Business – Q&A Channel V ,GM – Prem Kamat
Badly bruised by MTV. Not really. Channel [V] has turned around to the same formula – cut down on music content while adding reality format shows.
The overhaul to fit into the garb of a youth channel is beginning to pay rich dividends. Channel [V] has shored up its ratings and, more importantly, the brand is being polished to cater to an expanded audience base.
Channel [V]’s focus is on the seven metros. That is where its grip on audiences is strengthening as it tries to catch up on market leader MTV.
In an interview with Indiantelevision.com’s Gaurav Laghate, Channel [V] GM Prem Kamat talks about the drive to expand the brand across TV, internet, mobile and on-ground platforms.
It’s been more than three months since the relaunch of the channel. How has the response been so far?
It’s been fantastic. Actually, it has surpassed all our expectations…both from a market share point of view as well as the revenue standpoint. The kind of upswing that we are seeing is absolutely phenomenal. When we started out- even before the revamp when we began changing things around the channel and getting some basic things in place, transforming the kind of music we play, all of it – we were having a 0.2 – 0.3 per cent share. And as per the latest data, our share now has increased to 0.81.
That’s actually a fourfold increase. We were expecting to be at this stage probably in the next five to six months down the line, but we have reached that point already.
Also, shows like Dare 2 Date have become hugely popular. There are websites dedicated to it. There are fan pages on Facebook and popularity is huge.
But how do you see competition with MTV and Bindass who are much ahead in viewership and targeting the same youth audience?
The case is pertinent to the time when we started out. However today, MTV’s share is 1-1.2 per cent while we stand at 0.8. Thus, our gap with MTV has significantly narrowed.
Talking about focused markets, we have been always ahead of Bindass. So for the slice that we take amongst the youth, we have been consistently ahead of Bindass. Specially, post the relaunch.
But the Tam data does not show the kind of growth that you are boasting of. You talked about your focused markets…
As you know, slicing the audiences is a game that people play to suit themselves. We always maintain that we are a youth channel; we focus on the seven metros. So we are an upscale urban youth portal, channel, medium… whatever you call it. And 15-24 is really the age group that we define.
So that’s really the set of people we talk to.
But just the seven metros. Don’t you think youth is scattered across?
It is. But I think it is very important for us to define what our focus areas are and which are the places we wish to operate. When you say seven metros, it still counts to about 55 per cent of the Tam markets. So it is a significantly large percentage of the population.
In terms of consumption, for most brands these seven markets will contribute to over 60-70 per cent of their volumes. In terms of television viewership, these again contribute about 60 per cent of the total viewership. So it’s really about saying that, of course Channel [V] is consumed outside these seven metros, but every time we create something when we use audiences as a guiding force for the kind of stuff that we should be doing, these are the markets that we talk about. And hence, everything that we measure revolves around these markets. These are the set of people we are catering to.
Coming to shows, music channels are shrinking their music content while upping their format shows. Is this the inevitable model?
No, not necessarily. I really believe it depends on how you define your own programming philosophy. I think there are two ways to approach this. One is by staying faithful to the genre, second is by staying faithful to your audience.
At Channel [V] we always say that we are going be faithful to our audience and not the genre. So, if a 15-24-year-old wants to consume a certain kind of content, that’s the kind of content Channel [V] will put up.
We do not believe that we are a channel which stays faithful to the genre. This particular audience has a wide variety of interests. It is our endeavour to try and reflect every aspect of that in the edgiest, the most interesting and most entertaining form possible. That is what you will see happening on our channel as well.
It’s not that Channel [V] has stopped playing or showcasing music. A large part of our content is still music, but we have taken a conscious call to move beyond music and get into a whole series of different things.
‘We are seeing Channel [V] as not just a television channel but as a brand with legs like TV, internet and mobile. In short, an all round engagement platform’
MTV had started the transition in 2007 when it shed its music content from 80 to 60 per cent. Now it is just 20 per cent of their programming. Is Channel [V] taking the same route?
Like I said, it’s not a decision that is driven by the genre at all. While I cannot comment on MTV’s stand on this and how they are approaching it, our take is very simple. We pride ourselves on having a very strong pulse on what the consumer needs and what our target group enjoys. Our endeavour is constantly to be on the ball as far as this consumer pulse is concerned. Our content mix will always be a reflection of this.
If the genre shifts in a completely new direction tomorrow, and the trends indicate that the youth choices are changing, that will be the direction we will take.
Currently, your music content share is 60 per cent. Are you planning to cut it further?
