N P Singh, CEO, MSM is upbeat as he talks about launching new shows and return of old successful shows like Aahat and Bhavaar in order to win back audiences on flagship channel Sony, the key highlights of broadcast industry in 2014, the rise of e-tailers as a major advertising category, his support of the Star RIO initiative, giving KBC a rest for a year, Yudh being ahead of its time…
What are the key highlights of the broadcast industry for the year 2014?
It has been a fairly challenging year for the broadcast industry for more reasons than one. First as we all know we saw the early part being slow that had its impact on the broadcasting industry. The regulator played a very active role in bringing about a lot of regulation which in many ways impacted the growth of the industry in the near term, negatively I would say. Regulations on the ad cap, aggregators, pricing for hotels and commercial establishments, delay in digitization have all impacted the industry negatively. Overall it has been a challenging year.
As an industry leader what is your view on the Star RIO initiative ?
It is a step in the right direction. From an industry perspective, it is important we provide an option to our viewers and right now it is through the MSOs, in the future I hope it will become more B2C and therefore we can provide options to our consumers so that they can decide what they want to see. Just like when we go to hyper-mall we decide what we want to buy although everything is available there, likewise even on content they should have the ability to pick and choose what they really want to watch and what they want to pay for and they will start to pay market pricing for that which will help the entire value chain. There will be more transparency in the system because subscriber management systems will then throw up the actual number of subscribers that each channel has and the priced that is being charged and our fair share of revenues will start flowing to us. In addition to that an allied benefit would be a drop in carriage (fees), because if you are talking directly to the consumer and the consumer wants your content then there is no carriage to be paid. I think it is a step in the right direction we have to wait and see how it pans out for the industry going forward.
Would you be one of the adapters of this particular model?
I am personally in favour of this particular change. This the way international markets operate and this is the way how India will eventually start to operate as well. In due course of time after we have done our complete evaluation, we will consider this as an option.
What are the key areas of progress for MSM in 2014 ?
It has been a very interesting year for us. We have had multiple channel launches. We launched our second Hindi movie channel MAX2, we launched our third Hindi entertainment channel which is PAL and we launched PIX HD and our second digital platform for sports which is LIVSports.in. In addition we acquired a lot of content for our network of channels. Like the FIFA rights, the Australian Open rights in addition to the Champions Tennis League and World Kabaddi League. Plus we experimented with a lot of new content, the one with Mr. Bachchan. For the first time he appeared on television in a fiction show called Yudh. Perhaps it was way ahead of its time, it did not do too well from a ratings perspective but nonetheless we are very proud that we again were the pioneers of bringing this kind of content to television in India.
We have made a lot of investments for the future in the network. The two channel launches that we have done earlier this year, one has started to show positive results right away the other way is just three months old and is in the process of scaling up which is our third GEC and in the next one to two years, will become a very robust channel for us. My belief is that the returns will be seen over the next two to three years from these investments.
In the Hindi GEC business your network has had success with SAB TV and been fairly successful with new GEC Sony PAL but have faced problems with your flagship channel Sony TV during the year, what were the problems and what did you do to rectify it?
The one thing that I must confess that we tried to do middle of this year was to broad-base our audience and go onto markets where we have not been very strong traditionally. What that did was in many ways alienated our audiences in the core markets where Sony is very popular, which are the urban metro markets. We realised that very quickly and have gone back to the core of the channel and we are launching a lot of new shows which I am very confident that will win back our audiences. Our most recent launch Ekta Kapoor’s ‘Itna Karo Na Mujhe Pyaar’ is just three weeks old and is creating a huge buzz already that will get our loyal audiences back on the channel.
So should we expect more shows like Itna Karo Na Mujhe Pyaar that will win back the audience?
There are more new show launches that you will see in the next three to four months and going forward as well. We are bringing back some our very strong brands in the past like Aahat will come back with another season. Many years ago we had a show called Bhavaar which has been a very successful show. We are trying to bring that show back in a new avatar. Plus there are two series that we are working on which will be launched in the next three months. On this weekend on the 14th we are launching Box Cricket League which again Ekta Kapoor has put together with television actors playing a new form of cricket in a box in a closed environment. It will be fun and disruptive and will also get the audiences to come and sample the show and therefore the channel.
KBC has seen a loss of viewership, which maybe due to viewer fatigue. What is the channel doing to revive viewership?
KBC is a very strong brand and it has always done well for the channel. This season we saw a little bit of a viewer fatigue with show. We have tweaked the format as much as we could. The start this year was very spectacular but then the rate of (viewership) drop off was also very high on the show and it did not deliver as per our expectations so we will consider resting it at least for one year before bringing it back on the channel. I continue to very strongly believe that KBC with Mr. Bachchan is a very strong property and it still resonates with the viewers perhaps all the seasons come in very quick succession and there is a need for a little bit of a gap between seasons.
Is it going to be reinvented in a new avatar?
It’s early to say that as we have just finished our last season and it’s an international format and a game show. There is a little bit of innovation that is possible and that we do every season which we will continue to do in the future as well but what fashion or form it will come about in at this stage it is very difficult to say.
Despite the vast investment in the sports business IPL continues to be your strongest asset, how long do you expect other sports properties to turn into profitable ventures like IPL?
Sports is a portfolio business. Television runs on a portfolio model, not everything on its standalone PNL basis will pass muster. That is not how we run our business. There is a portfolio of content that we showcase to our viewers and as a portfolio if we are profitable then I am very happy with that. And I am very happy the SIX is a profitable channel for the network.
What are your plans on the distribution front going forward since Discovery has parted ways with MSM in One Alliance?
Nothing really changes from our perspective. One Alliance is a very strong distribution brand that we created in the market that will continue and it will distribute all the MSM channels and also some third party channels like TV Today network channels, that will continue going today as well. We have to prepare ourselves for realising the full potential of digitization in the market; that is what the focus of One Alliance will be, both from a pricing and packaging perspective and also from a shift in mindset from B2B to B2C that has to happen.
What are the ad spend trends in 2014?
The biggest growth that we have seen earlier is e-tailers coming to the market and spending a lot of money across all mediums. We have seen competition intensifying in that category which is leading to a higher spending to all the players in that category and they are well funded as well so at this stage they are trying to capture the market. At least over the next two years we will continue to see a growth in e-tailers category. This festival season we have seen some other categories becoming active which had not been active in the last one year or so because of the market conditions. Automobiles were active, mobile handsets was very active and is heating up with a lot of new players coming in as well. Telecoms were active, some white goods like electronics were active. In (FMCG) we have seen a growth but we haven’t seen a major upsurge in spending by the FMCG players. Their growth rates have picked up but the major growth is coming from outside the FMCG category.
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