<b>Mautik Tolia</b>, EVP - Programming, Neo Sports Broadcast Pvt Ltd

When it comes to mobile, the rights are a little strange. Neo may go on mobile, but it may vary from event to event. A football event may have a very different right structure from that of a badminton event. There would be a Neo on mobile, but it would be programmed very different from television. There would be extremely short formats or mix of different sports put together.

e4m by exchange4media Staff
Updated: Feb 22, 2012 12:00 AM
<b>Mautik Tolia</b>, EVP - Programming, Neo Sports Broadcast Pvt Ltd

When it comes to mobile, the rights are a little strange. Neo may go on mobile, but it may vary from event to event. A football event may have a very different right structure from that of a badminton event. There would be a Neo on mobile, but it would be programmed very different from television. There would be extremely short formats or mix of different sports put together.

Mautik Tolia is Executive Vice President (Programming) at Neo Sports Broadcast Pvt Ltd. Prior to Neo, Tolia had worked in the television industry in various capacities, having been associated with top media companies like Nimbus and UTV in the areas of creating, developing, writing and producing television shows. His filmography till date includes more than 25 shows across various multiple genres and television channels. Tolia has over a decade of work experience in the field of television.

He is a member of the advisory board of IISM (International Institute of Sports Management). He has been a regular visiting speaker at various industry conventions and media institutes.

Tolia holds a BA (Economics) from Mumbai University. His other qualifications include MA (Communication studies) from University of Leeds, UK, followed by MscEcon (International Relations) by Research from the University of Wales, Aberystwyth UK.

The 3Cs - Cricket, Cinema and Cooking – make up his other interests in outside work.

In this interaction with exchange4media’s Suraj Ramnath, Tolia speaks about Neo’s new show launches, marketing strategies, sports on mobile and much more...

Q. What are the focus areas of Neo for the New Year? Other sports become a big focus area for us. Hence, the new programming line-ups and two big events like Euro and French Open are going to be the main focus areas. Apart from that, all other sports like PGA Tour, Davis Cup, WTA and so on, will be our focus areas as well.

Q. Given the stiff competition in the sports genre, how does Neo Sports plan to draw viewers? It’s a three-pronged approach. First is through differentiated programming given the audience preferences. So when we have live cricket going on, we come up with loads of options in our programming – it is not just about the cricket match but everything around it, almost like a 24-hour cricket marathon when a live match is going on. We have extended our programming – we have programmes done at the venue, interviews with the players, the gossips, and analysis done from the studio with our ‘Extra Cover’ property by experts. We showcase the highlights in an interesting way. So, for us it is not just about the two-hour straight block, we understand how different people like to watch highlights differently. Hence, there is a five-minute highlight; a half an hour highlight called ‘Ballebaaz’, which is only about the batting performance of a batsman; then there is ‘Fatafat Highlights’; a one-hour version, a two-hour version, and now we also have ‘Gendbaaz’ – all these highlights cater to different preferences of the audiences as now-a-days one doesn’t have the time to sit and watch the entire match. That’s our second strong differentiator.

The third differentiator is our focus on non-cricket sports, which will go up this year. We had started this focus last year with Copa America and this year the focus will be on World Series Hockey (WSH), the Italian and the German leagues in football and then the European Championship. It’s the second biggest event after the Soccer World Cup. In tennis, we have the rights for French Open for the next five years, so that’s going to be big for us, apart from the WTA and Davis Cup, which we already have. Another focus area for us has been badminton since the Indian shuttlers are doing so well. Thus, there is huge amount of focus on other sports as well.

Q. Please tell us about your marketing strategies. We have primarily been using our vehicles of live cricket across our properties and have been using that to promote the line-up for 2012 so that top of mind recall is there. The Euro, WSH all have been added to six to seven months of marketing strategy going ahead and to create awareness about them. Apart from this, there will be a big push just before the event through print, television, syndicated columns and other mediums. It’s like a two-pronged strategy – one is soft marketing, using our own channels as a platform, and then the hard push, which will happen 4-6 weeks before the events.

Q. What is the advertisers profile for both the channels? The advertisers profile is not mainly because of the channels, but the events. So every event gets a different type of advertiser. A PGA Tour will get different type of advertisers than that of Copa America or cricket, so it varies from sport to sport and show to show. Hence, there are brands like Docomo, Intel, insurance companies – we have a varied mix, so it’s difficult to profile our advertisers. We have Intel on one side and Fortune cooking oil on the other side. As I said, it depends on event to event and which advertiser is active at that point of time. For instance, cricket gets a lot of FMCG, telco, automobile and insurance companies.

Q. Neo Sports offers all other sports, excluding cricket. What are the current rating and ranking of the channel? It is completely event based. Every event is targeted at a particular group. It is thus a premium niche channel. If there is a PGA tour, the TG would be upmarket, affluent, SEC A+ across three cities, so you look at those ratings. That wouldn’t reflect on a TAM meter vis-à-vis say what we would get this year for Copa America. So we really don’t look at it as a GRP game per say, whereas a Neo Cricket would because that’s a channel for the masses. Similarly a football or tennis or rugby World Cup would be looked at in a different way. So it’s not really a TRPs game in that sense. You would never come to know the ratings for an F1 race or Barclays English Premier League as it is focused on a specific TG.

