Television

"We expect to garner Rs 2.1 billion or 60% of the total ad spend on air time during the World Cup 2003" : Harish Thawani Nimbus communications chairman and MD

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He cuts an impressive figure. One of the few to have seen the potential in the sports business and made money out of it. Meet Harish Thawani, the promoter of Nimbus Communications and the co-chairman and managing director of Singapore-based World Sport Nimbus (WSN). Filled with oodles of derring-do, the tonsured Thawani did a Palace coup when he managed to acquire the rights to the cricket World Cup under the noses of larger multinationals and then resold it to Sony Entertainment Television for a humungous figure apart from limited matches rights to state owned pubcaster DD.

Currently, his firm is in the thick of finding sponsors, partners and advertisers for the cricket matches that are being aired on DD National. An economics graduate from Mumbai University, Thawani is a mean chess player having outplayed some of the nation?s top players.

Oozing confidence and in a pretty usual combative mood, Thawani took time off to speak to indiantelevision.com?s Ashwin Kotian on his company, cricket and the World Cup.

Excerpts:

First, ?Let?s Talk' (pun intended) cricket! Who are your favourites for the finals of the World Cup 2003?

Well, everybody is talking of an Australia-South Africa final.

However, I would urge everyone to watch out for West Indies. A new-born West Indies without Brian Lara was one of the few teams that recently beat India in ODIs on the Indian pitches.

But naturally, my business acumen makes me pray that the Indian team advances to the finals. After all, any incremental gains in our revenues would depend on India?s progress.

There is an interesting joke doing the rounds; that "Harish Thawani should have invited Saurav Ganguly and the Indian cricket team to the function on 18 December at the Taj Land?s End Hotel in Mumbai. This would have enabled them to get the pleasure of holding the coveted World Cup trophy as it might be their only chance to do so and hog the media limelight."

Well, I feel that there is no need to be so pessimistic. I believe that India will definitely do well.

What is the DD-Nimbus combine offer to the viewers?

Amongst the four major obsessions of India: cricket, religion, films and politics, only cricket transcends caste, creed, language, social, economic and geographic boundaries.

The hectic four-year wait has come to an end as cricket?s mega event has become bigger and better. With spectacular timings, guaranteeing full prime time coverage and the highest ever fan following of Indian cricket, the ICC Cricket World Cup 2003 holds the promise of killer ratings and new audience delivery records. All this is possible on DD, the single largest audience delivery media vehicle.

The true action and ratings lie in the ?Big Gun? matches; the bulk of which are obviously India matches, key weekend matches, ?Super Sixes? weekends, Semi Finals and Final.

DD will also be airing a one hour daily highlights package throughout the 43 day tournament, apart from the Opening Ceremony and the Concert of the Official Music Album of the Cricket World Cup 2003.

Additionally, for the first time ever the Cricket World Cup?s broadcast on Doordarshan will be supported by a multimedia promotional campaign including Print, FM radio, outdoor, the Internet, mobile telephony, on-air promos, consumer contests etc.

DD is taking precautions to ensure that the telecasts in the viewers homes will be of top class digital quality (DD National is also a must carry channel, hence cable operators will be forced to carry it).

What about pre-match programming?

The world feed will start 15 minutes prior to the first ball being bowled and Nimbus will be involved with this portion of the programming.

DD has agreed to create 60 minutes of programming prior to the beginning of the match and 30 minutes after the match ends. The total DD-Nimbus programming will start 1:15 hours prior and will continue 30 minutes after the match ends.

Additionally, the commentary team includes Ravi Shastri, Barry Richards, Sanjay Manjrekar, Ian Botham, Martin Crowe, Rameez Raja, Ian Healy, Michael Holding, David Gower, Ian Bishop and Bob Willis and this will ensure that the viewers stay hooked.

However, I feel that there is no concrete evidence that substantiates the necessity of creating pre-match programming in excess of what we are planning to do. During the Champions Trophy, the pre-match programming TVRs reached a high of around 6; but the viewership was concentrated roughly around the 1-hour period prior to the match.