Currently, the kind of yield that we are getting from our shows is very good. But that doesn’t mean that we are going to abandon music and populate the whole channel with shows. There are a variety of other constraints and considerations to take into account.
This is the content mix that we decided on at the beginning of the year in July (as per News Corp’s financial calendar) and we intend to continue this till at least June-end. Then, we will take a call on our content again.
So with your revamped programming, you mean that youth is more interested in reality?
Absolutely. I think it is fairly clear for everybody to see that. And it is not just reality. Reality is just a format, a form of programming. We are not constrained by that at all; we are completely format-agnostic and genre-agnostic. So it does not matter to us if the show is reality or fiction or documentary. What matters is whether it interests our target audience. And we have ample evidence all around us to say that their interests go far beyond just mere music.
For example, our show Campus Buzz can’t be put under any genre. Here students make video blogs and submit it to us. It is user-generated-content on television, but the engagement is also online.
These are things that are representative of how we can push beyond the boundaries of genre and reality and fiction or non-fiction content.
Also the cost of content for these kind of shows is very small?
Absolutely, because a large part of it is user generated. We do guide them to some extent. But you are right in saying that the cost of producing something like this is very very small.
But isn’t the cost higher for other reality shows like Exhausted, Kidnap, or [V] The Player?
Different shows have different cost structures, depending on what you are doing with it, where the shoot is, who you are getting and length of the shoot. But yes, on a ‘per half hour’ basis, creating your own custom programming is more expensive than playing music. But it also offers you the advantages of creating something that is unique, something that is differentiated and something that is much more of a fit with your brand personality. And most importantly, creating something that the audience will find engaging and interesting.
But is the revenue also looking up?
Yes, because what these shows also do is provide you with customised solutions for clients. When someone (client) comes to Channel [V], it’s not merely for the reach or for the conventional matrix of reach and frequency. They select a channel like us for the kind of engagement that we provide with the audiences. I think it is fair to say that a consumer of Channel [V] is far more involved with the brand than let’s say the consumer of a regular conventional GEC (general entertainment channel) or a movie channel for that matter. That is really the advantage we can offer to the advertisers.
What we bring to the table is a far higher degree of engagement with the viewers and far greater avenues of engaging with these people than just playing a 30-second commercial.
Coming to promo properties, Channel [V] has created characters like Quick Gun Murugan, Lola Kutty and Sampoo Singh. Has the focus shifted now?
Not really. Probably there has been a lull in the last two years for various reasons. But it is not that we have stopped. For example the ‘Bai’ on Channel [V] that says Itne Paise me itna hi milega. It’s something that the Bai said on Channel [V] and has become a very popular lingo.
We are also creating more characters. Bai has been joined in by Bhai, her brother who is on-air right now. Things like these catch on with the audiences on their own…we can never promote these. Our best bet is to create these characters and put them out to see what happens. It will be very arrogant to believe or to say that we can create these characters at will.
Do you see the no-appointment viewing pattern as a problem for youth channels like yours?
For certain shows yes, for certain shows – no. Channels like ours don’t have the kind of appointment viewing that a GEC has. Therefore, all of us follow an alternative model of airing a high number of repeats. If on a GEC a show repeats once or twice, on a channel like ours it will repeat 11-12 times. It gives us an opportunity to far more sample that show.
The business model for us is a combination of attempting the scheduling in a different manner and finding new avenues for more consumption, whether it’s online or mobile.
So that is why you are more bullish on internet?
Exactly. If you see our revamped website, only 10 per cent is about the content that we put on TV. It is our firm and unshakable believe that people don’t go online just to see what is on TV. Hence, even if the website caters to the same kind of audiences and the same areas of interest, it does so in a manner that is suitable much more for the internet.
You will find a lot more articles and advises on youth-centric issues, love and relationships. It is created exclusively for the internet, though it is for the same set of audiences.
How does the strength of a network like Star help Channel [V]?
It gives us a very strong platform to promote our shows. It is also a very strong source for driving in efficiencies, weathering cost efficiencies, and learning. Because of the network, we have far more channels from where we can learn or cross pollinate ideas. Also, we can source content on a much larger scale, which gives us a cost advantage.
What is the way going forward?
You will find that we will continue to do shows. Internet as well as mobile and digital will become important for us. On-ground is also another important proposition. We are planning to take our brand on-ground on a grand scale.
We are seeing Channel [V] as not just a television channel but as a brand with legs like TV, internet, mobile and on-ground. In short, an all round engagement platform.
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