be a certain style and content, but no longer. We need to understand that we are catering to a young population and if they don’t like anything, they can not only switch the channel, but change the medium as well.
Q. How much you consider numbers?
One can do lots of thing to get numbers, you can act and react. But, I am very clear that if my channels are able to make an impact, I have arrived. What matters is whether people talk about your channels or not. We are at the Tier II level in the GRP list and satisfied. I have never said that I will be No. 1 in three years. I am happy.
Q. How do you see the role of industry bodies like NBA and BEA? Do they have any impact on the industry?
Yes, these organisations are great achievements for the news broadcast industry. They thought of those things that were completely going haywire. Channels had created the space, but the systems were not created. These bodies have started creating systems, which is good.
Q. How do you see taking content from websites like YouTube and then making an entire bulletin out of it with no value addition?
If there is something good on YouTube that can become news and our viewers are interested in, we will do it. We need to understand the value of new media. It’s just like a resource agency. We should not work in a news channel with preconceived notions. We are here to break every notion. You should be ready for innovation and re-invention, and ideation… if you are not then, why are you here?
Q. According to the Cable and Satellite Amendment Act, 2006, news channels are allowed to show 12 minutes of advertisement in one hour of programming. Are news channels following this?
No, they are not. How can they if content is being sold like commodity? As there is a set pattern in print, there has to be certain standards for us too. We have greater reach then print. We reach 15-20 crore people everyday, but look at our ad rates… IBF needs to ponder over it. I am hopeful that in 2011 such positive things will happen. Then, the fight over content will certainly end.
Q. How do you see talent crunch in this industry?
Our media institute is extremely important for me. I believe in refurbishing of talent. In our medium, to grasp new ideas, you need dynamism and only youngsters can do that. Our students learn as a part of the channel and learn backhand process during their course in college.
Q. You have a radio channel as well – Radio Dhamaal. Why have you stayed away from the metros?
There are already many radio players in the metros, moreover, I was not willing to pay higher fees. We are in Karnal, Hisar, Patiala, and Shimla, thus from Delhi to Shimla we cover the entire belt. We are also in Ranchi, Muzaffarpur, and Ahmednagar. The Phase III of FM radio expansion is yet to be announced, we will see more opportunities then in the radio domain.