Television

'Our biggest challenge is raising the low yields in the Hindi movie channel genre' : Star Gold GM Sameer Rao

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Star Gold general manager Sameer Rao is known to be a numbers man. A chartered account and an MBA in finance, Rao has a 19-year career graph that spans stints in UBS and Arthur Andersen.

His baptism in media took place at Star in cable TV distribution, followed by the internet, the commercial department and then finally to his current posting. He was given additional charge of Star Utsav in end 2009.

Indiantelevision.com’s Ashish Mitra spoke to Rao about the changes he has brought at Star Gold and the prospects for the channels he heads.

Excerpts:

 

How large is the Hindi movie channel space? What is the lay of the land?



Our estimates are that all the movie channels put together make it a Rs 5,200 million ad revenue market. No doubt, Zee Cinema is the leader followed by MAX, and we are at the No 3 slot. For about six to eight weeks every year, because of the IPL and cricket, MAX steals ahead and then it goes back to the previous ranking.

Raising the low yields in this channel genre is the biggest challenge. The inventory is keeping on growing with new channels launching: UTV Movies, for instance, entered the fray with two channels. GRPs of movie channels used to be much higher a year ago than is the casenow. There are times the ratings race becomes a big issue with us when competing with the likes of GECs such as Sony, Sab and Imagine as they are in the same GRP range as us. But the realisations by these channels for commercial time are higher.

Can you gives us your analysis of the Hindi movie channel genre?



The movies genre, if you aggregate consumption across movies channels, movies on Hindi GECs and movies on cable channels, is as big as the Hindi GEC slice. However, perception wise, it is regarded as much smaller, possibly because it is acquired content as opposed to original programming.

On the supply side, satellite buyers have emerged as key players in the Hindi film industry and are critical to the viability of any Hindi film project. With some changes both on the buying and selling side, it is possible that movie channels will be able to offer much more value to all stakeholders - film producers, advertisers, viewers - while remaining a healthy and profitable business for the broadcast networks.

You were looking after commercial for Star Plus when you were called to take charge of Star Gold and Star Utsav. What was your analysis of the two channels and your health report for them?



I was responsible for programming commercial for the Hindi language channels at Star between March 2007 and November 2009. I took over as Star Gold general manager in March 2008 and Star Utsav general manager in late 2009. Star Gold is a healthy and growing business and Star Utsav is stable but a lot more could potentially be achieved.

What changes did you initiate at Star Gold to fast pace its growth amongst its competing players ?



My fundamental approach towards programming on Star Gold was to build slots that delivered on a defined content promise to a movie consumer. The slots were developed based on research inputs on content themes that audiences wanted to see on a movie channel.

Thus, we built permanent action, comedy and kids slots apart from the Hollywood dubbed slot, which we had launched several years ago.

Apart from this, we also incorporated slots for thematic movie festivals through the year, which would run from one to six weeks. For example, one of these, Sabsey Favourite Kaun, culminates in a big scale televised award show, India's only audience polling driven movie awards.

Hence, once we had the slots ready, we acquired movies designed to develop and grow the slots. All these initiatives helped us narrow the gap between us and the genre leaders.

Star Gold was not being marketed aggressively. How have you changed this in terms of above the line and below the line activity?



Marketing for the channel is in line with the programming strategy of building up slots and festivals. A lot of it happens outside Mumbai as our biggest consuming markets are Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat, Delhi and Maharashtra.

'We are just four GRPs behind Zee Cinema and 16 behind MAX. If we do the right things we can overtake the leader.'

Your list of acquisitions and syndications.



Last year, we acquired films aggressively. We got the Salman Khan-starrer Wanted, the Amitabh Bachchan-starrers Aladin and Paa, the Akshay Kumar-starrers De Dana Dan and Housefull and the Ajay Devgn-starrer Atithi Tum Kab Jaoge. Besides Wanted, all other acquisitions were on an exclusive basis. Some runs of Wanted have been reserved for Sahara because they co-produced the film. We also have the non-exclusive rights of the latest RGV film Rann along with Life Partner and Luck.

As far as syndication goes, we continue to syndicate with Zoom and UTV Movies. But this exercise entirely depends on the type of films the other channel wants to have.

What are your plans for Star Gold?



We'd like to lead the genre by the end of this calendar year. The network is building the catalogue through a mix of judicious new and library acquisitions and we continue to refine our slot-based programming and marketing strategy. I believe we need to acquire close to 20-25 more movies over a period of time. We are just four GRPs behind Zee Cinema and 16 behind MAX. If we do the right things we can overtake the leader. Our challenge is to have the right mix of old films, new films and blockbusters. We can’t buy the most expensive ones only; otherwise the low yields could erode our margins.

Which are the major category advertisers for the channel?



FMCG continues to be the biggest category. We are an important platform for male brands because of our deliveries in that demographic. We get the bulk of our advertising resources from the package of festivals. Going forward, several new acquisitions that we have gone into will boost the advertising pattern of our channel.

Please highlight the milestones of Star Gold over the decade.



Starting off in 2000 as a classic movie channel, we showed black and white films. We then switched on to telecasting coloured films from the post 70s. Rapidly, we turned into a channel with a modern look in terms of popular and critically-acclaimed cinema.

Then in 2002, we launched the popular Sabsey Favourite Kaun (SFK) that first started as an award show. Then in December 2006, SFK went international. The show’s popularity can be measured well as last year, we received a whopping 17 million votes through SMS and internet in addition to the physical votes we received from people to select their favourite stars. This exercise lasted for over a period of two months.

As for showing Hollywood dubbed content, we have excelled in showing the latest Hollywood films and rank above all other channels.

Going forward, we hope to see Star Gold as a channel that boasts of new Hindi films.

What has been the change in the channel perception over the years?



The first major change in our channel was when we changed from a classic movie channel to a channel that specifies in several genres as far as films are concerned. Based on this, currently, we have a higher proportion of viewers. Our channel is driven around comedy films and of course Hollywood films. We want to build on the perception.

You took charge of Star Utsav in 2009. What was your assement of the channel then and what changes have you brought in?



Basically, Star Utsav is a channel that caters to repeat content. After I took over, I found that there were more repeats of shows of two distinct genres - mytholology and kids programmes. This was of course in addition to shows from the Star network.

After I joined the channel, rationalising the schedule was my biggest priority.

And now, we are looking at various opportunities keeping the taste and preference of the semi urban and rural markets in mind and devising a new strategy for Star Utsav. This will be implemented in the coming months.

What were the ratings of Star Utsav when you took over and what are they now?



The ratings are the same now comapred to when I hadn't taken charge. It remains stable.

What about advertisers? Have they been attracted to the channel?



There is a potential beyond what the channel is currently generating in terms of advertiser participation and we are looking actively to tap such an opportunity.

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