'We are targeting the late night, breakfast and weekend slots' : Sunita Rajan- BBC World Deputy Director Airtime Sales

As BBC World‘s deputy airtime sales director (a position she was promoted to in March 2001), Sunita Rajan provides the strategic direction for the 24-hour news and current affairs channel‘s commercial growth in the region. She overseas BBC World‘s operations in Asia and the Middle East.

Rajan heads the region‘s six BBC World offices - Dubai, Hong Kong, Singapore and the three India offices, Delhi, Mumbai and Bangalore - and is responsible for spearheading the channels‘ airtime sales through the Asia Pacific footprint.

Rajan‘s experience in satellite television means she has a pretty good handle on what goes where when it comes to Asia‘s cable and satellite revenue models for news networks.


Rajan takes credit for BBC World‘s strong showing in the past year. Previously regional sales director Asia, Rajan now has a wider role which includes global issues relating to the development of business relations in the Asia Pacific as well as handling BBC‘s staff development internationally.

She joined BBC World in 1999 from Star‘s Channel V where she headed the channel‘s sales, marketing and distribution. Rajan was part of the start-up team that set up Star TV in 1992 and in 1994 moved on to head Channel (V) when it was launched in India.

The BBC has a reputation of being rather staid and slower than its rivals but changes are taking place and the Beeb today presents a more aggressive marketing face of which Rajan is an integral cog.

Rajan‘s career in media sales began in 1989 with Time Inc in India as a media concessionaire for Time and Fortune. Rajan holds a Masters degree in Economics from Bombay University and speaks eight languages.‘s Thomas Abraham met Rajan when she was in Mumbai recently. Excerpts from the conversation.

How do you demarcate the Asian territory, as one block or as multiple blocks?

We look at Asia as two feeds, linked to the two satellites under whose footprints BBC World beams. There is the South Asia feed that includes the Indian subcontinent and the Middle East, covered by Panamsat 4, and the South East Asia feed covered by PAS-2. The PAS-2 beams on SE Asia and the Pacific Rim and includes Australia and New Zealand.

Which is your most important market?

For BBC World as a whole, Europe definitely. BBC‘s penetration in Europe is 50 million strong. In this region, it is India where we have a viewership of 11.5 million.

What sort of advertising does BBC World attract?

BBC World‘s target advertisers are information technology companies, consultancy companies, banks and financial institutions and FMCG (fast moving consumer goods) companies. Leisure and lifestyle is another important area. Travel companies, airlines and automobile manufacturers fall in this category.

And what is your target audience?

The SEC A and B category. BBC World is the English news channel of choice for decision makers. Last year we commissioned market research agency ORG-Marg to do a survey for us and this was amply borne out. The Horizon 2000 survey covered 4,500 people who hold key positions across 13 cities in India. Horizon 2000 provided us a benchmark for understanding India‘s leading consumers and decision-makers. We will also be using the survey in international markets as companies there are eyeing India in a big way.

CNBC India has really made an impact in the short time that it has been around. How has the BBC been doing growthwise?

The last two years have been very healthy for us. Our advertising revenues have more than doubled in this period.

Any numbers on targets, revenues?

We don‘t give those out.

There has been a general slowdown all around. How do you see it affecting your bottomline?

We are just into the new fiscal. It will be at least two months before any clear figures emerge where we can make an assessment on that score.

I can say this though. There are new opportunities opening up and we are looking at new categories of advertising. Sponsorships and vignette programming are two such where we are putting in a lot of effort.

(Of the total revenue growth over the past year, 75 per cent was accounted for by air-time sales, while the remaining was through sponsorship. Virgin Atlantic, JK Tyre, Microsoft and Home Trade are some of the sponsors who have come on board. BBC Worldwide took over marketing and sales in India in 1999.)

We have an interesting series one-minute vignettes created around medical developments using BBC archives which Cipla has sponsored. (Similarly has sponsored The Smart Minute vignettes which track the developmental leaps in science and technology). The Chequered Flag is another vignette series based on F1 formula racing.

How much advertising does India generate percentage wise?

Sixty per cent of ad revenues from the South Asia feed is generated from India.

Are there any particular time bands that you focus on?

As far as our current affairs programming is concerned, there are three important time bands that we target. The late night (10 pm to midnight and later), the breakfast and the weekend band. Appointment viewing is what it is all about.

What of India-focussed programming? How many hours of it do you produce?

We produce five-and-a-half hours of original programming every week.

Any plans to increase on that?

Not at the moment, no.

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