Television

"We have a long term vision for DD" : Ravina Raj Kohli-Channel Nine India CEO

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HFCL-Nine Broadcasting CEO Ravina Raj Kohli is in a pretty aggressive mood. Stung by rumours that her company is on the verge of closing down, that it has reneged on its payment to DD for its Nine Gold Hour, and that it is laying off people, she is fighting back. In a free wheeling interview with indiantelevision.com's Anil Wanvari she spoke about the issues and the vision that HFCL-Nine has for national reach public broadcasting in India.

Excerpts:





The charge is that you failed to make four payments of Rs 60 million over the past four fortnights to DD for the three hour slot you have on DD Metro. How true is this?

The facts are not correct. Technically, there were only three defaults - or rather delays. We had not paid up because we were waiting and watching. We had submitted a proposal and were discussing extension of the current contract with DD. We paid up finally, earlier this week. We had the money.

Is HFCL-Nine Broadcasting closing down?

There is absolutely no truth in this. It's absolutely damaging and destabilising gossip that is being hurled around. Both the partners - Publishing Broadcasting Ltd (PBL) and HFCL - have a long-term vision for this project and they are not giving up on it so quickly.

What is the long term vision that HFCL-Nine has for DD?

India is probably the only country where the national reach terrestrial broadcaster is not the channel of choice. It corners just 30 per cent of the advertising spend whereas satellite television has the remainder. And remember it is sitting on approximately Rs 8,000 billion worth of assets. It is dependent on government for financial support and it turns out revenues of barely Rs 6.6 billion annually.





In markets such as the US, this would be anathema. Network television there garners a major chunk - more than 95 per cent - of the ad revenue.





We have proposed that we are willing to put unlimited resources behind the state-owned broadcaster, build the asset, the brand, make it the medium of choice, give it the place it deserves with audiences.





We believe that terrestrial network television should be advertising driven and satellite and cable TV should be subscription driven. And we will do this with no conflict of interest. Yes, we will make money along the way. Because we will derive value out of DD's assets.





We view the alliance as a strategic alliance - at least that was the new vision with the authorities for DD when it opened DD Metro for bidding. We would run it for a few years. And not have to renew the contract every year or every 11 months.

Are you not renegotiating to lower your minimum guarantee of Rs 1,210 million for the period? What went wrong?

There were certain commitments that DD did not live up to. It had committed that DD Metro would have similar coverage to what DD National has in urban homes. It had committed that it would add 60 more transmitters; it added only 26.

DD had committed prime band penetration of 100 per cent on cable. They have not met that.





We had also given the government a re-engineering docket which detailed how DD could be improved technically. This recommended purchase of some transmission equipment, power upgrades of low power transmitters in some locations to high power, and also purchase of broadcast equipment.





The report has not been followed at all. And our financial numbers were based on a certain reach and growth of the network. We waited for nine months and only then did we start to question the feasibility of the deal.



Mrs Sushma Swaraj has gone on record offering to extend the contract to 18 months, but we have told them it would not be feasible at this time. We want a longer-term relatioship.

Have you really made a difference to the advertising revenues you have garnered from your time slot?

We have made five times the advertising revenue DD made from the same slot last year.

How do you see this settling down?

We are in discussions with DD and the Prasar Bharati . We are hopeful a solution will be found. Even if we don't continue on DD which is a priority for us, HFCL Nine will find plenty of reasons to stay.

Will there be layoffs?

If we feel we need to right size we will, but it's not a reflection of our performance. When you start up you may initially hire more than you need. We have a few consultants on board, we will review the viability of having these people. No full time employees will be laid off. There is no reason to.





How are you going to be impacted by the Ketan Parekh imbroglio? And his supposed links with HFCL and your company?

The HFCL-Nine board consists of 51 per cent holding with HFCL with 49 per cent being with PBL. We are an Indian company. The board consists of Mahendra Nahata, Vinay Maloo, James Mclachlan of PBL, and Anthony Klok of PBL. Ketan Parekh has no direct or indirect involvement with this company.





What about the rumours swirling of your joining Zee?

Absolutely baselesss. The question did not even cross my mind. I was employee No 1 with this company. And I am going to be there as long as I can add value to it

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