"Regional channels with food shows are our competitors" : FOOD FOOD PROMOTER AND DIRECTOR SANJEEV KAPOOR

He's belied the oft-stated misconception that cooks don't make great businessmen. And he is someone who feels fortunate enough to have done things he really likes doing. His contended smile describes his success. Well-known celebrity chef Sanjeev Kapoor (remember Khana Khazana?) today has moved from being a famous cooking show host to an entrepreneur and director of India's first homegrown food related channel FoodFood.

But the good looking Sanjeev Kapoor, who sees opportunities where others see challenges, dismisses his achievement by saying: "I feel I am still in the kitchen and this is my favourite part."

In a conversation with's Seema Singh, Kapoor speaks his heart out on his journey which started from people laughing at his dreams for a food channel to earning their respect today as an entrepreneur who is building a solid business.


How did Turmeric Vision (TVPL), Astro All Asia Networks (Astro) and Sandeep Goyal's Mogae Groupa come together to start the channel Food Food? How has the association been?

The first thought of doing a 24-hour channel on food came to me in 2003. But I was not sure I could do it on my own. And hence, I started pitching the idea to others. People thought I was mad. They thought how can a category, which is a half hour afternoon slot, become a full time channel.

When I initiated the talks, I didn't think that I could start a channel. There were channels in all genres, so why not have a 24 hour food channel? But I had decided I would do this with someone else. Sadly, no one thought of it as being an opportunity.I chatted with Scripps Network's Food Network internationally, but they were not interested. I also approached the BBC, which already was already airing lots of food programming. It did show some interest in the beginning, but after the meeting was fixed in London, BBC cancelled.

It was then that I decided that I would start the channel on my own. It was out of sheer anger. I thought this was something I really wanted to do and so started thinking, working on and understanding it. At that time, the then Sony Entertainment Television CEO Kunal Dasgupta, was someone who understood what I was envisioning and thought that food as a category will grow, which was very encouraging.

In 2006, I set up TVPL. I applied to ministry of information & broadcasting for an uplinking licence and started building the channel. At around this time I met up and discussed my plans with Sandeep Goyal who was then the CEO of Zee TV. Being a foodie himself, he was in sync with my thoughts. It was he who suggested the name of Astro Networks as a possible partner for this venture. Sandeep also joined us as a notional partner.

I had lost about three years in between ideating and finally setting up the company and the channel. I lost ; one because of the unfavourable market scenario from 2007 to 2009 and secondly because we were in active discussion with several media groups in India which didn't work out.

But when we launched it, it was at the right time!

Who is your core target audience? How have you been able to redefine the food content in India? Do you programme the channel based on the time of the day?

Most people would imagine food content being more women-centric. But, times have changed, and now one can see more men walking in even in a category like food, especially in the evening slot. We are also attracting a lot of younger audiences. When we started, our core target audience (TG) was women 35-years and above. We have been able to bring that down to about 25 years and our TG will continue to get younger.

In terms of cities, the channel is available in all the HSMs (Hindi speaking markets). North, of course is big in terms of numbers for us. Maharashtra, Gujarat and other bigger cities also have great traction. Most of our numbers comes from the metros, Delhi and Mumbai being the greatest contributors.

Ours was the first HD ready channel, with all content being HD ready since the channel's inception. This helped us add good quality households from the top cities to our viewership. Our presence on Tata Sky, Airtel and Videocon has also helped us reach good quality homes.

It was when I first started doing TV that people started understanding the meaning of food content. With Food Food, people expect good quality content not just boring shows. Our content concentrates on the core Indian market, with our content being 100 per cent relevant to the Indian ethos.

We have been able to set trends for shows on other channels. They through us understand what is accepted in India. We do not only concentrate on adding numbers to our viewership, but we see it as our responsibility to define the direction of food in Indian. We now have a lot more healthy wholesome content.

