Ormax Media: Dus Saal Baad

07 Aug,2018

 

For an industry where crores are invested on content, marketing and business strategies, it was a no-brainer that there was a crying need for an organised third party research and insights analysis. A decade back, when it started operations, Ormax Media addressed that need and there is no looking back as it has moved on from research to strategising for business, from television to across media and with a very special focus on films. On the occasion of its tenth anniversary, MxMIndia convened a roundtable with Founder and CEO Shailesh Kapoor and his core team members and Partners of Ormax Media, Keerat Grewal and Gautam Jain. Read on…

 

How would you say has Ormax Media’s decade-long journey been?

Shailesh Kapoor (SK): I think we have two or three phases in these ten years. The first 3-4 years was when we launched.We knew there was a need gap. There was no company catering to media and entertainment as a category from the consumer knowledge perspective. So most of our work in that periodwas based on the research, whether there it was testing or tracking… various forms of qualitative and quantitative research.

Today, we have moved on from being a research outfit to, what we would like to believe, is a more consulting space, where we use research only as an input. Even when we are doing research, there is a strong element of forecasting and looking at other data pieces and trying to make sense as a category beyond what a research company would do. Research,hence,becomes just a tool in solving the larger business problem.

In this avatar, we are working on business plans of new channels or companies, evaluating whether one should invest in a certain business for example, acquiring a certain brand or certain company or partner with them.Such strategic questions have started coming to us. And that’s been a significant evolution.

 

You’ve spoken about this before, but what got you to start Ormax Media 10 years back?

SK: It was a fairly instinctive decision that time.There seemed to be a need gap because there was a lot ofnegative talk that research got from the media industry. Television was the only industry that time usingconsumer research. Films have started doing it over the recent years and there was no OTT at that time. There was a general disbeliefon whether research could tell that if a certain show will work or not. There was a near-rejection of the idea that you can go to consumers and get answers to very obvious, relevant questions, related to content.

So, we started with that premise and within the first year itself, it was fairly clear that one way to standout is to create products which cater to common needs. For example, testing of television content is a widespread need across various channels. So we created the Ormax True Value for that. Many people can get consumers into a room and show them a film or play a script out to them and get their feedback, but the way we are doing it is a very product-centric approach, where there is a forecast given as an output, along with various research measures. That differentiates  us. There were many people testing content, but nobody was forecasting success, e.g. how much box office will this film do if made with so-and-so star.

 

And how much time will you take from the germ of the idea to the setting up of the company?

SK: Only one month. Once we started, we had to be in the market and start getting some work and see how it goes. The recession had set in that first year, soon after we started in July 2008. It was slow for the first 4-5 months but I think from December 2008, we had all the top GEC players on board, such as Star, Sony, Zee,Colorsand Imagine. So we knew this is working and can only grow from here.

 

M:  How many employees then and how many employees now?

SK:  Till March 2009, I was the only one. Of course, we are part of Ormax group, and in the initial days, there was strong inputs from the non-media team at Ormax, especially in the area of qualitative research. Khushroo (who heads Operations & Technology) and Keerat joined in March 2009, and Gautam joined in 2010. We are 19 of us now, not counting the agents at our CATI (Computer Assisted Telephonic Interviews) setup in Surat, from which a lot of our products are served. We have actually been able to scale upsignificantly without growing the team size in the past few years. We had more people two years ago when we were doing half the current volume of work, for example. I think this scaling up has been one of the big positives for me.

 

Let’s speak to you, Keerat. So what made you join Ormax Media?

KEERAT GREWAL (KG): It was an unchartered territory for me. I was on the marketing side – first in printand then into television. To be very honest, what made me join was Shailesh’s equity. I had worked with him for three-four years prior to that.

We were in touch,so I had a sense of the kind of work that’s happening and the kind of clientele that was beingbuilt up within the first few months of Ormax Media. Researchwas almost like a necessary evil for most marketing and programming people in channels that time. I could sense that Shailesh wanted to change that, and that’s an idea that appealed to me.

 

How would you say has the journey been, because you obviously interfaced with the clients, people who pay the money. People may be good to him as CEO but they will tell you the real thing.

KG: Clients evaluate us on the work we do, and your entire equity has been built on the back of our work, because of excellence in the kind of output that we bring to the table. It’s been nine-and-a-half years here for me. I cannot recall a single meeting where the output has been fundamentally challenged.

 

The output not been challenged is significant.

