Raghav Bahl: The Colors of Trailblazing

22 Jul,2013

By Raghav Bahl

 

“Where is the ‘u'”, I exclaimed at our regular fortnightly update meeting in January 2008. An economic cloudburst was about to crush the globe in an unprecedented landslide, but our mood was flush and excited. Sitting across me were Haresh Chawla, Rajesh Kamat, Ashvini Yardi, Sanjay Ray Chaudhuri (RayC) and Vandana Malik. Ashvini had just turned the laptop’s screen towards us, revealing the logo of “Colors”, resplendent in purple, blue and white hues, levitating on a striking flute. “C’mon Raghav, the ‘u’ is so old-fashioned and ‘your’ generation. Today’s Google kids spell it the way the Americans do. It’s Colors, without the ‘u’!” A trail-blazer was born.

 

Six months earlier, we had spotted a wafting opportunity. The reigning market leader over the last decade had crashed to less than 200 GRPs. The extant Number One was cruising unchallenged in the 800 GRPs’ stratosphere. There was a yawning gap, reaching out and luring a challenger to dive into the treacherous blue sky in between the two. Another contender, called Imagine, had strung out its sails. Viacom and TV18 decided to take the plunge too. May the best woman win!

 

TV18 was just emerging from another heady launch two years earlier, in 2006. We had taken the battle to the utterly monopolized English general news market. Within months of its launch, CNN-IBN had dethroned the leader, proving all naysayers wrong. And that victory had taught us a seminal lesson – if you want to enter an arena which is totally dominated by a single player, just do not pussyfoot your entry. Enter with the mindset of a leader. Enter with a full FPC, with drama, comedy, crime, mythology, clutter-breaking reality and big film premieres. Spend a dollop to hurl the brand in the faces of millions and millions – and back it up with a distribution plan which puts you right “next” to the leader.

 

Yes, it would cost hundreds of crores, but we were clear that we would rather burn hundreds of crores in a high voltage launch and win or flame out, as against die a slow and painful death with a hundred small cuts, struggling every day in the Number 4 or 5 position, draining away cash and energy, shoulders drooping, simply waiting for the inevitable closure. We were sure that we had to enter with the mind-set of a leader.

 

So when Ashvini said that our flagship show was a socially progressive drama set in rural Rajasthan, classically shot, with folk music, telling the poignant and uplifting story of a child bride, we said “go for it”. Balika Vadhu was born. Then we said that we will trot out little Krishna in the mythology genre, in place of the muscular and mustachioed cardboard characters that ruled there. While the others were doing urban saas-bahu dramas, we plumped for socially relevant, suburban, semi-rural tales of human spirit and suffering.

 

An expanded TV audience, now residing in “non-metro” India, resonated with our stories. We piled on the pressure by commissioning the reigning star of Bollywood – Akshay Kumar – to helm Khatron Ke Khiladi. I still remember the day I authorized that 9-figure payment to sign him up. My fingers trembled, but our resolve was steely. While every channel was tucking reality away on the weekends, we decided to disrupt with a daily one-hour strip at 9 pm. The women loved Akshay, the men loved him as much as they loved the lissome ladies, and the teens rediscovered GECs to enjoy the youthful Khatras and Khiladis. Even as the economic cloudburst destroyed the world economy in 2008/9, we kept the faith. The rest is history!

 

Five years on, I now watch the mounting energy of Colors from a relative distance, totally sanguine that Prashaant, Manisha, Raj and Sudhanshu have caught the gale – we still have the mindset of a leader.

 

Raghav Bahl is Founder & Editor, Network18

 

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