“You have to reinvent and live on everyday on TV” : Colors CEO Raj Nayak

 At five most babies are just about going to kindergarten. But this is one baby that has been fighting it out in the big bad competitive world of Indian TV broadcasting. Colors, which completed five years on 21 July, has, in the process, become almost as seasoned a campaigner as its older rivals in the Hindi general entertainment channel space.

The channel’s CEO Raj Nayak – though he was a little under the weather when met him, nursing a cold and a fever – was rather chirpy and happy on the occasion of the channel’s fifth birthday. Preparations were on for a small inhouse celebration and everyone had smiles on their faces.

“It’s been quite a journey,” said Nayak leaning back with a distant look in his eyes. “I can vouch for that, though I have been leading the channel for only half of that period. We have been game changers, a hatke (different) channel, and we have innovated continuously and will continue to do so. ”

To know more what else Nayak had to say’s Vishaka Chakrapani on the channel’s fifth anniversary, read on:

To what do you attribute the success of Colors?

One of the reasons why Colors has been successful is because it has been a risk taker. And of course the great job done by my predecessor Rajesh Kamat. When Colors was launched it was the eleventh player in the GEC space and at that time when there was no digitization it was a bold and courageous move because it was seen to be entering in a crowded market.

So what did Colors do? In my opinion the first thing it came and said that all channels are doing the same, we need to do something different. So the first thing the team did was to put on differentiated content, story lines on social issues, which no one wanted to touch. Initially the channel even got a little flak for it saying we are becoming regressive.

Second, I think when you are launching as the eleventh player your ability to take risks is high because you are down there and expectations are low. Thirdly, they said we have to break viewing habits, so lets get disruptive. And that is what they did: they stripped nonfiction content Khatron ka khiladi during the week.

They also strategically used movies as tentpoles to complement the overall offering. At one time if a movie was premiered it was on Colors.

But as you go higher in life, your ability to take risks becomes less. I think that’s what was happening when I joined here. It had come to a point where it was stagnant. We were dilly-dallying to take big risks.That in my opinion was confidence in our strategy. And it led to a very good dividend - leadership and being a trend setter.

That’s what we have done since. I have been here for the second part of the innings and we have only taken risks. Not all have paid off, some have been successful, some have not but at the end of the day this is the only way this business runs, you have to reinvent and live on everyday. Creativity is not someone’s monopoly. You don’t know what’s going to work and what’s not and the only way is by taking trying out. Of course you use your experience, some consumer insights and finally your gut.

How has the performance been on the financial and people front?

We have grown over 50% CAGR in terms of overall revenue in the last five years. We may have slowed down in the last two years because of the base going high. We are a reasonably profitable channel have been growing year on year. So while you hear people say that Colors spends so much money on content, we also monetise well and the truth is we are very focused on balance sheet and profitability.

What is the attrition rate like in Colors?

We put people first because we are an organization of people. In terms of people we have the lowest attrition rate in our business. If at all people have left, it may not be more than 5-10 per cent and if they have then hardly anybody has left to go and join competition. They have left to make a movie or something else. But they have not gone to competition. That speaks a lot for the culture, values and environment we provide. The whole team is just 160 across country, so you can imagine cost of return per employee.

My second line, the top management team, their average age is 30. The organization structure is such that we are very lean mean team. We are very well structured. There’s not too much of layers and there’s not too much of bureaucracy. The other thing is that for everybody in this organization, there’s accountability with authority. Everybody can make decisions. I believe in delegation. The way we work is like a restaurant. When it’s full, everybody picks up the plates. We are first among equals.

As far as people are concerned, I am told, that when we started (my operations head was saying), she had five people and no equipment and the show had to go on air. It was a very small team and today it’s grown, still not too big for a Rs 1000 crore plus business.

The number of people handling content too has remained the same to a large extent. The team may not be more than 30 people. Except for two heads, everybody’s been here forever.

The sales team has been here forever. Probably if there is any attrition that has happened in that team because it is so dynamic, it’s happened at the junior level because it is a dynamic team. The sales head Simran Hoon, has been here since day one.

Which are your big markets internationally apart from India?

Colors is in 140 countries. UK, Canada, Middle East, Africa, Austraila, New Zealand you name it. From the revenue perspective, the UK, the US and the MENA region contribute a large chunk.

Colors was not in UK for first two years. I think the moment we went into UK we had the same success, which was obvious due to word of mouth from relatives of Britasians in India. Our subscription and advertising revenues did not kick off so well. But that’s also because we were a new channel. Today it competes with every GEC channel. We have now launched another channel in UK Rishtey which is also doing very well.

And what have the past two years been like ever since you took over?

I think it has been one of the most exciting, most rewarding, most challenging part of my career simply because whilst I had mastered or crafted myself at being very good in one genre- that is sales and marketing - this job gave me an opportunity to have a holistic view of the entire business and that way it was extremely challenging. I think it was also an advantage I carried because I understood the business part of it.

In a sales job you tend to be creative by default because you have to go and sell things to people. I think that came in handy to me because when I looked at a show I just did not look at it from a viewership point of view but also from a marketability and revenue generation point of view. The proof of it is that we have maintained our leadership position these last two years.

We have done things which are completely different, non-expected from Colors and as a channel last year we posted an EBIDTA growth of more than 40% over the previous year.

How would you rate Colors today and before you joined?

Without sounding pompous or critical I would say 50:50. It is an unfair question to me. Having said that, out of 11 in my management team, nine have been here for five years, somebody for three and rest for two. I think it would be fair to ask them the question.

Personally I think the stage at which I took the channel, we‘ve run with the ball, we‘ve maintained leadership status and we rolled the profitability of the channel. When I came in, I had three KRAs (key result areas) – you have to get Colors where it belongs - maintain leadership, grow profits and build brand extensions. The third part will happen.

What’s your plan for the next few years?

I want to consolidate Colors. Right now we are strong number two. We would ideally like to be No 1, but not at the cost of profitability. A few years from now I want to see the petals of Colors extend in the regional and movie space.

Colors will have to have more brand extensions in the TV and digital space. Expansion is the natural progress. It is a strong brand and we need to leverage its equity.

What have been your high and low points last two and a half years of the five?

My high point was when I landed in Cape Town and my office called me saying we are number one. I remember the date. It was 24 December. The second high point for me was when we did a show in the late Jagjit Singh’s memory called Yaadon ka Safar. In five minutes we took a call. Another show was Yuvraj Singh’s Zindagi Abhi Baaki Hai and for me that was a good real life social message to inspire people.

Both of them did not get good ratings but the messages and good will we generated was not just in India but also across the globe.

These little things where we are able to as a media company do some good back to society gives me a lot of satisfaction.

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