Sameer Nair: Had it not been for the global recession, Colors would’ve been a billion dollar channel!

22 Jul,2013

One of the finest minds in Indian broadcasting, Sameer Nair was former COO/CEO of Star, and founder-CEO of Imagine (aka NDTV Imagine) that started exactly six months before Colors did and shut down in a little more than five years of its existence. We asked Mr Nair to give us his perspective on the Colors journey and achievements. His views have much meaning because he has worked closely with both CEOs that Colors has had so far – Rajesh Kamat and now Raj Nayak, and knows a lot more than others on what makes for an entertainment channel’s success and failure.


On the launch and growth of the channel:

When Colors was launched I guess it had the advantage of coming with very little expectations. Both the channels that had launched before it – 9X and Imagine – had come with all the hype and hoopla of their founders’ ‘awesome’ track records and they were expected to deliver the goods. In that context, Colors had a relatively unknown and untested team.


It was the remarkable combo of Haresh Chawla, Rajesh Kamat and Ashvini Yardi who worked together, studied the examples of 9X and Imagine – and decided what to do and more importantly, what not to do. They put serious money behind distribution, marketing, content… they went for broke, so to say. Everything fell into place remarkably. Their combination of shows – Bigg Boss, Fear Factor and Balika Vadhu worked wonders for them.


Now, both Bigg Boss and Fear Factor were on Sony the previous years, but Colors made them bigger, better and brighter. In GECs, you need a soap to make the connect and that happened with Balika. Balika Vadhu was the one show that needed to work and it did.


In a manner of speaking, they did what we had done at Star in 2000 with the KBC-Kyunki-Kahani combination. That’s the way it works: once you find favour with audiences, it sort of multiplies and magnifies itself…a halo effect if you will. And once Colors achieved that, it never looked back. Very quickly it went to 100 rating points and then 200 and a few months later, it actually dislodged Star Plus from its eight-year hegemony.


Nothing succeeds like success. And the ‘awesome threesome’ took full advantage of that. We could see from the outside that they always had their foot on the accelerator. They really went for it and kept on adding to their repertoire. Colors stayed No 1 for a while and continued to spend the money.


Putting the Colors success in perspective:

In any marketplace, there will always be the established players and then the new entrants who try and gain market-share and mindshare. It’s never easy to dislodge the leader – for television, audience inertia is a huge factor – but the leader also knows that it can’t go on forever. The question was – what would trigger the change?


First 9X and then Imagine failed to rock Star’s boat; but the Colors performance was unique and outstanding. It deserved every success it got. Meanwhile, the market got a lot more competitive. Star Plus responded very quickly I would say, regained its No 1 ranking and now, pretty much has a stranglehold on the whole game. I think Star’s strong comeback was very commendable in the circumstances.


And then the second phase:

There was a change of guard of sorts. First Rajesh left, then Haresh and then Ashvini, all in quick succession. Around this time Raj Nayak joined as CEO. The company also got larger. In the first phase, it was essentially Colors. Now it became an integral part of the Viacom Group. The successful first phase also resulted in the transaction with Reliance and now we have a bigger, corporatized structure – but still nimble-footed and competitive enough to remain Star’s key challenger.


My favourite Colors show over the last 5 years:

I have never been a regular viewer of Balika Vadhu. I like a lot of their non-fiction shows. I liked Bigg Boss and Fear Factor. Much earlier we had done a Jhalak variation on Star One as Nach Baliye, so that’s something I watch. Now I look forward to 24. But more than any one particular program, you need to do a lot of exciting programming and then strive-hope-pray for that lucky break. I think Colors did that very, very well and when they saw an opportunity, they didn’t hesitate to grab it.


Anything the channel could’ve done differently in the five years:

Nothing at all! As they say, why fix it when it ain’t broke! A few  ups and downs will always happen between No 1 and 2 and it was too much to expect that Star, the lord and master of Indian Broadcasting for 8 long years, would take things lying down, roll over and play dead. Star is a much bigger, much wealthier company led by a lot of excellent professionals and it did the right thing by dragging Colors into that expensive fight. I don’t think Colors could’ve done anything differently. The lucky break was striking the right programming mix. A sort of unlucky break was the global recession. I felt bad for them at the time, because their incredible success was not valued enough by the depressed market. Had the Colors success story happened in 2007, it would’ve been a billion dollar company. And then, we would be writing a pretty different story!


Colors five years hence… in 2018:

I don’t see Colors as a single channel any more. It’s a huge media organization with broadcast and distribution interests. It’s a JV between India’s largest company and US giant Viacom, so obviously it is driven by ambition and great money to back it. It’s difficult to say that in five years from now, Colors will be No 1 or 2 or 3… and I don’t think that’s the correct way to look at things. Colors has made Viacom 18 a major player on India’s broadcasting stage. Of course Viacom 18 is not just Colors just as Star was never just Star Plus; though for a while between 2000-03, it was often perceived that way on the outside.


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