"The strength of etc is that we attract viewers, even without spending" ETC Networks CEO J S Kohli

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When CAS went kaputt last year, ETC Networks CEO JS Kohli put his energies behind strengthening the broadcast wing of the company. etc music and etc Punjabi have been consistent good perfomers and the time has come, says Kohli, to add to the bouquet. The astute businessman has zeroed in on two key expanding genres - a southern music channel (where he admits distribution will need some beefing up) and a first ever complete religious channel in Punjabi.

In an interview with Aparna Joshi and Ashwin Pinto of indiantelevision.com, Kohli details his plans for the two channels, poised for an imminent launch, and outlines the ambitious new plans ETC Networks has been chalking up.

Excerpts from the conversation -

 

When is the music channel for the South launching?

We are working on the details but it should launch in a couple of months. We are awaiting uplinking permission. There is only SS Music in the South and we are encouraged at how it has fared. There are many music channels in the Hindi domain and there is definitely scope in the South. SS Music is the only music channel in the South by default, and then again, it started as a means to promote the lotteries in the region.

The fact that MTV is also eyeing that space is all the more reason to go there. Unfortunately, we cannot have the same model there as we have for etc. The Tamil industry does not believe in pre-releasing film promos and music videos. So our revenue model will depend more on advertisements than promos. The content will only revolve around music. There will not be diverse content like astrology shows which have done well on etc.

 

You have plans to get into the feature film business. Could you elaborate on these?

For Punjab, we have definite plans. We are hoping to release at least one film by the end of this year. We have not yet decided whether we would be targeting the Hindi film market, though.

 

Would these be co-productions or would you be doing it independently?

They could either be co-productions or we might go it alone. We are looking at medium budget productions.

 

And what about the television front?

On the television front, we are planning a mega serial on the history of Sikhs. The religion does not allow the actual depiction of the gurus, so we will be trying to show history after 1700. The history is earth shaking and not many people know it. It will be as big as the Ramayan and the Mahabharat on television. We have not yet appointed a production house. We are in the process of tying up funding. The script is already there and has been ratified by the SGPC (the Shiromani Gurudwara Prabandhak Committee).

 

How is ETC music faring vis-?-vis the competition?

I would like to correct the perception that MTV is the number one music channel. If you look at Tam data over the past six months there is no room for any doubt that etc is the number one channel.



There is another misconception that while we are ahead in 4+, MTV is ahead when it comes to the youth TG. We are number one in that segment too. I am not saying this based on a random week. Week in and week out data confirms our number one status. Another misconception is that we are a trade channel. If that was the case, only 5,000 people across the country would watch us. We get GRPs of 23 which is just two points less than Sab TV, leave alone the other music channels. Just because we are a trade channel does not mean that we are not a mass entertainment channel. Saying that we are a trade channel is like saying that Star Plus is a ladies' channel. That is not true. Men also tune in to Star Plus.

 

While other music channels create a lot of noise about themselves, etc has been relatively low key about its promotions. Why?

They make a lot of noise and create a lot of hype. Therefore, the perception exists that they are ahead. In reality, it is the viewer that decides who is number one. That is what MTV is getting away with at the moment.

The film industry does not go by the ratings, they go by the feedback received from the smallest villages and towns.

The music and distribution chain put pressure on producers that the product must be on etc, which is why the bulk of the promos will be on our channel. MTV, on the other hand, is not present in the small towns and villages.

 

"The music and distribution chain put pressure on producers that the product must be on etc, which is why the bulk of the promos will be on our channel"

 

How is programming devised to maintain viewer connect?

To be honest, there is not much programming on the channel. Trailers are beamed throughout the day. The

only time we have seriously concentrated on original programming is in the morning. People want to see

movie trailers and music promos. We are not ashamed of that. Our mantra is that if you cannot be the leader

in a category, create another category.

Our formatted shows like Chit Chat do make it into the top 25. This shows that there is viewer loyalty that is sticking on.