"For the first time ever, the cricket World Cup?s broadcast on DD will be supported by a multimedia promotional campaign "

Will the preparation for the school and college exams affect viewership during the afternoons?

Actually, February-March is a peak ?cricket? period and a lot of matches are played during these months. In many places, the exams are usually slotted for April and May.

In Mumbai, we might face a situation wherein the students might be preparing for their Board exams in March. But the beauty of our packaging is that we have got the best 16 matches. Many of the Big Gun matches involving India (or not involving India) will be telecast during the weekends.

Even if the parents place restrictions on the viewing, it will be on watching all the 54 matches. The parents will definitely allow the youngsters to watch the important matches; namely our 16 Big Gun matches, over the weekends.

It is possible that the weekday Big Gun matches might be affected but that is a normal trend. Even, in these cases, the zest and passion for the game might override any restrictions on viewing.

"We have already tied in 10 major sponsors who will account for 70 percent of the total spend."

How does DD score over the C&S channels?

Every match which matters from a ratings viewpoint and weekend big matches will air on DD National. The TRPs of the 16 Big Gun matches are likely to range between 11 and 15 with daily highlights attaining a 3-4 TRP.

The cricket World Cup 1999 ratings of the Big Gun matches were 40 percent to 62 percent higher than that of even the ICC Knock Out 2000 (The ICC Knock Out was reformatted and re-named as ICC Champions Trophy from 2002

The total GRPs for the telecasts as a whole on DD would potentially be around 320 with a cumulative gross reach on DD exceeding 2.5 billion.

With a reach span of 80 million TV homes, Doordarshan came out a clear winner in the recently concluded ICC Championship Trophy 2002. The satellite channel showed a drop of 50 percent in viewership from India semi final to non-India semi final, whereas DD viewership remains constant. DD out-performed satellite channel by 165 percent in non-India matches. Outside of ?Big Gun? matches, TVRs on satellite channel drop to a mere 1 percent.

In fact, our estimates show that the Big Gun matches, Frequency builder matches, also-ran matches and highlights can deliver a total GRP of 320, almost 19 percent higher than the satellite channel.

Over 20 major advertisers including Hindustan Lever , Cadburys , LG , Colgate , Godrej soaps , Kodak , Samsung , P&G , Boost , Sansui , Nirma , Balsara , Marico , Pidilite etc advertised exclusively on Doordarshan during the ICC champions Trophy 2002.

What is the total size of the advertising pie in terms of revenues? What will be your share?

We expect that the total size of the pie would be around Rs 3.5 billion.

In terms of our pre-sales mapping, we had clearly identified the categories which we could target. The initial feedback is that brands in nine different categories have committed to advertise on DD.

These nine categories are soft drinks, television, appliances and white goods, two-wheelers, lubricants, adhesives, airlines, FMCGs, banking and insurance.

In fact, we have already tied up Rs 2.1 billion that constitutes around 60 percent of the chunk. It would not be fair on my part to announce the names right now as the agreements have to be signed. We shall be making the announcements about the advertisers (whom we have tied up) just before Christmas.

We can accommodate only 18 or 19 advertisers. We have already tied in 10 major sponsors who will account for 70 percent of the total spend. The smaller sponsors will account for the remaining 30 percent. We have already tied-up 4,180 seconds out of the total of 6,000 seconds of advertising time available for each match.

We have got a favourable response for more than half of the remaining time. We should be able to tie up the entire 6,000 seconds within a week..

What does the DD-Nimbus combine offer media planners and buyers?

For the first time ever, media planners and buyers can avail of ?Flexi-buys? pick & choose your matches. They can choose a package and top it up with individual match buys. They can even specify position in matches and are not compelled to buy more.

However, there is a limit of 500 seconds per match for each advertiser, with the exception of sponsor partners.

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