"Sony's World Cup Cricket telecast will eclipse shows across all channels!" : Rajat Jain MAX executive vice president and business head

Rajat Jain is the man in the hot seat as MAX prepares to stir up passions, drum up hype and hoopla. The next three months will see Jain conceptualizing and implementing the intricate details of an exercise that is being billed as a make-or-break session for the Sony Entertainment Network. Jain will need to find his feet as he grapples with ground (or should we say terrestrial) realities of being locked in a head-to-head battle for the advertising rupee with the fiesty rival combine of DD-Nimbus Communications for the World Cup Cricket 2003.

Jain currently holds the business responsibility for the channel with the key mission to take it to the number one position in this genre. Prior to this, he was the executive vice president - corporate development and new media for Sony Entertainment Television (SET). In this role, Jain was responsible for identifying and implementing new business development plans and driving all the new media initiatives for Sony. He was also assisting and developing corporate HR strategy in keeping with the expanding business needs.

Unfazed by the aggressive strategies being resorted to by the DD-Nimbus combine, Jain was at his usual confident best as he took time off to speak to assistant editor Ashwin Kotian about cricket and the World Cup.


How will MAX make the 'real thing' better than the Champions Trophy?

From the very beginning we have been saying that cricket is more than sport, it is a spectacle and the World Cup is the greatest spectacle of them all! We shall ensure that all slots across all bands will be affected. Our telecast will eclipse the programming across all channels.

Our endeavour will be to present cricket in the most entertaining manner possible. Cricket with personality, fun and plenty of doses of masala! That is the treat MAX has lined up for cricket and non-cricket fans. I repeat that when we acquired the exclusive C&S rights for the ICC tournaments, we saw the franchise as an opportunity to expand the viewer base to include women and children.

The pre-event shows are the first in a slew of programming, which will aim at making the ICC properties we have a fusion of sports and entertainment without diluting the passion which cricket arouses. We are aiming to go beyond the die hard cricket fan, roping in uninitiated audiences, driving the initiated ones to frenzy and increasing the frequency of exposure. The entire operation started with the Champions Trophy and will climax with the World Cup in March 2003.

"We are aiming to go beyond the die hard cricket fan, roping in the uninitiated audiences, driving the initiated ones to frenzy and increasing the frequency of exposure. We shall extend the programming concepts devised during the Champions Trophy and make them bigger and better than ever before. "

What kind of cricket and non-cricket related programming is being planned?

We are going to extend programming concepts used during the Champions Trophy and make them bigger and better than ever before. However, the intention is not to distract but to make the viewers indulge. A new element is that we are planning to capture OOH (out of home) viewers. Recent research indicates that OOH was pretty much an 'in-thing' during the World Cup Soccer 2002. If soccer can create such a frenzy, then cricket will surpass it and create new records. We are aiming to ensure that the OOH viewing grows.

This apart we have the entire gamut of short formats to creat excitment around the World Cup - interstitials, vignettes, five to six different human-interest fillers from a cricket perspectives and countdown shows. The countdown shows started 75 days prior to the World Cup 2003.

True to the channel's motif of being the place where movies and cricket come together, there will be loads of filmi masala to keep those interested as well as disinterested in cricket tuned in. Fun moments on the field, with film personalities roped into the studio as well as on the field, are what are planned.

Extraaa Innings, the highly successful programming concept will make its comeback. Interstitials, differentiated across various categories, have been created that are aimed at "building interest in cricket and building the association with MAX. The Lagaan character and animated characters will resurface to be used as cricket mascots; scampering across the screen with the appropriate expressions during instances like run outs, clean bowled, sixes, fours and the like.

Kapil Dev, the famous all-rounder and recently voted as Wisden Indian cricketer of the century, features prominently in the interstitials.

Segments like Gullies of Fame had Kapil Dev trekking off to the location in neighbourhoods where the cricketers began their careers. Kapil Dil Se also is aimed at getting people to think about how passion for success is important in all aspects of life.

Cricket Masala, a weekly half-hour show highlights the lighter side of cricket and aims to draw in the entire family. With a mix of the light and serious, Cricket Masala, will provide information on the game, its players and even its fans.

Both these shows are being repeated at different timeslots (afternoons, evenings, nights) and different days (weekdays and weekends) in order to rope in as many people as possible.

