Business – Q&A Rajesh Kamat,CEO Colors
Milestones are not set or based on numbers — they only show you the direction. The reach also matters. It’s easy to aim 350 GRPs, but what does it really mean? It means nothing if you don’t know what kind of audiences you are looking at – the stickiness they generate and the kind of shows they watch on your channel. When we said we have to be one of the Top 3 players, we did not aim for 350 GRPs. We were the 11th player in the game. We clearly said that from No 3 we have to be No 2, from No 2 to No 1 and from No 1 to a consistent No 1. The next thing was to consolidate our position and widen the gap. But we never really targeted 350 GRPs.
Rajesh Kamat, CEO, Colors
What was considered impossible has been made achievable through the likes of the affable Colors CEO, Rajesh Kamat. Since Kamat came into the scene, Colors has been the eye of the storm in the GEC scope, successfully breaking the rules and engraved traditions that were once pinned to the industry. His FMCG experience, plus the learnings from his former bosses – Sameer Nair and Peter Mukerjea, has only levelled his triumph. Both of whom he respects even today, despite having now outperformed them in the GEC ratrace.
In this interview with the impact editorial team in Mumbai – Pradyuman Maheshwari, Shamsad Shaikh, Johnson Napier, Priya Ramkissoon, Rishi Vora and Cassandra Serpes – Kamat admits to using their tactics, ones which Nair used during his stint at Star. But by no means is Kamat resting on his laurels, he is now looking at widening the gap further between Colors and its competitors.
Kamat and gang proved it could be accomplished in less than half that period. With apt strategies, cost-efficiencies, offering value to advertisers and commanding premium, he is well on track to meet the break-even point before target. With ‘Bigg Boss’ and ‘Fear Factor’, he proved that reality lifts up the ratings of the channel, driving new viewers towards fiction. With 28-30 original hours – without the afternoons – Kamat has proved that you can still make it to the top. The key, as Kamat says, is getting the buzz from non-fiction shows, and delivering the goods in terms of numbers through fiction programming.
The barriers have been broken and more milestones are yet to be achieved. Read on to know more about the myth-breaker extraordinaire and now, impact Person of the Year 2009, as he takes us through his strategies, beliefs and personal achievements…
Q. So, how has been the journey so far?
A. It’s been a good journey. An enjoyable one, more importantly. Before the launch, we spoke of being a formidable player in the Top 3. We reached 81 GRPs and No 3 in the first week itself. After reaching that position so early, the momentum was with us, which then enabled us to set milestones on a monthly/bi-monthly basis. So, 350 GRPs is a very good number to achieve. It’s easier to reach to a number than to sustain it for a long period. Now, the challenge is to stay there and better our current standing.
Q. Last week MS Dhoni said the same thing about team India’s standing in Tests…
A. First of all, thanks for the comparison! (Laughs)
We managed to shake the industry up right from the beginning. When I’m saying we have shaken up the industry, I mean we broke habits. Classic example of this would be the ITC case-study. How do you really get a smoker to try your brand when he is so addicted to the taste and habit of some other brand? It’s a task. Similarly, our task was to break the habit of the household lady who is addicted to a channel or a particular show.
So it started off with that and our strategy for the first phase was to get maximum eyeballs. There was a kind of fatigue that had set in, but you really didn’t know what they wanted.
Q. You used the ITC example to stub out competition…
A. (Laughs) I don’t think we’ve stubbed out competition because clearly, there is a lot of flame out there.
Q. What were the insights you considered while catering to the audience who were experiencing fatigue in what was being offered?
A. In India, we are witnessing a social flux. You’re talking about Section 377 being legalised on one side, and on the other you’re talking about cultural values. You’re talking about Salsa on one side and Bharat Natyam on the other. That is India, and we had to play according to that. Hence we have ‘Balika Vadhu’ and ‘Na Aana Is Desh Mein Lado’ on one end of the spectrum, and there is ‘Bigg Boss’ on the other. The challenge was to engage the viewers by offering refreshing content and by reinventing ourselves time and again. We started off with non-fiction, captured the fiction space, and now we are experimenting with movies. So it’s a wholesome entertainment destination. If you manage to do that, numbers will follow.
Q. Going back to the day when you touched 81 GRPs, did you think at that point in time that you would touch 350 GRPs?
A. Milestones are not set or based on numbers — they only show you the direction. The reach also matters. It’s easy to aim 350 GRPs, but what does it really mean? It means nothing if you don’t know what kind of audiences you are looking at – the stickiness they generate and the kind of shows they watch on your channel. When we said we have to be one of the Top 3 players, we did not aim for 350 GRPs. We were the 11th player in the game. We clearly said that from No 3 we have to be No 2, from No 2 to No 1 and from No 1 to a consistent No 1. The next thing was to consolidate our position and widen the gap. But we never really targeted 350 GRPs.
