In the last three and a half years, the competition level of the Hindi general entertainment (GE) genre has scaled new heights and Turner Broadcasting has seen its share of the tougher side of the genre – first with Real, and now, with Imagine. The exit of Sameer Nair as Turner General Entertainment Network’s CEO and the integration of the company with Turner Broadcasting System Asia Pacific (TBSAP) mark a new chapter for Turner’s GE plans in India.
Turner’s first experiment in the space was in 2008, when the company partnered with Alva Brothers to create a joint venture that launched Hindi GE channel Real in 2009. By September 2009, Turner was already revisiting the business, given Real’s poor performance and eventually leading to the shutdown of the channel in its GE avatar. Turner subsequently exited the JV.
The next big step from the company came in December 2009, when Turner announced its decision to buy out NDTV’s subsidiary, NDTV Imagine, that housed Hindi GE channel Imagine and other channels such as Showbiz. In later months, it was clear that Turner’s area of focus was Hindi GE Imagine, and by 2011, the investment Turner was making in the channel was also obvious. One of the biggest examples was Shah Rukh Khan-starrer ‘Zor Ka Jhatka’, which according to industry estimates, cost the channel approximately Rs 60 crore.
‘ZKJ’ did not deliver as per company’s expectations. And soon after, the first inkling of Turner’s intentions to integrate Turner General Entertainment with the Network came in play.
By April 2011, Turner constituted a special committee comprising various Turner officials such as Monica Tata from India and officials from the region, apart from Turner General Entertainment Network officials, including Sameer Nair and Harsh Rohatgi (Head - Content & Communication, Imagine), with the intention of including more brains from the network in Imagine’s key decision making. Steve Marcopoto, President, Turner Broadcasting System Asia Pacific (TBSAP), explained, “The team that was put together is a strategic planning group to assess our current performance and chart a long term course for Imagine. The group is comprised primarily of Imagine executives, including Sameer (Nair), who were supplemented by several TBSAP colleagues from programming, research, strategic planning, etc. Sameer will continue on the group as he consults in transition.”
A few in the industry still maintain that Nair’s exit would be a loss to the Network, given the change in the company’s leadership at this critical juncture. The new leadership that comes with Turner General Entertainment Network’s integration with TBSAP begins the second phase of Turner Imagine.
Marcopoto reiterated that with the exception of Nair’s direct reports being reassigned, nothing would change at Imagine due to the integration. Speaking on how this step would help Imagine, he replied, “Imagine will be better positioned to benefit from the relationship with its sister Turner Networks in India in the same way that leading brands such as Cartoon Network, CNN, HBO, Pogo and WB leverage their shared expertise and resources today.”
Imagine is now placed under the interim management of Sunny Saha, SVP & GM for the entertainment networks of TBSAP and the Turner India management team. It is understood that Turner is not likely to announce an India CEO soon. The integration may benefit Turner, as Marcopoto outlines, but it would not be wrong to say that Imagine is not living its best run.
In 2011, Imagine’s performance has ranged from the 80-86 weekly GRPs in the first month to the 58-68 GRPs in the last four weeks. The channel has seen its highs, like a 100-GRP mark in week 6, but these numbers are lower than what Imagine was delivering in 2010.
Giving a sense of the GE experience for Turner after Real, and now Imagine, Marcopoto said, “With due respect to our previous venture, Imagine is not Real. It is a channel with an established, well-recognised brand, a solid audience base, and has reached significant viewership levels (as high as 172 GRPs last year) with a history of distinctive original programming. The GE genre is hypercompetitive and all the players within it have faced dramatic swings at one time or another in their own right. That is the nature of the beast. We are simply facing one such swing at present and are integrating ourselves to come back strong in pursuit of long-term success.”