No mainstream,puhleez. We’re Indie: Aditya Swamy

06 Feb,2014


The news of the channel had been outed a few weeks back. Cola brand Pepsi and music channel were coming together for what was a first in Indian broadcasting: a co-branded channel. There’s the lifestyle channel that NDTV runs, but the Kingfisher brand isn’t suffixed in NDTV Good Times. This association, albeit that of a three-year title sponsorship, has it upfront. And extends beyond the title and assorted sounds-and-sights.  Test signals of the channel are on and the formal launch will happen later this month. Aditya Swamy, Executive VP, Viacom18 and Business Head, MTV India spoke to MxMIndia on the channel, its differentiators and whether Coca-Cola was fine with the association given that Coke Studio airs on MTV.


So tell us more about the Pepsi MTV Indies?

Well, the Indies is our latest offering, is part of the MTV network and it is and will be a reflection of all the sub-cultures that are at play in India.  If MTV looks at pop culture, Indies will be sub-culture. So everything that’s not the mainstream.


Will we see desi or international Indie music?

The heart of Indies is Indian. It’s all that’s happening in India. There will be a short sneak into what’s happening in the world, but the heart is Indian and the heart is music. We are building a library of Indies films, a lot of graphic designers, visual artists, street artists, graffiti people and obviously Indie music.


It’s will be one feed for HD and SD. From the distribution point of view, it will only be digital, and not on analogue. So It extends seamlessly into the website and the app as well. You can create your own playlist, you can follow geek calendars, you can follow artists, you can post your pictures. Then there’s an Indie music discovery app.


Like Shazam?

It is an Indian version for Shazam and recognizes Indie music. It is developed inhouse by our digital team.


Getting to the basics, how did this association with Pepsi happen?

 Well, we always wanted to launch the channel. I think we were always excited about doing it from doing independent music on MTV.  Having realized the need for dedicated destination for it, we went to people who felt they would be interested and invested in the space. When we went to speak to Pepsi, which is a leading youth brand and is doing a lot of connect with young people, they were very positive and forthcoming. We shook hands in the very first meeting and said we are making things happen together.


Specifically, we first met them around August-September last year and we are launching the launching it  in February. So, 60 days from the day we first met them we had everything in place!


What’s the timeframe for the partnership with Pepsi and tell us more on how it will extend beyond the channel?

We have a three-year partnership with Pepsi where they are the principal sponsors on the channel. Apart from this, the channel identity and a lot of subtle integration into the environment like you will get to hear a can opening etc. and you will get a can opening, you will get a bottle people plugging.


But there’s a lot, lot more. Pepsi will go to colleges every month, find one young band and not just do a band hunt we get them to Mumbai, get them to a studio with a mentor, make a song and a music video for that song and that song will be played out on the channel.  The idea is to create more talent, curate more talent, give them the right kind of exposure. That’s a signature property that we have build with Pepsi. Apart from that, as the months go by, a lot of the college engagement that we do on and they do on their own will come together under the Indies umbrella.


Plus the Indies identity will on their cans and on trucks. Select Pepsi warehouses will be converted into areas for bands to rehearse because the biggest problem that bands have is rehearsal space. These warehouses will have instruments where bands can practise anytime. And even recording equipment. So in a sense it is also giving back to the music industry.


In terms of music, will it be essentially English or Hindi? And what about other Indian languages since a lot of Indie is now in the regions?

Indies will be language-neutral. You will have English, you will have Hindi, you will have regional… Malayalam, Bangla rock, Tamil… It’s music and music doesn’t have any language boundaries. Having said that, you can break up the Indies scene broadly into three buckets. One is the metal rock scene which is largely the head-banging variety and there is a big following for that. The other end of the spectrum is folk. You know the Rajasthani folk musicians; you have Qawallis etc and in then there’s the hardcore Indie. So we will reflect all three and in equal measure. We also have a fair amount of Punjabis because if you see the Punjabis scene is India as well as the Punjabis scene in Britain, there is a lot of music which is great club dancing music.


So, timezones for various kinds of music or just a free flow?

We are breaking all rules of music programming. So it’s not that you will see five Punjabi tracks back-to-back because the idea is that when we hear music on our iPods, we have a mix of songs. I’m listening to Robin Thicke for a minute and the next minute I’m tuned in to Honey Singh and the third minute I’m listening to an Amit Trivedi film song. That’s how our playlist is, a mood-based playlist. It is not genre-based playlist. So you will not see 10 rock songs back-to-back and then 10 Punjabi tracks.


And which language will people be speaking in?

Well it’s actually what that person is comfortable speaking in. The guy who’s doing the section on motorcycle pimping is comfortable talking in English. But we have someone who’s doing a series on street art and he talks purely in Hindi. Today’s generation has no language bars. We are multi-lingual and that’s the language that will be reflected.


Does this mean that you are looking at extending your reach beyond the Hindi-speaking markets (HSMs)?

No, we will look at largely the HSMs because at the end of the day our channel is distributed to the HSM audience. Will the majority of content will be Hindi? Yes. The majority of content between Hindi and English? Regional will be much less…


The Tamil Indies scene is quite happening!

