So why did Turner stop Imagine(ing)?
By Team MxMIndia
Just when the Hindi general entertainment space was getting interesting with the top 3-4 players all coming within sneezing distance of each other in the numbers game, the industry was jolted by news of the closure of Imagine, which given its pedigree, was launched with much fanfare not many moons ago. From shock to sadness and even rage (at least on the social media) admirers and naysayers were seen on an overdrive trying to piece the chain of events that had led to the downfall of the channel that was seeing red for some time now.
This was in stark contrast to the kind of emotions that were flying thick and fast exactly a year ago, when Turner General Entertainment was merged into its parent company Turner Broadcasting System Asia Pacific, Inc. The emotions then were almost similar to what the channel heads were going through when they flagged off the channel more than four years ago, making it one of the most loud and admirable launches of the time. While anticipation and expectations were riding high on the faces of each and every member of the team at launch, the same was the scenario during the merger exercise last year as the company was probably taking a last shot in reviving the fortunes of the network to see themselves battle against the competent lot at the top. But all that was not to be as tribes from the world of media and outside woke up to the news of the channel shutting down yesterday.
Replying to questions put forth by MxM India (read interview), Siddharth Jain, Managing Director- South Asia, Turner International India Private Limited put it out right and straight as he said: “This is a carefully considered business decision based on performance of the channel. We invested substantially and put all possible resources behind Imagine TV throughout. As in any other business, the investments were directly linked to reaching a certain performance benchmark. However, in the two years Imagine did not grow or perform as per expectations and as a result, Turner made the carefully-considered decision to cease operations of the channel.”
Mr Jain is probably being modest in quoting that the channel did not perform as per expectations in the past two years, but the writing was on the wall in the first three months of 2011 itself, when the channel failed to get the viewers and advertisers excited with its most expensive property that cost the company in excess of Rs50 crore to produce. ‘Zor ka Jhatka’, hosted by Shah Rukh Khan, failed to get the desired ratings and didn’t do much to push the channel in the top league as was expected. In fact, in an interaction with the media before the show went live, an exuberant Sameer Nair had vouched that the show along with a few others would catapult Imagine among the top 3 in the Hindi GEC space. Wishful as he was, that was not to be. Its failure forced the thinktank at Turner to come up with steps to plug the loopholes, even if it meant changing its course altogether.
Thus in April 2011, Turner announced the merger of Turner General Entertainment into its parent company Turner Broadcasting System Asia Pacific, Inc. This was followed by the formation of a special committee comprising various Turner officials such as Monica Tata and others along with officials from Turner General Entertainment Network including Sameer Nair and Harsh Rohatgi with the intention of charting out a long-term course for the channel. This move was even vindicated by Steve Marcopoto, President, Turner Broadcasting System Asia Pacific (TBSAP), who went on to explain the need for such a proposal, which was to assess its performance and chart a long-term course for Imagine. But just when the merger was announced, Sameer Nair did the unthinkable by announcing his decision to exit the company.
In an interaction with MxMIndia Editor-at-Large Anil Thakraney, Sameer Nair was quite upfront about the reason for his decision to move on: “I was used to operating independently. After Turner took over, one had to integrate into the Turner system. And this made me just a department head. And so I left.”
Expressing concern towards the chain of events that led to the closure of the channel he said, “I am quite shocked and disappointed to hear that they’ve decided to shut the channel down. They (Turner) seemed to be quite gung ho about Imagine, and I thought they were going full steam ahead. There is a lot of investment and a number of jobs at stake.”
Mr Nair’s exit from Imagine was followed by a few other key exits and the network’s failure to find a suitable replacement. Even attempts to vow the audiences by launching a slew of reality and mythological shows didn’t do much for the channel as it still figured in the #6/7 slot amongst its peers in the space.
In fact, even as recently as 2-3 months ago, the channel was going all out with its promotional activities as it announced the launch of new shows. But that too has been brought to a halt as Mr Jain explained: “We cease all business operations of Imagine TV. The closure is a complicated process as we are ensuring fulfillment of all our business commitments to advertisers, distributors, production houses and other partners.”
The news came as a rude shock to producers, some of whom were in the midst of production schedule (see story: Rude Shock for Producers & Performers). Rajan Shahi who had launched ‘Jamuna Paar’ on Imagine just a little over a month ago, refused to comment on it saying “it would be too premature”. Other producers like Siddharth Tewary, the Sagars who had ‘Chandragupta Maurya’ and ‘Dwarkadheesh’ aired during primetime were incommunicado as they grappled with the sudden turn of events.
JD Majethia who had launched two shows, ‘Jassuben Jayantilal Ki Joint Family’ and ‘Ek Packet Umeed’ four years ago said: “It’s sad and shocking. It was a channel which with the entry of Vikas Behl at the helm of things looked poised for bigger things, a turnaround but that was not to be. It’s a huge setback for producers and for those who work on a per day basis. A daily show means a minimum of 100 people associated with it in various capacities and with Imagine closing down, it spells doom for them. All that talent and labour goes down the drain. It’s a loss of about Rs200 crores worth of yearly business for Imagine and the industry on the whole.”
