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'TV is a hits and misses business'

Last updated on: August 18, 2009 10:53 IST
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For Sunil Lulla, being the director of Real Global Broadcasting, the company that launched the Hindi general entertainment channel (GEC) REAL in March this year, couldn't be easy.

One, the channel was launched at the peak of the economic downturn. Two, in the genre, REAL has remained a laggard with the lowest gross rating points (Star and Colors oscillate between 270 and 300 GRPs, while REALs GRPs have declined from 14 to 8 in the last five weeks) and a negligible one per cent market share.

Lulla, the former CEO of Times NOW, refused to share the economics of the venture but agreed to field questions on what went wrong with the channel launched by Alva brothers Miditech and Turner International. Excerpts from an interview with Shuchi Bansal:

REAL didnt get off to a big start in March. Was the channel poorly promoted?

For sure we did not get off to a start we aimed for. Some elements worked better than the others our reality shows worked better than fiction. We were satisfied with the way we promoted our channel.

However, media has become very competitive. Earlier, five to six weeks promotion was enough. Today, one needs a larger promotion window to break through the clutter. On hindsight, we feel that we should have invested in a sustained period of marketing.

How many hours of original programming do you have in a day? How many shows does Miditech produce?

We do three hours of original programming every day. To put things in context, when I was at Sony some years ago, we did similar hours. It is all about how much can you exploit original programming. TV is a hits and misses business.

So what makes for a hit on Indian television today?

I am not an astrologer to predict it with some confidence. Rakhi Ka Swayamvar worked for NDTV Imagine. Bidaaiis working on Star Plus. So both reality and fiction are working on prime time.

REALs GRPs are negligible and have declined further since its launch. Does it mean that the urbane, upwardly-mobile, young TV audience that you were targeting does not exist?

Experimentation is the key word here. The neo-Indians form a major section of the urbane and educated population. Although our first experiment may not have shown great results, but it did show that the neo-Indians (outward-looking, progressive) are ready and willing to experiment with new forms of entertainment content and are even looking out for more. We are committed to cater to their distinctive needs and you can be sure that well be back with more.

Sach Ka Saamna on Star Plus is also for progressive Indians, even though the channel does not say it targets neo-Indians.

Yes, the lesson is that television is watched by everybody.

This means that REAL will change its strategy when its re-launched?

As I said before, television is a hits and misses business. Sometimes you get a hit and sometimes you miss. TV is a family viewing pastime but within that you can appeal to a particular target and schedule programming accordingly. I dont want to comment on what we are developing. We are on the shuffle deck. We will come back with a new offering for the audience.

By when?

By the end of the year. I dont want to put a date to it.

With this kind of performance, will you get second round of funding from Turner? The rumour is that Turner has refused to make further investments in the venture.

I dont subscribe to rumours. Real Global Broadcasting is a privately-held company equally owned by Turner International and Alva Brothers Entertainment. Alva Brothers Entertainments relationship with Turner International goes back many years and we intend to continue to work together. As indicated earlier, REALs budgets for the launch and development were optimum. We will be ready to share our future plans, including investment plans, very shortly.

Is your cable distribution inadequate? Also, at 19 per cent, REALs reach (percentage of people whove watched the channel for at least a minute in that genre) is much lower than Stars or Colors reach of over 60 per cent each.

The cost of reaching viewers has increased significantly and so have the barriers as viewers tend to flirt with programmes across genres. REAL reaches 82 million people. Having said that, its reach was not meant to be as wide as Stars. We had thought it closer to 24 per cent. REAL was not designed as a mass reach channel. If you want more reach, you spend loud and serious money. If you think that makes a sustainable business model for you, you could spend. Else you could build reach over a period of time.

Channels are said to be buying placement to get the GRPs.

Some are, some arent. But if you spend that much and your programming is a miss, then thats a shameful waste of money.
At what rate is the Hindi GEC category growing? Is growth sufficient to sustain 12 Hindi entertainment channels?

In 2008-09, viewership grew by approximately 9 per cent. There are significantly more TV homes and viewers to be added. Expansion of this space while economically challenging has created choice for viewers. Frankly, advertising growth is better than expected. Also, perhaps all the channels think that they have a larger probability of hits.

Besides, the industry is always in a consolidation stage. When someone closes down, someone sees it as an opportunity to enter the business.

Will REAL offer somebody the opportunity to enter the business?

I did not say that. We are working on a plan.

Sceptics say that Hindi GECs are sold on GRPs and not positioning. Do you agree?

Ratings show how many people are spending how much time on a channel or a show. The channels positioning decides its shows, which in turn decide the channels popularity. No viewer watches a channel because of its ratings. But they watch shows and create ratings. Positioning and, hence, content is what decides the success of the channel.

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