You bet it is. La Pongal band is doing very well. In fact we have a bunch of La Pongal videos with us!


For a channel that got Coke Studio to India, it was interesting that the tie-up for the co-branded channel was with rival Pepsi.

Well, we are deeply associated with Coke. I think they are very clear they want to build Coke Studio as a brand. Whatever energies that they put in, whatever investments they put in, they have always made this bigger. They never sponsored another concert; they have never brought any other international act to India, they have never done another music festival. I think they have a single-minded focus on a Coke Studio. That’s why Coke Studio has gone from just being a TV show, it’s across multiple channels on TVs, its available in DVDs, its available on iTunes, on Gaana, Dhingana… It’s got concerts in colleges but you will see, Coke has not done a single initiative outside Coke Studio in the music space in the last three years.


Are they fine with you associating with Pepsi on this channel?

It’s all about the faith you have in the relationship. If they for a minute believe that we won’t be doing justice to what we have built for them, then they have all the reasons to feel unhappy. But I think what we have delivered for them over the years, the kind of relationship that we share with them, there’s a fair amount of comfort that these are two separate pieces that we will treat with equal importance. Like we used to do Roadies with Hero; we still do Roadies with Hero. But we had a large show with Pulsar. They were two competing motorcycle brands but we never made them feel that one is bigger than the other. We managed both independently. We are a media house and our nature is to work with multiple brands. The question is, are we able to deliver the value the brand comes to us for?


The thing is that Coke Studio is more than just a programme on the channel. And you are trying to do the same with Indies?

Coke Studio is all about curation. Coke Studio is lot about getting artists who never meet, taking them out of their comfort zone and giving them a platform to perform. It’s not about taking really an unknown artist, it’s all about taking people who are great in their sphere. On the other hand, you have to discover talent and put them out over there.  People who have just got 500 views on YouTube, how do you actually make exposed to 20 million people? That’s really the role of Indies. We have to be clear, how we differentiate the two as well.


In terms of advertising, you will obviously be carrying ads of all types? Will you be open to all brands? Will there be restrictions on some brands given the fact that Pepsi is the title sponsor?

Yes, we are open to taking all brands. Obviously, when you have a title sponsorship like the kind with IPL, there is a cap on how much inventory a competition can buy. So there are some competition caps here as well.  But otherwise we open to all advertisements.


So Coke can advertise too?



You mentioned about some non-music shows, so, will see something like Roadies which is the perfect fit for Indies moving in here?

See, the line that I have to keep drawing in my mind is it popular culture or sub-culture? Today, Roadies has become pop culture. It’s become big, it’s become popular.


Popular sub-culture?

Popular yes but the word popular has gone out of sub-culture. But a show like Sound Trippin which is about exploring the country, finding random sounds and making a song with them slowly move it to this space because it is really experimental, it’s very, very art- and creative-driven. It is not mainstream.


So would you shift Sound Trippin and any other shows from MTV?

Right now we have to build our own identity for Indies, so we will create a lot of original programming. If there are some things that exists on both, we would look at extending them but the idea is not to start taking away programmimg from MTV and plant it on Indies. Indies is a new journey that we have started. We would like to build original programming for Indies.


What is the content ration between music and shows?

I said we are led by music, so when I said music it’s not just about music videos but stories around music. So I consider a story about an artist as much as music, I don’t consider it non-music. Around 80 percent of the channel will be revolving around music, music videos and music-related content


Most channels these days give in to some bits of Bollywood. A star from a forthcoming release strumming a guitar or singing away? Will Indies do that?

Films are popular and that’s mainstream. So clearly not films, no film music. But there is very much Honey Singh’s non-film side where a sort of independent music will sit here, a lot of A R Rahman’s new album called Infinite Love which is not based on any film.  It is an independent album that he has created that will find a place. Kailash Kher does a lot of non film stuff.


Can Priyanka Chopra’s non-film stuff come here?

Yes. We are not against film folk. We are just clear about not airing mainstream work.


In terms of launch what are you looking at? Multiple media, on-ground activity?

We will be available on all key DTH and digital platforms. But I think once the channel really gets wide availability, you will see mainstream media kicking in. But this is not about full-page press ads. That’s not the audience were going after. We are connected close to 200 colleges, we really want to go down there and engage with the young people. We have a large digital plan on this, we are looking at strategic partner whether it will be Radio, magazines like Rolling Stone or Rock Street Journal. It’s very targeted at this kind of audience, we are partnering with lot of key music festivals and supporting them and not just going and sponsoring them. We are supporting them in terms of talent, in terms of marketing and that’s how I see this building organically. I don’t see it like a sudden huge mass media burst.


Is it a good time to launch it given the fact that it’s the beginning of exam prep time for most college students?

Well, if you look from media window point of view, I think the first quarter of the year is always the best time for any launch. It gets up the year, it’s before the IPL. A lot of clients look to enter the market; it’s the beginning of the marketing calendar for many people. So I think it is a great time to launch and I look at it this way; over the next three months, by the time summer holidays kick in, we will be up and running in most markets. A new channel launch takes a good 60-90 days to seed. So I think it’s good to give us that seeding period to get into the summer holidays.


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