Veteran producer Dheeraj Kumar of Creative Eye Productions said: “It was an overnight decision but it could have been done a bit smoothly. I am hopeful that Turner with its huge umbrella of channels would give us a chance of providing content to them. I am optimistic.”
Ever the one to influence viewers and attract the attention of the advertisers too, content was one of the biggest setbacks for the channel, going by the buzz emanating from experts. While the start for the Imagine was glorious, as it did manage to attract sizeable channel share (see chart below) and even break into the 150+ GRP mark at some point, it was an experience that was shortlived. The maximum channel share that the channel attained was 8.5 in H2 2009.
Source: TAM Media Research / TG: CS 4+ yrs / Market: HSM / Period: H1 (Jan-Jun) & H2 (Jul-Dec) 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011 till April 7, 2012
Explaining the implications, Mohit Joshi, Managing Director, MPG said, “The General Entertainment domain is very competitive and each channel is constantly improving content and production. The viewer has many options today and hence has become more ruthless with the channel choice. In spite of a great start, Imagine lost it mid-way. In an attempt to gain viewership and numbers, it resorted to telecasting shows like Rakhi Ka Swayamvar, Rakhi Ka Insaaf and so on. Though these shows could have given a short-term boost in numbers, in the long run, viewers didn’t find the content appealing enough. Also these shows dented the channel image by giving it a ‘sleazy’ tag – which is not acceptable in the GEC domain.”
Divya Radhakrishnan, Founder, Helios Media, said, “GEC is a highly competitive segment and the cost of running a GEC is very high. Imagine had reached a level of stagnation especially in the last six months, however shutting down was not expected.”
Karthik Lakshminarayan, COO, Crest, said: “Imagine had the brand heritage of NDTV and Turner. I think it was sheer bad luck that they eluded that one show which could give them success like Kyunki did for Star, Saat Phere did for Zee, Ballika Vadhu for Colors and Bade Acche Lagte Hain is doing now for Sony. For a GEC to break even it takes 4-5 years so one needs to stay invested for a long period to see the returns, hence the move is a surprise.” In fact, he has a surprising statement to make: “Their overnight decision has caught us unawares and our media plan needs a quick revision. We had spots to go on air on the channel as we talk. I think now those spots are up for grabs and may the best player win.”
Blame customer pull, not distribution!
There are primarily two ways of impacting Channel Trials – namely Consumer Pull led by content affinity, and Broadcaster Push led by Distribution initiatives, explains Mr Pankaj Krishna, Founder and Managing Director, Chrome Data Analytics & Media (see Analysis: How Imagine lost due to consumer pull, not distribution. “Going by Chrome OTS numbers (Opportunity To See – percentage of households that have access to a channel) – Imagine TV has clearly been in the league of the top GECs with an OTS of 95% across HSM.”
According to Mr Krishna, “consumer pull clubbed with Strategic Distribution Planning has a huge impact on the overall performance of a channel”. “Over the years, Imagine lost out on factors contributing to the former.”
It was Terrible Thursday for the staff at Imagine. They had no clue of the closure, even as they had faced yet another week of dismal ratings from TAM. Said Jain on the fate of the staff: “Turner will retain some employees for a transition period and some others are being offered permanent roles within other Turner channels to fill current vacancies. For the other Imagine employees getting impacted, Turner has set up an HR outplacement service which will provide advice on how to write a better CV, interviewing techniques and other job hunting skills. We will also introduce the employees to recruitment consultants, HR professionals from other media organizations and facilitate their new job search. Our focus is to ensure the closure is executed in a fair and appropriate manner for all of them and in full compliance with all legal requirements, employment terms and company policies. We will use our best endeavours to make this as smooth a transition as possible for them.”
There has been much dismay in the brodcast fraternity too. Colors CEO Raj Nayak in fact made a clarion call to the industry via Twitter: “To all my friends in the TV business. Let’s try & accommodate our friends from Imagine wherever we have vacancies in our system.”
The move does spell a warning for other broadcast majors to sit up and take notice. Let’s not forget examples of a few channels that had to shut shop midway including Star One, Zee Next, 9x and Real for lack of vision and programming blunder.
As Ashish Pherwani of E&Y writes in his analysis for MxMIndia (when is it right for a channel to pull the plug): “Over the last decade or so, most unsuccessful channels which have tried ‘overhauls’ and ‘makeovers’ that have failed to achieve their objectives within six to eight months, have eventually shut down their operations.” According to him, for a channel to succeed, “the only asset it has is viewership. Channels which operate without a robust management team, a unique market position, and a defined target audience, won’t be able to garner sustained and loyal viewership. If channel management is able to make these three aspects fit seamlessly together, chances are the channel will succeed as a business, else, it would make business sense to pull the plug!”
Turner may probably pay heed to Pherwani’s suggestions if it ever were to take another swipe at launching a Hindi general enterainment cahnnel channel. Going by its past track record where it teamed up with Alva Brothers to launch Real and proceeded by acquiring Imagine from NDTV, chances are that the network may already be on the prowl hunting for its next prospect. Until then, the network seems content to bask in the laurels of its sister channels that have been showing good growth in the genres they operate in.
Written by Johnson Napier with inputs from Anil Thakraney, Ashish Pherwani, Pankaj Krishna, Kshama Rao, Tuhina Anand and Robin Thomas
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