 

You have tried programming innovations like using SMS and wireless. Any other innovations for the future?

We have a live dial-in show, which again is unique and has never been done by anyone else. In fact, when people call, they initially cannot believe that they are actually speaking to a film star like Shilpa Shetty. Normally a live dial in involves requesting a song. The kind of interactivity that our show provides through a direct connection with the artiste is something that nobody else can provide.

 

Revenue wise, how significant is the SMS route today, and how do you see it growing?

It is not significant as of now. But it will definitely grow. Value additions like SMS will bring in substantial revenue in the coming years. In terms of percentage however, even within four years, SMS will not be very significant. But it cannot be ignored as a revenue source.

The main thing in interactivity is viewer participation. Even if you do not make money with that, the good thing is that there is high brand involvement. This is the primary reason for us doing SMS as opposed to the revenue factor which is incidental. The viewer gets a sense of belonging to the channel.

 

What is the situation on the ad revenue front for ETC Networks?

The figures are nothing to shout about, although we have added on more advertisers this year. Perception problems in the media is one of the reasons for this. We are confident however of the situation improving. HLL is a new client that has come on board this year. We also have Maruti, Godrej and Nestle among others. If you continue to show strong figures you will not be ignored your whole life. I would like to add that very often, the promo and ad revenues feed off each other. Trailers are one area where we are chock a block, and we haven't recorded higher profits there as we haven't hiked the rates.

We have not been able to increase the rates as the industry is going through a difficult phase and has not been doing well. There have been times when we have had to refuse business as there is no space left. Another important point that has not been highlighted before is the fact that we have a market share of over 55 per cent in the Hindi movie and music trailer area. Star, Zee and Sony among others account for the rest. When there are so many channels, it is not possible for us to increase our share beyond a certain point.

 

Etc does not make any noise even for its ground events. Is this a deliberate decision?

On the Punjabi side, we have been doing lot of events up north. Earlier this year, we had done one in Mumbai - Baisakhi Blast. Unfortunately the media did not cover it well. It has been Mumbai’s biggest event for the year.

etc is now planning events in colleges and pubs. We take mid level singers and have them perform. Last year, we had done eight events with Esselworld. In the past we have never spent money on hoardings and print ads. We have now started doing this also. The strength of etc is such that even without spending any money, we still attract viewers.

 

While they are both part of the same family, what is it that puts etc on a higher plane as compared to Zee Music?

Their characters are different. Zee Music’s focus is on creating a live, interactive Vividh Bharati image. Etc is more an industry platform. However even if they do become competitors, it will be a good thing. Having multiple brands in one genre is a good thing. Star has Star Utsav in addition to Star Plus.

 

So will etc also think of having another Hindi music channel?

At the moment, no. But, we might do this in the future. In fact this has been a focal point of discussion within the company. It will not materialise very soon, however.

 

One thing that had been spoken about was an interactive entertainment portal that would be launched by etc this year. What happened?

We have had discussions on this score. The portal planned will form part of a much larger platform envisaged by Zee. Once DTH kicks in, there will be VOD, PPV as well. The platform therefore will be much bigger than what had previously been envisioned. Etc is the entertainment face of Bollywood. So the portal will be very much a part of etc’s identity.

 

How are things on the distribution front?

This is an area where we constantly make efforts. That is why we are the industry’s preferred platform. As I mentioned earlier, we do not do any promotional activities. Still we are selected by music producers on the strength of our efficient distribution. In a competitive world where you have new channels coming up frequently maintaining the distribution level is a challenge. In terms of reach, you can say etc is the DD of cable and satellite channels.

However, there is a difference in the distribution strength between the North and the South. Because we are only in Hindi and there is no English, the southern reach is affected to an extent. Yet, because we have Gurbani, etc Punjabi is still carried by strong MSOs like Sumangali Cable Vision in the south where there are not many Sikhs. We do not even have to pay carriage fees.

 

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