& the countdown begins for Rajesh Iyer…

16 Feb,2015


This interview almost did not happen. Many moons of leading the marketing function from the front have made him believe that it’s work that should do the talking. Not words. Some recent dostis and a bit of pushing did the trick though.  The objective was to read the mind of the Business Head of the world’s newest general entertainment channel: &TV. The finer details can follow.


Rajesh Iyer isn’t an old Zee hand, having spent his past at Colors and earlier with Star India and adshops Publicis Ambience and Ogilvy & Mather. It is also his first stint at independently heading operations of a big budget television business. But despite that fact all eyes are on him from within the broadcast ecosystem and the Zee group, the nerves are in place, and he and his team are looking forward to the launch on March 2. Excerpts from a free-wheeling interview with Pradyuman Maheshwari:


Two weeks to go to the launch, what are the preparations like?

Quite honestly, we’re pretty much there. There are a couple of pieces we need to put together. We’ve been working on this project for the last eight to nine months now. We pretty much displayed part of our content piece at the press conference. That’s in place, our distribution is in place. Our marketing and promos have already kicked in – in and outside the network. The activities, primarily the marketing piece, will intensify as we go ahead. These are the three or four pieces we’re working on – the content, distribution and marketing. And, currently we’re well on course to launch.


There are GECs and there are GECs. Is there one clear message to the trade as to how &TV will be different from the others?

Our view in the group is that good content is good business and, it will always continue to be that way. The typical question is always how will we be different? The answer to that is it’s not about being different. It’s about how will we be different? That’s the key differentiation we need to make. As a GEC, by definition, one is playing the mass game. You’re catering to mass India. If you’re very different, then you become niche. Therefore, you can’t be very different from the marketplace. It’s a question of how you’re different from the marketplace and that you’ll see in the content and slant we put up. The love stories are universal. A love story is a love story but the slant which we take is going to be slightly different. It’s going to be contemporary, progressive to a certain extent.


This applies to many media entities. If you remove the masthead, one paper looks like the other. Similarly, if you remove the logo of the channel, one channel looks like the other. Obviously, there is a challenge out there.

The first task is to get audiences to sample the platform. Are the shows going to be extremely different from what’s there? To answer your question, if you remove the logo, will it look like another channel? I don’t think so. It’s a question of what position you want to occupy in the marketplace as far as the GEC is concerned. The content will define that. The consumers will position us. We won’t position ourselves. They will slot us. Let them slot us, we won’t position ourselves and go into the market saying, this is what we are. Our job is to give them wholesome, good, variety entertainment.


As someone who’s looked at the marketing of various channels over a period of time, how tough or easy is the job of creating a perception for a channel?

It’s not an easy job. We need to have a good product, fundamentally. We need to give people accessibility. Distribution needs to be strong and you need to create perception and enough entry for them to come and sample. There are so many products which are there currently. The choices are so many that if you don’t create entry, accessibility, meaningful, good content, you don’t have a chance. You’ll need to create all of these for people to come and watch. You need to have noticeability.


Did it worry you that Sony Pal TV channel failed?

Of course! Any channel failing isn’t a good thing. I was hoping that Pal will do well. It gives the audience more choice and opportunity to see what they want to and competition is good in this category. Pal is currently on air. I’m sure they have their own strategy and they’ve chalked out their year map and stuff like that to go forward. I would like Pal to have succeeded.


I remember Zee had EL TV and Zee Next. Although Life Ok has done well having not followed the beaten track, the second channel of a large network with a major player like Zee TV is always tricky. All the best eggs tend to go to the flagship!

I’ll answer your question in two parts. The first part of your question was Zee Next. We’ve learnt from our mistakes and we obviously won’t commit the same again. To answer your second, are the best eggs going to go to Zee TV? This is a different franchise, a different brand. We’re putting everything into this basket as well and the kind of investment we put into this channel is in line with any GEC. The question of the best going there and we getting second best does not arise. We’re playing in the same marketplace and we’ll go with the same ammunition and firepower. It’s not the same eggs, we’re multiplying the eggs.


Is Zee TV for you as much of a competition as a Colors or Star Plus or Life OK?

I’ve said this previously. There will be sibling rivalry. It’s like the Williams sisters playing a tennis match. Both of them want to win and when the time comes we’ll pair up to play doubles to beat the other networks.


But you are advertising on Zee!

It’s our channel, part of the group, part of the same family.


Will the promotion continue even after the channel is launched?

Till we find our feet, it will. Once we find our feet, it may or may not, but we’ll feed into each other.


A channel like Zindagi has carved a niche for itself but isn’t doing too well on the ratings roster. Clearly, good content doesn’t really make for good ratings!

Zindagi is premium Hindi content and we’re hoping that market will grow over a period of time.


You’re launching &TV when the World Cup quarter-finals would’ve started, and then there’s the IPL post that.

As far as the World Cup is concerned, it’s being played in Australia, the matches are between 9am and 6pm. That shouldn’t affect us too much. Our primetime starts well after that. As for IPL, we launch five to six weeks before that. In the last two-three years, the IPL hasn’t dented the GEC space much. We believe in our content. If it sticks, people will come and watch us.


In the past, we have had some channel launches and the IPL kinda killed them.