Q. It’s the non-cricketing season in India right now. How is Neo planning to keep its viewers interested in terms of programming? The way it is structured, December-January is a low period for sports since all the sports take their winter break. So we have lined up event happening during the New Year season, what we call year-end programming. This gives fans a chance to see what happened during the year and also look forward to what’s happening in the year ahead. All our properties are geared up for that. We have shows from Christmas to the New Year.

‘Sports Zone’ takes a look at what happened internationally in the year gone by, what will be the focus for next year and how India has done in sports in 2011. It will also look at who are the new players that emerged in 2011 and have done well. ‘Cricket Central’ would look at how the year gone by was for Indian cricket. We won the World Cup, so it will look at how the team has performed at the ODIs and Tests and what is in store for 2012. ‘Dial S for Sports’ will look at what the sports calendar for 2012 looks like – this covers football, motor racing or badminton or the Davis Cup. It will also take a month by month look on what lies in store for Indian cricket. ‘Academy’ will have a marathon master class that will go through all the nuances of cricket, while ‘Cricket Tadka Maarke’ will feature gossips.

Thus it is very much like a GEC strategy that we have adopted and will do a whole lot of specials to catch up on the best moments in sports. When the sports season starts, we will revert to our regular programming.

Q. Neo had plans to launch 17 new shows and re-launch its popular shows like ‘Cricket Tadka Maarke’... How are the plans shaping up? Are you looking to launch any show in the New Year? We have launched and re-launched half of our line-up. The idea was to keep refreshing our content, so we kept adding new shows, which meant keeping some shows on air while some would be going off air. Of the new shows announced, ‘Dial C for Cricket’, ‘Cricket Central’, ‘Sports Zone’, ‘Cricket Tadka Maarke’ and ‘Ballebaaz’ have been re-launched and are doing well in terms of ratings. In terms of new show launch, we launched a property called ‘Dial S for Sports’, which has shaped up very well as it gives a platform to new sporting talent other that in cricket. It focuses on sports like hockey, football, squash and other sports which normally don’t get a platform. Most of the big players, administrators and stakeholders have come on the show and it has done well. We have launched another show called ‘Gendbaaz’, which is about bowling performance and it has done well too. The show ‘Jodi No 1’ is about partnerships in cricket.

Other property that we have launched is Academy, where we have got some well-known cricketers to guide budding players. We have been able to rope in big guys like Collingwood, Walsh and Bishop, who have been giving a lot of coaching tips and advice on different aspects of the game. It will be a regular feature and has got off to a good start. We have also launched a new show called ‘India’s Next 11’, which provides a platform for emerging Indian talent. The focus is primarily on domestic cricket as well as club cricket, where we are looking at the young talent. We came up with our own ratings system for that on who was playing well in Ranji Cricket and who is knocking the selectors’ door. Through our shows in the past, we have found the likes of Varun Aaron, Ajinkya Rahane and so on who are now in the Indian team. We have started special editions of interviews of sportspersons along with Sports Zone Specials. So, it’s an interesting and ever increasing line-up and the idea is to keep continuing with it. We will continue launching new shows through the New Year and expect to complete our line-up by March or April 2012.

Q. Comparing both your channels – Neo Cricket and Neo Sports – which channel dominates in terms of TVR? Neo Cricket has a lot more TVR than that of Neo Sports as the channel is not meant as a high ratings driver. It will drive ratings when there is a big event, but the idea is to reach a core audience at a given time for a particular sponsor. So, if I am a badminton lover, then I get all the badminton events, but then I can’t add up the same audience with that of golf as it is completely different so it is not a+b+c = z kind of a game.

Q. Quite a few GECs are planning to go on mobile so that viewers can watch the shows on the move. Does Neo too plan to go on mobile for cricket lovers so that they don’t miss out on the ball by ball action? When it comes to mobile, the rights are a little strange. We would like to put up our programming, but it may depend on right to right. Yes, Neo may go on mobile, but it may vary from event to event in terms of the rights that one has. A football event may have a very different rights structure from that of a badminton event. There would be a Neo on mobile, but the way it would be programmed would be very different from that of television. So, it would be extremely short formats or a mix of different sports put together. It wouldn’t be in the same avatar as the one that you see on television.

Q. Do you think mobile TV as a platform will become popular and important as time progresses? It completely depends on the bandwidth issues, because sports on mobile TV will be driven by live telecast. For any football match or cricket match, you need live streaming that lasts from an hour to about eight hours. First, you need to be able to clear up the bandwidth, then it depends on the proliferation of smartphones in India. If those two things go up exponentially, then it will become a big market because people would want to watch the live match on the move and you wouldn’t need to rush to the nearest television set. So if you can remove these two roadblocks, then it will really go up.

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