See, our first mandate was to get the eyeballs. And then to get consistent eyeballs which means that the audiences have to keep coming back to you. On the advertising/profitability front, we have now started stabilising our rates. Initially we did short-term deals because we knew that the graph was going upwards. We wanted it to stabilise at a certain point and then set the benchmark. Advertising ticked in at the rates we wanted, and the next milestone was of the distribution going big.
Q. A myth that you managed to break was when you went pay within eight months of launch – something very unusual for any new Hindi GEC that gets launched today…
A. Yes. And that was one of the myths we broke that you can’t go pay so early in the business. So while that happened, we were also achieving numbers consistently. We have reached 350 GRPs, and we have still not launched the afternoons. We still don’t have a full-blown weekend. So these are certain things that we will look at in trying to better our offering.
Q. Why not launch in the afternoons?
A. We decided not to launch the afternoons till we meet the yields of primetime. We have replaced four-five shows that were not delivering as per expectations. Today, most of our primetime shows are doing well and I am getting the yields I want. So now I can launch the afternoons.
Q. How well are the GRPs monetised? Are you charging the consistency premium now?
A. Absolutely! Advertisers buy for reach, and a GEC is a reach-building channel. So we’ve managed to get our reach premium. There was a phase in between where we did not get our consistency premium. But come April-May, when people saw that our numbers were picking up regularly and that it was not a flash in the pan, we commanded the consistency premium as well. Our numbers are listed in IBN 18 results. So, if you study that and probably this quarter, a lot of other myths will also get shattered.
Q. Aren’t you doing too much in a short span of time?
A. If you go to a restaurant and ask for an assorted roti basket, you pick and choose whatever you want, and not everybody will have all the rotis. A GEC is like an assorted roti basket. That’s the approach we have taken from day one. We wanted to be a wholesome entertainment channel.
Q. Does it stop there?
A. You don’t have to keep changing. You offer what the consumers want and at the same time give them the unconventional, because any Indian household would eventually go back to the staple diet that is dal-rice. And we don’t want the dal-rice combo to keep changing.
The Indian housewife wants to be adventurous, she really wants to experiment. But there is a big difference between purchase intent and purchase and that becomes a judgment call. To what extent is she willing to push? If you really want to rebel or get her to rebel, will she do it? I don’t think so. Her form of rebellion, or what we call, a progressive lady is Anandi’s mother-in-law (in Balika Vadhu). Anandi’s motherin-law is a person who challenges her mother-in-law, but through her husband. She will never take her mother-in-law head on. And that is progressive India!
Q. While on Balika, does the show continue to be your best bet even today?
A. Not really. Today, ‘Uttaran’ has crossed the ratings from ‘Balika Vadhu’, and so has ‘Lado’ occasionally. Even a ‘Bairi Piya’ is very close to ‘Balika Vadhu’. When we started off, I remember I had said we are a one-show channel, then it became a two-show channel, and eventually a three-show channel. Today, there are five to six shows that people watch. Also, from a business standpoint, it’s important your other shows also fire.
Q. So it is fiction that is driving the GRPs?
A. As I said, fiction serves the purpose of the staple diet. Non-fiction is what brings you the buzz. If you study the pattern when ‘Bigg Boss’ came on, its impact was not only on ‘Bigg Boss’ but also on the rest. ‘Bigg Boss’ rated 3-plus. It did not rate 8. But ‘Uttaran’, ‘Lado’ and all these shows started going up because when the channel starts buzzing you have enough new guys coming in. We timed our non-fiction well, and then to bring the audiences hooked on to fiction, we boosted up the storylines in a way that the new guys coming in will get the old ones as well. And you clearly saw our fiction shows picking up. When we started off, Fear Factor opened at a 2 on Day One. ‘Balika’ was 0.8, and then it went up to 8.
Q. But don’t you think that people tend to get tired of certain formats and types of programming? Does that worry you?
A. I think the worry is less for a GEC than say for a kid’s channel. Kids play with toys and leave them in a day or two, but a woman stays on for a year or so which is good. (Laughs)
Q. As a programmer, when do you decide that you need to change tactics when a particular kind of show is not doing well?
A. It’s a temptation that most of us fall for. When something is working, you try and replicate the same, and then you start betting on the same kind of formula. One of the challenges we posed to ourselves was to ensure that a trend doesn’t stretch beyond a point. When two-three shows are working, you keep experimenting with new shows. For example, if we had just bet on Balika then shows like Uttaran and Lado would never have arrived. We keep trying. If your question is that if viewership can be taken for granted – the answer is no.
Q. So how long, therefore, will a show like ‘Balika Vadhu’ last?
A. It started off as a child marriage show and became a show of an unwed mother. Then it moved on. How long will it last? I don’t know. We keep checking the interest levels of the consumers and accordingly change tracks. The key is that since your other shows are also doing well, if, one show dips, you are content that the other three-four shows are delivering. So, while your staple diet is in place, you keep experimenting.