As for the programming, the early morning slot is more vegetarian, the afternoon slot focuses on learning, but not boring learning. As we move to early evening, it's more of Bollywood and games. And evening and late evenings we have lifestyle. We keep trying and testing with our content.

If you are a leader, you have to learn, define and teach your viewers what to watch as per the time.

How does the channel conduct its research?

Food Food is a specialty channel. We work with research agencies for qualitative and quantitative research. Also we are constantly in touch with our viewers through various viewers connect events. We do close to 90 events, which gives us a fair idea of what people want and what we should do or not do.

I would say the regional channels, which have started building loyalty on food programmes are some of our closest competitors. The lavish and expensive cooking reality shows on the general entertainment channels are no competition for us; in fact they help us in building a category.

What is your reach internationally?

We are currently available in the Gulf and Canada. We are also in the process of finalising our reach in US. We are looking at other markets internationally through Jadoo boxes. We are working on opening up to more markets.

Who are your competitors? How do you look at handling them?

I would say the regional channels, which have started building loyalty on food programmes, are some of our closest competitors. The lavish and expensive cooking reality shows on the general entertainment channels are no competition for us; in fact they help us in building a category.

We are by far the number one lifestyle channel in the country. We don't have to worry about competitions. Most channels are in fact following us. As long as this trend continues, we are happy. But naturally, we keep a watch on what is happening and ensuring that we stay ahead.

What are the shows that are being aired on the channel currently? Any plans of launching a new one soon?

Currently Food Food has shows like Soki, Tea Time, Health Maange More, Style Chef, Mummy ka Magic and several health-based shows. We keep doing new seasons of our popular shows. The How to Cook series, Sanjeev Kapoor's Kitchen and Maa ki Daal are big hits. We are continuously looking at new concepts for our shows. We do have plans for some exciting new ones. What is good is that even today the early shows, which were launched when the channel was, still interest viewers and advertisers.

The big challenge is when you have popular shows how do you bring in new shows! For example, if the IPL is a hit and excites and engages audiences, you don't shut it down; you come with several seasons of the format. Same is the case with us.

What are the mediums you use for reaching out to audiences? Do you invest in digital as well? How much is your ad spent?

Marketing and other promotional activities not only to create a recall but also build a bond. One of the good things we have seen for Food Food is that the average time spent by viewers is very high. We want to ensure that people who walk into the channel stay longer, along with getting newer sets of viewers.

We work in two areas; firstly we market ourselves to the viewers and then to advertisers. You are as good as your shows and numbers are important.

For our initial marketing campaign, we roped in Madhuri Dixit as the channel's brand ambassador. This was to create the buzz. Now most of the marketing is done through our shows.

We use all mediums like outdoor, print, digital, radio and television, but the key marketing tool for us is on-ground activities. Plus we also work as partners with different brands and also with communities such as chefs and hotels.

Our website is very active. Our interaction with viewers on Facebook and Twitter is very helpful. We have started a Food Food channel on Youtube. We are also working on an app for the channel. Digital reach is important and we are constantly working towards making it useful for different sets of generations. Youngsters are glued to our telecasts, so we focus on what will attract them.

Our marketing budget is as high as 20 per cent of our total budget. But I would say, we give a lot of weightage to consumer connect programmes.

How large is the food show genre? Does it get enough traction?

If we look at the GECs, the total contribution to the kitty is significant, and this significance can be translated into something which can have four to five channels. So we understand the consumption pattern, but not all may come in a focused way. At times the usage is too scattered, and that is the case right now.

But whenever there is maturity in the market, there is consolidation and now we are beginning to see that. If you have a heart problem you will not go to a general physician, but to a heart specialist.

This is going to happen in media too. Currently advertisers are going to everyone. They just look at the number of viewers, no matter what quality.

This is not the way it works in mature markets. This maturity is coming into agencies, viewers and brands. Initially there were no solutions, but solutions are there now. Digital has been able to show that solution. TV was more in the air. Whatever agencies said was being accepted. Advertisers never delved into how people were reacting. Consumption was not being tracked. But, now it is beginning to happen. In the next few years, more specialty channels will come in and they will benefit.

