Shailesh Kapoor: Informed Gut: The Evolution We Need

08 Aug,2014

By Shailesh Kapoor


In channels with original content (which accounts for 70% of all channels on-air), launch periods of new shows can be full of nervous energy. You can sense the vibe around the office. You see busy people all around you. Episodes have to be delivered, marketing campaigns are being planned and executed, media plans are being firmed up, cast members are on city tours and the PR team is in high-action mode, episodic promos are being planned for the post-launch week, etc. Urgency is the operating word.


An average launch would witness this cycle for about three weeks. With about 10-12 launches a year, a channel is in “launch mode” for about 35 weeks every year. That’s more than two-thirds of calendar time, and about 80% of actual working hours time, given that the other 17 weeks would tend to be slightly relaxed.


At the root of deciding whether this 80% share of annual effort delivers or not is, of course, the choice of content itself. Production, branding and communication are important, but marketing axioms tell us that no marketing or execution, however brilliant, can save a bad or an irrelevant product. Hence, spending time, effort and money on trying to make poorly selected content work is like hiring the best pilot to fly a faulty plane and hoping it won’t crash.


Content selection, then, is the all-important starting point around which the 80% effort (and indeed 80% results) pivots. Prudent selection of themes and ideas, when backed by good execution, can deliver magic. But reckless and thoughtless selection of content is bound to create failures.


Having observed various channel cultures closely over the last six years, my estimate of the proportion of total time and effort that actually goes into content selection would be a generous 15%. Money-wise, it would be less than 3% (Here, I talk about money spent on content selection decision process, not on the content itself).


A rational mind would struggle to justify this dysfunctional scenario. It’s like the 80:20 rule with a twist, whereby what has 80% impact of your business gets less than 20% of your resources, while what has only 20% impact on your business gets 80% resources. Why should this be happening?


The umbrella reason comes down to the much-misunderstood notion of “gut-feel”. There is a general sense (and even broad agreement) in the industry that gut-feel should prevail while selecting content. And applying gut feel takes neither time, nor effort or money. Gut-feel is about key people having the ability to take the right decisions, based on their experience and understanding of the category and its consumers.


There is an evident problem with this argument. It is well known that 70% of all new content fails to deliver. So that’s the report card on gut-feel at an industry level. Some of the biggest blunders in our television history have been commissioned by the same creative directors and channel heads who were responsible for some of the biggest success stories. That says a thing or two about the ability of gut-feel to consistently deliver.


That’s where the notion of “informed gut” comes in. Discounting gut, especially in a creative business, is neither recommended nor realistic. But gut, when combined with good evidence, can create an environment where content selection thrives on solid principles that combine creative instincts and business (consumer insights and financial) truths.


Channels tend to sometimes take one of the two extremes – either go only by gut, or when failure rates peak, set a process where gut is given no credence and the entire selection process is driven by business truths alone.


Ideally, gut itself should be seen a part of the business truth. Creative heads with an open mind and a penchant for business deliverables should be able to espouse the idea of informed gut, given its inclusive nature and its essential win-win premise.


Informed gut can be spoken about, even understood. But to make it a principle of running a channel business in India is a tough challenge today. Hope the times to come show us some evolution in this direction.


TV Trails is a weekly column written by Shailesh Kapoor, founder and CEO of media insights firm Ormax Media. He spent nine years in the television industry before turning entrepreneur. The views expressed here are his own. He can be reached at his Twitter handle @shaileshkapoor


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