Q. You’ve experimented with your fiction programming, but you went for the tried and tested formula when it came to non-fiction…
A. In non-fiction, what you do in the show is when you differentiate. Take ‘Bigg Boss’, for instance. Twelve people in a house – it’s as bland as that. Who are the 12 is where you experiment. You experiment with a Monica Bedi, you experiment with a politician – Sanjay Nirupam. Then you experiment with a Rahul Mahajan in the house, you get a Jade Goody in too, and the fun is when Jade Goody meets Shilpa Shetty. That’s where the experiment happens.
So from a profitability standpoint also there is another myth that non-fiction shows can’t be profitable? I would request you to check this quarter’s IBN 18 report. That should answer a lot of questions.
Q. How significant are your profits when it comes to non-fiction?
Q. What is the kind of rating you attract when Amitabh Bachchan features on Bigg Boss?
A. It has taken the show to the next level in terms of scale, credibility and monetisation. The combination of Amitabh Bachchan, Bigg Boss and a platform like Colors is something that any advertiser would be willing to put money on.
Q. Do the numbers reflect that?
A. Absolutely. In a non-fiction show, you don’t sell only ratings. No deals are done on cost per ratings basis. But it’s an indicator of a trend.
Q. Are you looking at homegrown format shows?
A. Yes, you can expect a couple of shows launching in that area.
Q. What will replace Bigg Boss 3?
A. Two fiction shows. The promos for them have already begun. If you see our pattern, we do a Fear Factor, Bigg Boss and then get back to fiction.
Q. What is the next big dhamaka?
A. I will meet you in about 15 days.
Q. In what direction will the announcement be?
A. It’s not going to be as big as last time.
Q. A new show?
A. A couple of new shows coming in.
Q. So how many more seasons of Bigg Boss and Fear Factor can we expect?
A. Don’t know. Typically, you never do it for three and five years. In a format show, the first season is always hyped. The second season gets you the ratings, which are higher than the first. But it won’t get the same attention from a publicity point of view, but it’s okay as far as you get the numbers. In the third season, if you don’t experiment in getting a new twist to the format, it won’t work.
Q. You have put so much money into the business, and at the end of the day a Rakhi Ka Swayamvar takes away fair amount of ratings and revenues…
A. … which is fine. When you’re in a competitive space, you need to understand that it’s not only ‘Rakhi Ka Swayamvar’, but also cricket; it’s also a show on Star Plus and a show on Zee, which is why fiction firing well is important. Cricket is now nearly round the year. Will there be competition? Absolutely! Shows like IPL suck out a lot of money from advertisers, but advertisers who don’t want to be on cricket at that time will be on GECs. Last year, during IPL, we had a decent run.
Q. Which has been the most defining moment for the channel in the whole journey?
A. Achieving 81 GRPs was the defining moment, and not the time when we crossed Star Plus as a clear leader. That’s because the 81 could have been an 18!
Q. Why that?
A. I am saying 81 GRPs as the defining moment, because then you know you are in the game. A good start was required and we had Sachin Tendulkar opening. What happens after a good start is your position in the Top 3 is subjective. But you know you’re in the game, because if we wouldn’t have started well, nobody would have noticed us.
Q. When we met a few months back, you said you spend 10-15 per cent more on carriage fees than others. Do you still do that?
A. No. Soon after that we started collecting money. I am not saying that we are not spending on carriage fees. We still do. I am saying that the graph of carriage fees is going down and the graph of collections is going up.
Q. You go international soon?
A. Yes, in January, we are launching in the US and the UK. Hats off to Zee for the kind of business they’ve set up internationally. It’s a benchmark that we would want to set for us, and it’s going to be a really tough benchmark.
Q. Zee also mixes a bit of news in their international channel. Though it’s an old Doordarshan format, are you also trying to do that?
A. We are looking at that – not in the first phase, but we will be looking at that. Typically, an international Indian household looks at one Hindi channel as a destination that has everything in it. The first thing you do is get the international viewers hooked onto you, get them to subscribe you, and you then start with speciality content. You will have news, which is Indian news for them, and then there will be local news and that’s where the network clout comes in.
Q. It’s not called Colors in the US, right?
A. It’s called ‘Aap ka Colors’ in the US.
Q. Why such a change in name?
A. I can’t talk about it now.
Q. You make news each time a case is filed. So, any publicity is good publicity?
A. On ‘Bigg Boss’ that’s absolutely the case. The entire philosophy of ‘Bigg Boss’ is that if you’re not in a newspaper everyday, the show is not working.
Q. This year you didn’t make too many headlines. Or did you?
A. We made as much as last year. This year, the participants are not as controversial as they were last year, but we got good characters and not controversial people like last year. With Amitabh Bachchan we were able to create the buzz.
Q. All set to enter 2010 with a new set of promises?
A. Promise to whom is the question. There are too many stakeholders. Honestly, there is a promise to the Board, which is profitability; there is a promise to the consumer, which is differentiated content; there is a promise to the team that they will get an international offsite and more money (laughs)… From an advertiser’s standpoint, the promise it about good ratings, reach, servicing and going beyond a 30-sec spot. So, a lot of promises and a lot of challenges.
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