Is there enough bandwidth amongst audiences for so many food shows? What is the channel's GRP?

India in some sense has three religions: Bollywood, cricket and food. If we want to entertain ourselves we use these three. While Bollywood and cricket is well represented on TV, food is under-served. Slowly we are getting to see entertainment with food, and this will only grow.

There is 100 per cent bandwidth for a specialty channel like Food Food. We have to just understand viewers' needs and then we have to translate that demand and see if this is pan India. If the show is executed well, it is consumed easily.

We continuously stay at around 10 GRPs. Delhi and Mumbai gives us the maximum numbers.

It is a food channel with all shows on food, so then how do you decide on the content? What is the difference in the theme of each show? With three partners, how do you come to a consensus on the content of the channel?

This is our full time job. We constantly keep our ears to the ground. People always tell you what they want, and I realised it when I was writing my book. We are just serving a need. It is a fairly simple task. Just listen to people. We are currently at a stage where we have to just listen and react.

We continuously have our executive committee and board meetings. The team presents ideas and concepts to the executive committee and they approve or disapprove. It is how you live in a house, you have different members and yet you stay together. We may have our individual preferences, but what finally goes out on TV is something is that the family wants.

Is it difficult to sustain a channel based only on food?

If cooking is inherent or food is inherent to Indians, then for a channel like Food Food there is no question of survival. People will consume what they can relate to. And when it comes to us Indians, we can relate to food, made in our style. And this is what Food Food is all about. And so we are the highest rated.

Even news channels are coming up with food shows, how do you cope with this competition?

Naturally, when there is something on food which takes away from us, it is a problem, but, if it helps us its good. Larger shows are no competition. I see them as category builders. Smaller shows, if they can take away from us, can pose some competition, but I don't see that happening.

For the shows on news channels, the core target is men and also the time slot is different, so they don't harm us. We see such shows as an opportunity that someone else has created for us.

Do you want to foray into reality shows as well?

We did a reality show before Master Chef. We had Maha Challenge with Madhuri Dixit. As and when the time is right, we will do reality shows. But I think the noise that one needs to create need not be through noisy shows. It can be done in a smart way. For instance a comedy show with Kapil Sharma gets more numbers than the bigger shows at one-sixth the cost of a big show. So my belief is that if we are able to get higher GRPs through smarter and smaller shows, we will go with that.

GECs need to have bigger shows, so a show like Master Chef works perfectly on Star Plus. What is good is that the understanding of Food Food is being used by shows like Master Chef. There is increased understanding of what and how the food genre works.

For us if it is about reality show it has to be something which is very real. Unfortunately in India, reality shows are associated with big budget shows. For Food Food, a reality show is about real people cooking every day not for only for 13 weeks. It may be a daily contest, which is conducted in six cities having six winners every day. This is bigger and more relevant for Food Food. We are constantly debating, and if you ask us if we will be doing reality shows, of course we will be.

Will the 12 min ad-cap affect the advertisement in the channel? How will the channel deal with it? There are talks in the industry of increasing ad rates after the ad-cap is implemented? By how much will the ad rates go up? What is the current ad rate?

It's something the whole industry is facing. If that has to be followed, the whole industry will follow. This means that someone will have to pay for it. If the broadcast industry has to pay, I don't think they can afford it. So either the viewers will pay or the brands will. As of now it is tricky and painful and hope there is some resolution.

As I see it, there could be a 25 per cent increase in either the ad rate or subscription charges. Fortunately for us, it's not much of a problem because we are a new channel. In a new channel the inventory consumption doesn't start at 100 per cent utilisation; it builds over time. And we are in the process of building that. So the impact on us will be lower than those players whose inventory consumption may be 100 per cent.

There were reports of the company breaking even in two years from its launch? How far have you reached as far as this objective is concerned?

It's on track. Our understanding of the business is much deeper than what it was. So I don't see a reason for not achieving it.

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