There are 15-16 properties in the sales packages that we have created that will be available to advertisers. These include the cricket related ones and the non-cricket related ones. The cricket related ones include Cricket Fundas, Pitch Reports, Toss, Best Fours, Sixes, Catches, Fall of Wickets, Best Saves, Classic Catches, Turning Point and other statistics and ratings. The non-cricket related opportunities include Tourism, Cuisine, Post cards, Predikta, Khel Kismet Ka, Weather report, Barometer, Fan of the Match and Confidence Meter. The astronomical show called Khel Kismet Ka will actually offer predictions based on charts.

"MAX will increase and encourage viewer involvement before, during and after the matches"

What are the various promotions that are being planned?

The MAX van has already started touring cities and stopping at key locations from mid-December. The MAX van, with its posters of Bollywood stars, movies and a huge screen, will screen clips of the blockbusters and movie programming. It will also announce the various offerings that the channel has in store for its viewers. People could join the van at any of the locations and participate in games and contests and win exciting prizes.

In the latest Name The Tiger Contest, viewers are required to come up with a 'unique, interesting, exciting and lovable name' for the MAX Tiger which first made its appearance on the channel during the ICC Champions Trophy Sri Lanka 2002 in September. The contest will be promoted on-air on MAX, SET and AXN and Discovery till 4 January 2003. The viewers will have to tune in to the channel for details and participate by sending in their entries by postcards or by logging on to the channel's website grand prizes for the contest includes a trip to South Africa for the World Cup 2003.

MAX will increase and encourage viewer involvement before, during and after the matches. We have devised an enhanced version of Predikta, a unique, innovative prediction game that will give viewers several opportunities everyday to be lucky winners and win loads of prizes. Participation will be by SMS, mobile phones, call-ins and the prizes will be given away every day. Pepsi will be the sole sponsor of Predikta.

What kind of trends do you expect to see during the telecast of the matches?

As I mentioned earlier, all slots across all bands will be affected. There are some essential differences between the Champions Trophy matches and the World Cup 2003. On those days when there are two matches coinciding with one another, the feed will be shown on both Sony Entertainment and MAX. In fact, around 15-18 matches will be telecast on Sony TV.

During the Champions Trophy, day matches were held in the mornings and went on till 4 pm whereas the day-n-night matches extended till 9:30 pm. But during the World Cup, the day matches will start at 1:30 pm and end around 9:30 pm whereas the day-night matches will end post-midnight.

Our build-up programmes prior and during the World Cup will ensure that female viewers switch to matches. In fact, MAX created some kind of a record wherein the growth of female viewers watching the Champions Trophy matches increased phenomenally. The female gross impressions, the number of times women sampled the fare, increased by 300 percent over that during the NatWest Trophy between India and England. The unduplicated reach increased by 25 percent over that of the NatWest Trophy.

OOH will also become very important during the afternoons where people can watch the matches in their offices or at other places. It is also possible that youngsters could team up at hanging out joints or happening hot spots.

We expect that the peak viewing period start between 6 pm and 7 pm onwards till the end of the match.

Our programming will start two hours prior to the first ball being bowled and continue for an hour after the match ends. The highlights will be shown only in the mornings.

"We believe that the pre-match programming will play an important role in keeping the viewers glued to the TV sets"

What about pre-match programming?

The world feed will start two hours prior to the first ball being bowled. We believe that pre-match programming will play an important role in keeping viewers glued to the TV sets.

We have had tremendous success with programmes revolving around cricket during the Champions Trophy. Interestingly, the channel's programming around cricket, Extraaa Innings, had entered the TOP 100 list at the 17th and 18th spot, proving that viewers were quite willing to lap it all up.

Master Blaster, Bajaj Boxer Total Knockout and Super Fours were the other cricket-based shows that registered their presence in the Top 100.

What are the categories of advertisers that you are targeting?

Several categories of advertisers will be advertising during the World Cup 2003 and many of them are in advanced stage of negotiations with us. These include soft drinks, FMCGs (chocolates, soaps), banking, insurance, telecom, lubricants, automobiles, white goods, foods, automobiles and two-wheelers. The fact remains that cricket is an expensive proposition but it always delivers audiences.

Pepsi is the prinicipal sponsor of Predikta. In fact, there are nearly 4800-5200 seconds per match up for grabs. This might increase or decrease depending on how the matches progress.

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