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Quick Five with Ferzad Palia on Comedy Central’s growth plans

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Quick Five with Ferzad Palia on Comedy Central’s growth plans

Comedy has been always an essential part of the programming mix on the broadcast space. With people leading stressful lives today, the significance of this genre has increased with players on the broadcast space experimenting with this genre to introduce new shows on the space.

In conversation with exchange4media, Ferzad Palia, SVP & GM, English Entertainment, Viacom18 Media shares his perspective on ‘Comedy Central’ completing one year, the differentiated programming strategy and the evolution of the comedy genre in India.

Comedy Central recently completed one year. What, according to you, are the important milestones that will define the way forward for Comedy Central per se now?
Around January, when we launched the channel, the test signal got a huge response and great traction. People were extremely excited to see the channel because we started with a unique format, where we showcased in two to three minutes the kind of content we would be putting out. We then did a set of media interactions. When the channel finally launched on January 23, 2012, our test signal had pretty much overtaken the others rrn before the channel went on air. The content that we had put out was a mix of some best written classics, some recent mega hits and lots of new content.

People knew what they were coming to when they were coming to Comedy Central, which is light entertainment. By and large the clear differentiator that we created in the television business worked wonderfully for us. In an environment where you have 700 options, the differentiator is a clear space that we belong to, which is the comedy genre.

Few other landmarks that we hit within the first year of launch included crossing a million fans on Facebook. Affinity of the brand is very important when TAM numbers are not really the way English channels are measured. One very important metric for affinity is Twitter, where we have done around 6,000 tweets in one year and have over 15,000 followers. We have also launched the first range of merchandise such as T-shirts. As a channel we have aired more shows in a year than any other channel. Normally, a channel is about three or four shows, which are then put for repeat telecast; we have 12 shows. Hence, the variety is massive.

What is the strategy adopted by the channel in the form of differentiated programming and local home grown content?
In terms of the programming strategy, the newly launched show, ‘Anger Management’, has taken off very well and people want more and more. We are soon launching a new show ‘Suits’ on March 18, 2013, which is one of the world’s biggest shows currently. There is a whole new slew of programming that would be coming up in April, with shows that have not been seen in India before. We are extremely bullish about 2013. The first phase of us entering the country involved creating awareness about Comedy Central, getting the audiences to sample the channel, making our mark, establishing the image and keep on building on it. In 2013, we have started with ‘Anger Management’ and it will get bigger and better in future.

In terms of local productions, comedy is very hard to pull off, and in a country that is conditioned to speak in Hindi, currently even as an industry, it will take some time to get great work out. But we are in the process of making that happen. Hence, you will see local productions, but can’t say when. We won’t launch something until we are very confident of the product.

Please share the global outlook on the status/growth of the comedy genre in other key markets. Comparatively, how has the genre evolved in India?
Comedy has been growing across the world. Comedy as a genre in the last two or three years has observed the widest output in a long time. Comedy Central itself has moved into so many countries outside of the US such as Singapore, rest of Asia, India, and has multiple rollout plans. Hence, Comedy Central is a focused product for Viacom globally as well and that happens when the world sees comedy as a growing genre. I think the growth of this genre is based on the fairly similar insight that the world is a stressful space. It is a clear differentiating offering. Comedy is growing exponentially, not only on television but also outside of it, with standup comedians venturing out and trying new stuff. There is a whole boom of comedy on the internet, mobile, and it is probably the most searched word on the internet.

What are some of the marketing initiatives that you have undertaken to promote some of your prominent shows such as ‘Anger Management’. Could you elaborate on the per cent share of the market spends on different media platforms and the different initiatives been taken up on the digital space?
We move from a case to case basis as far as the marketing initiatives are concerned. Hence, we wouldn’t use the same media mix for the different shows, since the target audience for the shows may differ. So, for example, ‘Anger Management’ is an all out mass kind of a show and hence, one will see a whole lot of media, as opposed to ‘Suits’, which will observe a digital heavy marketing campaign. Thus, it differs from show to show and from event to event. We are also doing our first local standup gig in India and bringing in well-known comedian Sugar Sammy. We believe that our audience is finite and we are focused on communicating with them to build the experience.
How did you see your marketing and programming strategy translate in terms of:
a. Viewership?
b. Advertising revenue?

Viewership is buzz, and the way we judge buzz is by picking up from social media since the audience today is very opinionated. Yes, we do look at TAM numbers, which are good in some weeks and not so good in others, but that is the same case throughout the genre. Since, it is impossible to predict a trend through numbers, which are not constant all the time, essentially it is a subjective feedback that becomes significant and that is how we have bought the advertisers. If everyone was to go by the rating numbers solely, no channel would be getting any revenues in comparison. Also, it has been observed that every client and marketer does his own set of research outside of revenue numbers. The other thing that we focus on is going a step further and interacting on a larger level on television, digital, etc., with the brand and the sponsors.

From the advertising point of view we have got more than 150 brands on board, which would be any newly launched television channel’s delight, especially in the English GEC space. The revenue figures are looking up.

Finally, some targets earmarked for Comedy Central for the year ahead?
Growth is our only target and also growth in the space, which is equally important. Also, it is essential to give the consumers what they really want at a place they really want.

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