IPL is a very established and good entertainment brand. There’s no question about that. It’s just for 45 days, we’re there for the long haul. It’s not dented the GEC space that much, a few channels have grown too during IPL. We’re aware of IPL and our launch date. We’re confident we’ll stick around.


Moving to your driver show. You’ve obviously had Shah Rukh Khan work for you. The media has written about it, people are talking about it. But he’s possibly one of the least bankable stars on original television.

I think, Shah Rukh Khan is the biggest star in this country. He’s done extremely well in the cinema space, like we all know. If you look at the ratings, he’s done very well in the television space too. We believe this product Sabse Shaana Kaun perfectly aligns with Shah Rukh and he was the perfect match. It’s about the common man, Shah Rukh is an inspiration to the middle class. Everyone wants to be like him.


Wouldn’t Salman have worked better?

We were very clear from Day 1 that it had to be Shah Rukh Khan.


But two high profile Shah Rukh shows have failed in the past. You had Paanchvi Pass on Star Plus and Wipeout on Imagine. Both were produced by Big Synergy. Given this, don’t you think you are betting rather big?

Shah Rukh was a perfect fit for the concept. You can’t predict the fate of a show. It may or may not work, just like the movies. But Shah Rukh is the most bankable Bollywood star today. He’s India’s massiest star. We’re a mass channel. The product works for him and he works for us.


What else do you expect to drive the channel?  Razia Sultaan looks good…

We’ve faith in all our properties. Razia Sultaan, Begusarai, Bhabhiji Ghar Pe Hai which is a sitcom. Badi Devraani is a story based on a Marwari family in Kolkata. We have all of that as well and a few other shows which we’ll soon display.


You don’t have anything from Ekta Kapoor as of now.

Not yet. Well, anyone who’s giving us good content we’ll be glad to have them on board.


Many GECs have a lot around Gujarati families. Is there any community you’re looking at?

Not really, we’re not profiling it that way. As long as we get good stories, the backdrop can be different..


It’s a good thing to say that but it’s all about ratings, finally. Is there a target you have in GVTs/GRPs? Is it three digits in Week 1?

Of course, we have a target on GRPs. We’re hoping viewers accept us. That’s what our focus is on. Is it going to be two or three figures? While we do dream, I think it’s too early to put a number to it.


Are you dreaming big?

We’re dreamers and there’s no doubt about it. We obviously want to be accepted and successful. We’ll see how it goes. Rating is one of the success measures, not the only one.


A bigger googly than the World Cup or the IPL are the new ratings from BARC which will come out from around mid-April. Is that a worry?

At the end of the day, BARC will expand the universe. There are more people who’re going to be metered on this one. Preferences, behaviours don’t change overnight. The consumer behaviour won’t change with the rating system. They won’t switch channels or watch some other programmes because there’s a rating system which has changed. As long as the show is doing well, it’s accepted, we’ll be metered on that. We’re not too worried. As a matter of fact, we’ll be happy. With more people being metered, it gives us more opportunity.


We’ve seen in print readership where the new IRS system was released with a new establishment study. There was a bloodbath after that and we’ve had no fresh round of data. I’m sure BARC is taking care of all of that, but the worry does exist for some of the existing players. In a sense, it’s also an opportunity for you, right?

We need to wait till the BARC data comes up. At this point in time, it’s hypothetical to give you a direct answer on that one. We’ll have to wait for the BARC data to come out but we see it clearly as an opportunity for ourselves.


How LC1-friendly are you going to be?

From a marketing strategy, we’re also focusing on the LC1 belt.


I see less of LC1 content in the mix…

That’s part of the LC1 content that you see. We’ve to still unfold the other part of the content. We’re no one to differ on what’s LC1 and what’s Metro content. It’s universal. When we give them good content which is relatable to them, we will be fine. That’s the premise we’re working on. Some movies work well across single screens and multiplexes. We’ve done extensive research as far as content is concerned with consumer innovation studies or ethnography across cities to get feedback on the kind of content we’re putting across.


As you are getting set to launch, there are others too gearing up to welcome you! Are you looking over your shoulder or just going ahead with what you’re doing?

We’ve got to do what we’ve got to do. I’m sure the competitive set is also geared up. We’re gearing up and are confident about what we want to achieve so we’ll stay the course.


One last (or second-last) question: there has been a fight between Zee and Colors for the No 2 slot. So guess it made sense for the Zee bouquet to have a Colors-like channel which is where they decided to launch &TV and it was best to have someone from that stable head it?

We were obviously looking at a second or a mainline GEC channel. It’s not about competition, we’re not reactive to that. We’re reactive to what the consumer wants and that’s exactly what we want to dish out. We’ll give what the consumer wants and not what the competition is doing. We’re very clear on that. Our philosophy is that.


Any message to the Colors team as you get set for launch?

(laughs out loud!) That’s a tough one! Quite honestly, I wish them very well. Each of us have to do what we’ve gotta do. We’re just starting off.


That last one was meant to provoke and figure if there are any chinks in the relationships. Even as it’s evident that &TV will fight Colors fiercely for audience mindshare, the camaraderie (and more importantly goodwill) between old colleagues and friends hasn’t faded away. Now, not all former employers and colleagues do that. Ask us.


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