Shailesh Kapoor | The all-important C-Word

30 Aug,2012

By Shailesh Kapoor


There’s never a dull moment in the broadcasting industry. Fortunes fluctuate every Wednesday morning, when text messages and e-mails with weekly ratings do the rounds of senior management across channels. A large part of the organization’s resource during the day is then spent on analysing, slicing and dicing every possible data point to understand how the week-that-was performed. Often, tactical programming decisions (now we even have a word for it – stunting) are taken to improve the prospects of the half-week that remains, and the new week that’s about to start on Sunday.


Some such tactical steps may work. They may give a boost to the ratings next Wednesday, or the one that follows thereafter. Being an ardent supporter of (good) quantitative research, I have never looked down upon the over-analysis syndrome that some channels tend to exhibit. However, it does make me ask myself – To what effect?


Are you making a fundamental change? Is anything “really” changing? Three weeks later, it will be back to square one anyway. And then, you will start all over again. More tactical data crunching, more stunting, more mathematics. The more you try, the more you realize the futility of it.


In this maddening age of weekly ratings, there is a word that is hugely under-rated. A word that hardly gets spoken of, let alone understood. A word that is way more important than (what-have-now-become) clichés like differentiator, positioning and strategy. It’s the C-word. C for ‘Consistency’.


Consistency, in this context, is about doing most things right all the time. Every single time, not just sometimes. Every single time, not just when the pressure of ratings has piled up. Every single time, not just when you can feel the heat.


Our television industry inherently operates on the premise that with creative products, you can’t do things right all the time. It is popular belief that if you launch eight new shows in a year, four or five of them are bound to fail. Or that if you introduce four new anchors, only one may actually make an impact on the audience. And the most important one: If you make ten promos, only two or three of them will do their job.


In most other industries, success rates of this nature will be frowned upon. In television, the concept of failure rate has been slowly institutionalized. Now, I don’t claim to have any magic formula. No one does. But between 25% success rate and 100% success rate, there is still a yawning gap of 75%. Being consciously aware of that, all the time, is what consistency is all about.


Why is consistency important? Because the consumer rewards consistency more than he or she rewards an isolated success story. Would a housewife rather than a channel that has six good programmes, or watch a channel that has one excellent programme and five poor ones? Would you like to watch a music channel that airs good music all the time, or one that airs a few awesome songs interspersed between many not-so-awesome ones?


Lack of consistency manifests itself in various ways in our television business. Some examples that one gets to experience very regularly:


1. The programme was doing very well, so the content head put it in auto-mode, handing it over to a junior executive, taking his own eyes off it in the process. The story begins to drag and the audiences begin to drop out. By the time the ratings paint the real picture of consumer dissatisfaction, it can be upto eight weeks. The damage is done. The programme has now officially entered panic mode. From being a winner that could have been nurtured by ‘consistently’ focusing on consumer satisfaction, the programme is now a problem child no one knows what to make of.

2. The channel had about 3-4 back-to-back successes. So new formats and slots are opened up in the name of experimentation. Nothing wrong with that, as long as experimentation is not confused with a carte blanche to go wrong. ‘Experimental content’ is launched without consumer validation. In the process of doing it, the 3-4 successes have started losing attention. Back to point 1.

3. The channel has decided it will run at least two promos per break. Enough analysis has gone into validating the importance of this promo time. Gradual build in viewership can also be seen as a result. Then comes the festive season, and the promo time is cut to less than 30%, to accommodate excess inventory. Once Diwali is over, we will go back to two promos per break, it is said. But in effect, you also go back to day zero, when you put that policy in place.


I will excuse you for finding my tone cynical. But I have found that it is much easier to communicate a complex, non-linear mathematical model, or a layered and nuanced consumer thought, than the incredibly simple idea of consistency. Of course, there is enough intelligence in the system to process this simple idea. What may be lacking is the realization that consistency can win you far more success than isolated acts of brilliance can.


Malcolm Gladwell’s ‘The 10,000 hours rule’ says that in order for an individual to master any complex skill, he or she must put in 10,000 hours of practice. That’s about four years of hectic work. In television, that’s way too much time to wait for. But can you give something you believe in at least 13 weeks, and do it well? Really, really well?


I often dream of entering a television client’s office on a Wednesday morning, when everything is calm enough for it to be a Tuesday. Nobody is panicking. There’s a plan being executed over a year. The plan has been debated, tested and firmed up with inputs across stakeholders. A plan that the leadership believes in enough to back it whole-heartedly. A plan that has a sense of assured confidence, almost cockiness, around it. A plan that is Wednesday-proof.


Possible for this dream to come true? But then, we won’t be Indians, right?


Shailesh Kapoor is founder and CEO of media & entertainment research and consulting firm Ormax Media. He spent nine years in the television industry before turning entrepreneur. He can be reached at his Twitter handle @shaileshkapoor


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2 responses to “Shailesh Kapoor | The all-important C-Word”

  1. Himanshu Agarwal says:

    Good one Shailesh…

  2. Himanshu Agarwal says:

    Good one Shailesh…