M K Anand, MD & CEO, Times Network talks about focusing on the expansion of ET NOW, steps taken by him on course correction for the network which includes a more transparent appraisal process, investing more on distribution, and shared goals for the top management. “2016 is the year of marketing and improving our sales position and mostly by improving our yield. And by improving yield I am not going to say that I am going to mindlessly change my prices. I want to tell my brands and business partners just because I am sitting don’t take me to be a duck. So whether you are the largest DTH players or the largest advertisers, please respect us for what we are,” says Anand emphatically, as he talks about his focus areas going forward.
What are the changes that you brought about since joining Times Network?
This is not a company that is going to sell out and move. So I am looking at 2025 in television as to what are we going to do. What position will we be in? Will we be a mass player or scale player or high profitability player? Whatever we want to be, whether it is competing with Star, Zee or some digital company, fundamentally we needed to correct the value equation of the existing products.
My first intervention was with the people. So we looked at the way that the people are organized, the way that they are tasked with functions; their actual strengths and weaknesses and how can we utilize them in a manner that you take these same alphabets and create new poetry out of it. I have not got too many people once I came in except for a few vacancies in maybe sales positions. We have not hired a lot of people from outside but have taken people for positions from within our company. I really believe in the Bell curve, where there are top performers, middle performers and then there are laggards. When there are about 1000 people in your company then obviously the rules of this curve apply. I was able to get a very clear and objective appraisal process in place. We were able to give correct feedback to people who needed feedback because I believe that an appraisal is so important that it can improve a person’s life. We have brought in variable pay to a large extent to many people now, we have changed remuneration and in a manner and quarterly incentivisation with very clear KRAs and PNL focus. And now it is a shared goal for 25 people at the top who have full visibility on the entire PNL, there are no secrets from anybody. And their quarterly variable pay is connected to each other’s performance. So even if Arnab’s team is doing very well he could lose if the Movies Now guys are not doing well. So there are questions being asked now. There is no silo and we also horizontalized the teams. Instead of making Movies Now or English Entertainment Clusters, we now have sales and distribution and we have started interchanging people. Overall one fundamental change that I have been doing was organization, second is distribution as it is important in parity of media products. In distribution I realized we need a lot of attention. The 200 networks which were being distributed last year has gone upto 750 now and is going up to 1500 by May. I believe that distribution should not be cut to optimize results. The same way you don’t cut on a child’s nutrition, similarly in distribution I don’t mind spending 5% more. Distribution also got a shot in the arm because we got subscription sales into the company. When it came together from a commercial point of view also, we were able to give a clear view instead of cutting carriage or increasing subscription we are looking at only one thing and that is called NDI (net distribution income), carriage minus subscription. Between the year before and now we are now almost 65-70% better on our NDI situation.
What are your plans for the Network going forward?
If 2014-15 was the year of internal organization and distribution which is more of the basics, 2016 is the year of marketing and improving our sales position and mostly by improving our yield. And by improving yield I am not going to say that I am going to mindlessly change my prices. I want to tell my brands and business partners just because I am sitting don’t take me to be a duck. So whether you are the largest DTH players or the largest advertisers, please respect us for what we are.
Keeping in line with your growth and expansion plans we are given to understand the Times Network will be launching two to three new channels?
First and foremost bringing this network to its full potential in eight quarters was my target. So first 4 quarters are over I have done what needs to be done to ensure that it is a good plane standing on the runway, now we are going to take off. Next year this time this network would reach a quarterly run rate which will be a stable good run rate and I am not expecting that it will again start growing out of it. Simultaneously we are looking at what are the natural extensions of these products, for example Hindi and regional, and in the news space itself, keeping in mind the audience clusters that we are good with and then saying ‘ Are there channels that can come into this space?’ So we will have 1 or 2 such launches happening every year. Are we getting into a space which we aren’t in? Yes we should be, but I am not the only person to say it. We as an operating management group are getting this ready and doing the natural extensions while we have an eye on what all else can we do so that when you add that (and this we are going to) at a scale where we catapult into the big league. In my opinion, that is something that will happen, but will take that much time to get the approvals.
Are you looking at launching a real estate channel?
It is not just real estate honestly; we believe that ET Now has to expand to stay relevant and bigger in a very narrow market. We are not a business news channel which has other interests and other revenue models if I may say so. So Luxury, Auto, Real Estate, etc. the whole space that ET Panache is in is what I am interested in. I am tinkering with the possibility of can you look at those 3-4 channels. This would be using ET Now factory which has the resources already there. Beyond the markets, can this system generate 3 or 4 other children and this is a strategy or thought which can eventually as a cluster be more viable.
What about the launch of a new Hindi channel?
I don’t put it past us to get into Indian languages and I think it is very essential if you ask me. I think it is a great shot in the arm for my distribution strategy if I had one or two Hindi channels. Maybe one more player like Zoom will only improve my distribution prowess on the ground. We are working on it. We are working on a (Hindi) GEC plan, but working on plans does not mean that it will get launched. We are also working on other spaces such as regional, youth and kids, Hindi news and luxury and the expansion of the English segment. So as of right now they are in vapour stage and not even water stage, to get it to ice stage will take some time. If you ask me 3 to 4 years down the line whether I would see such channels coming to reality, I definitely see that happening.
Critics claim that Times Now is courting criticism for ratings, what are thoughts on this?
There is no controversy of ratings from our point of view. We do not doctor ratings or do anything that a lot of people may be doing. We never do it. I will never do it personally and the company will definitely never do it. For us ratings is the result of a lot of good work that we put out. Fortunately in English genre or youth, ratings do not matter. We are not CPRP driven businesses, they are ER driven businesses and so it actually doesn’t matter. It doesn’t affect us at all a business level. We got 72% viewership on Shame in Sydney program, so what are you going to complain about when it is working.
What is the reason for the rebranding of Times Television Network to Times Network?
As a media group from newspapers and radio, when we started doing television and we started doing it one it one by one. So we had Zoom, then a year down the line Times Now, about five years down the line ET Now and four years down the line, we had the movies piece. The only common thing is that they have been launched by the Times Group’s owners. But each of these brought in new project themes, new marketing, content and sales people and they have passionately worked at it. So that is a classic situation where you have five logos and the Times Television Network is a loose sort of a marker that it belongs to this. The Times Television Network logo while it was doing the work was not really being harnessed and there is a need to start telling that story. Obviously a logo change was a good event for me to start making that pause, break and move forward. While we were doing that we had to look at what can be done to make it contemporary and what can be added or subtracted that would make it more relevant 2016 onwards.
Overall we have unboxed it. It is a more contemporary style I would say but it also gives you a feeling of a more easy-to-work-with kind of an organization. It is not a boxy, stuffy or 20th century kind of look. We have added an important mnemonic on top and that is the pyramid. That is because our insight is ours is a nation in a hurry; people want change and people want to make the change. In the foreseeable future and we find ourselves entertaining and informing this very generation.
While the entire television network is talking to an entire pyramid, talking to half a million or 0.7 billion television viewers, the work that this group is doing is talk to those specific set of Indians who are not just wanting change but are making this change. The tagline (Now or Nothing) is not always going to be there. It is telling you how we will succeed and why we do what we do.