KG: It is very significant. I don’t have a background of a research company, but we know that research numbers tend to be seen with a lot of cynicism. What we brought on the table was a kind of understanding of media & entertainment business that we knew for a factthat most research companies don’t have. Over the years, the whole approach was to be able to build insights and an understanding of content that nobody can really match us on.

 

Gautam,the same question to you. What made you join Ormax and how has the journey been thus far?

GAUTAM JAIN (GJ): When I met Shailesh, I had the thought that research in the films space is something that’s very interesting and has never been done. There was no one who could answer questionslike whether a film would work or not, which poster optionshould one go with, etc. These were very basic questions, but no one to answer than in a way that’s credible. One thing that I sensed when I first met him, was his huge passion for films. That passion resonated with me because films were my area of interest too. So I felt, okay let’s take that risk.No one has done this till date, but that doesn’t mean that it can’t be done.

 

And how do you think that the journey has been for you as you look back?

GJ: It has been amazing, extremely enriching. What we are doing had never been done before in the films business. To ask audiences what they think about a film or a trailer or a script was looked upon as ‘How can you do that…that’s a sin!’ From there to now, when we test films, scripts and trailers every week has been quite a journey.

 

What according to you has been the high point, the turning point where you think things started moving very rapidly.

GJ: I think the phase when we moved from pure-play consumer research to the forecasting of box office business.With that shift came a long-term association with most of our business partners. So what would earlier be a particular project or a two-month activity turned out to be an annual association. That’s the change the forecasting piece brought with me, both in the way we looked at ourselves and as well as the way everyone in the industry looked at us.

 

Keerat, what about you? What do you think was a turning point and a high point according to you?

KG: From being seen as a research company initially versus being seen as a media insights andconsulting firm over time has been the big shift. This shift defines us today and how our future is likely to be. There’s been a progressive and very stable shift in the kind of work that we are doing. We are moving to very complex briefs from our clients. It’s going beyond just content. It’s going beyond just saying how well would this show do or how’s it doing right now.Our work today is about understanding categories at a more deeper level. Changes are very rapid with digital coming in. So to be constantly updated on the trends and have the right data to address the right business problem is imperative in a consulting approach.

 

Shailesh, you have heard them both and now,what according to you was the turning point, and what has been the high point?

SK: I think one way to look at it is from a domain prospective. In the first two-and-a-half years, we were largely a TV-oriented company. 90% of our work was television. So when films work started in 2010, and then picked up momentum in 2011, that was the first important break.Today, many people in the media and entertainment industry, including those not in the film industry. know us for the work we do in films. Generally, Bollywood has that kind of aura that it gets people interested.

To get the film industry to start using something which is not a part of their system, it is not something they havebudgeted for, was a challenge. In television, all channels have a research budget. But there was no such thing as a research budget in a film’s P&L. So, to get them to spend money out of something which is not even budgeted for, and make them actually believe that it is going to be of value was challenging. It has been a slow process from 2010-11 to now,but we started seeing results from 2015 onwards. When 20-25 studios are working with us regularly today, we feel we have been able to change the thought process over time. That was one important landmark. The next in continuation has been  digital space which is very recent, 2016-17 onwards.

 

You mean OTT?

SK: Yes. While the OTT category has existed in some form over the last five years, our work in this category has really gained momentum over the last two years. So form being a TV company, to TV plus films, to TV plus films plus OTT, plus all the radio, print and other work too.

If I were to talk about another turning point, somewhere around 3-4 years ago, I felt very strongly that we have reached a point where we had built our own proprietary data using our tools &products. This data was built meticulously over the years since 2008. At some point, we started getting the feeling that if we are in a meeting and we are asked a question, invariably we have some data in your system that has at least an indicative answer.

We still spend 15-20% of our direct cost on building our own understanding and our own data. It had nothing to do with marketability. So when the data started to come together, it gave us a great sense of confidence that we have invested in data and we are sitting on it and it gives us a huge ability to understand trends and trend movements over a decade.

 

So what specifically would be the high points for you in these last 10 years? Any specific instances?

SK: Instances for us in our work come down to specific meetings. Allthree of us will have specific meetings that we would remember and cherish. For example, I remember when we presented to Shah Rukh onRa.One.We had tested that film and the tests results were also not that encouraging, and we had to tell him that. We were just a three-year-old company then. He received it very well. It was a very important film for him, but he took the results with great maturity. Over the years, we have developed the ability to engage with creative people very well, to be able to talk their language without encroaching upon their creativity.

 

So as you look back, is there anything that you,if you were given an opportunity to relive these last 10 years, that you would have possibly done differently?

SK: I think one could do many things differently. For example, one of the approaches that we took was that in the first five years, we didn’t hire anybody from the research industry. That I think was a good move, but it also meant setting up all processes by ourselves. We believe we are very unconventional compared to the rest of the research industry in India in terms of our systems and processes. We set up processes on common sense and not by looking at what others are doing and saying, let’s do the same thing. But that’s something we are proud of and would not want to change if we went back in time.

But something I would like to change if given a chance is about service orientation. We are in the service business, so we are a service provider like a restaurant or a hotel. We can’t run away from that. We are not selling a physical tangible product. We are selling a service. It may be knowledge-based, but it also has a strongexperience component to it.

In the first two or three years, we were so pre-occupied creating our products and creating differentiation that we did not focus on the service experience. We probably did not understand the client side as well. One day, someone told us that you guys are very good but you are not service-oriented. It stuck in my head. I remember the exact moment when it happened. And the next day onwards, our approach to the business changed.

 

Keerat, anything that you look back and would do differently?

KG: I would concur with Shailesh’s point on service orientation. I think now, because we are so collaborative in our approach to projects, we have a great service orientation. But that’s somethingwe could have done differently in our early years. But I also understand that it comes from experience and it also comes with having a better understanding of one’s domain.

 

Gautam, anything that you would look at?

GJ: In the first 2-3years, we just kept doing things which we felt could be interesting. And it interested us and many of our products are, in a way,outputs of that work. I think we could have gone ahead and done more of those things in the middle period when we were scaling up. That kind of risk-taking and openness to innovation is something really worked for us and that’s what we want also to continue going forward.

 

In the last decade, the industry has also grown considerably. Has the business got more complex now? And what would you attribute as reasons for the success of Ormax Media?

SK: I think the business will always get more and more complex because the person consuming has more choices in terms of variety of media, and in terms of options within media. The decision-making process also keeps getting more complex. In TV, for example, the rejection rate of new shows is at an all-time high. People can just reject something by just seeing one promo. Earlier, they would watch it for probably2-3 weeks and then decide whether they want to go ahead or not. I think that is the sign of the times. Both television and film traditionally in India have operated on 15-20% success rate. Only 15% of the shows that launch or 15% of the films that are released make money. So, we have always questioned, can we help our clients take that 15% up to at least50-60%, if not even higher? That’s been the thought process. The investments that it takes are miniscule. If we have to test a new show idea extensively in 4-6 markets as a GEC, I will be spending, say, 15 lakh rupees ,which is less than the cost of two episodes. The show will run for thousands of episodes. There is no financial argument to not doing this. Because it is too small an investment from the perspective of what you are getting out of it, by actually avoiding potential failure. In today’s complex media world, this is more relevant than ever before.

 

If you look ahead at say five or 10 years, and given that you have moved on from being a research firm to an insights and consulting firm, what are you next steps?

SK: I feel there are two ways of looking at it. One is that in our estimate, we are doing only 15-20% of what we can do. For example, there are 200 scripts that studios are seriously considering in a year as far as Bollywood is concerned. We are probably testing only 40-50 of them. So that’s 20-25%. There are still 150-160 scripts that are not being tested. If you look at this from a scalability point of view, we are nowhere near saturation. That’s why, in the last 2-3 years, we have been growing fairly well.

The second area which we tried 3-4 years ago and spent a lot of time and money on it was the Ormax Stories initiative.We said we understand content, we understand consumers, and we should be able to be involved in some way in active creation of content. We had some takers for that, but nothing really went on air. Our understanding from that exercise was that unless you have skin in the game, unless you have invested upfront, nobody wants to share your risk. So, if we say that these stories will work, the other side will still say: ‘But I am funding it. What if it doesn’t work?’ Also, the channel doesn’t want to go through the grind of attaching a production house to a story that Ormax believes in, because normally, the production house comes to them with a set-up including a director, writer and showrunner.

We felt that if we have to me more involved or engaged in content creation, we may have to invest in it in some way. I think that’s the space. It’s right now very vague in our mind. Right now, some of it is happening through testing and some of it is through ideation, where we are involved in workshops at the client’s end. We help them structure some ideation processes with their creative team and come up with new ideas. But if we can partner with like-minded production companies or channels or studios and co-create stories or ideas, in a way that we have some stake involved in that, that could be a bigger play. The contours of it are not very clear in terms of the structuring as of now, but the idea has great merit.

 

 

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