Television

"Our interactive programming has helped us achieve the high market share of more than 50 per cent" : Upinder Nayar Balle-Balle CEO(Punjabi music channel)

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On 14 October, India's first 24-hour non-stop Punjabi music channel, Balle-Balle will complete one year of its existence. For Balle-Balle, it has been an eventful year, marked by some landmark achievements that have catapulted it to the top of the TRP charts with a reach of 15 million homes. But Balle-Balle has no intention of resting on its laurels. With major plans of growth and expansion, it is striving to take on the big guns like MTV and Channel [V].

Upinder Nayar, CEO of Balle-Balle, promoted by STV Enterprises Ltd, retraces the channel's journey and shares some of its expansion plans with indiantelevision.com.

Excerpts:

Has Balle-Balle overcome all the teething problems and has the channel evolved in the way envisaged?

A new project is always an evolving concept. Balle-Balle will soon be one year old. But a year is a very short time in the life of a channel. When we launched Balle-Balle on 14 October 2002, we had two things in mind. The first was to promote Punjabi culture in the true Indian spirit, something that national and international channels were simply not doing. Most of the existing music channels were a mix of English, Hindi and Punjabi. We decided to give the people music that was pure Indian, with no English numbers, no soaps and no news bulletins to deviate from the traditional spirit.

Then there was the desire to fill the vacuum that we knew existed in the market. We found that there was no exclusive Punjabi music channel to cater to the growing demand of the audiences. The world over, you find people, even non-Punjabi speaking people, dancing to the beats of Bhangra and Punjabi folklore. Balle-Balle is the one channel that gives these people a chance to be part of the fun that is Punjabi music.

"We decided to give the people music that was pure Indian, with no English numbers, no soaps and no news bulletins to deviate from the traditional spirit"
 

Are you satisfied with the pace of growth and development of the channel?

The response has surpassed our expectations. Today, our channel reaches approximately 15 million homes. Besides, all the big music companies in the country have tied up with us for software and for promotion of their videos.

What surprised us was that this happened virtually from day one. They wouldn't have done that if they didn't have confidence in the product and the confidence reposed by them has grown over the last one year. So much so that today we have between 300 and 400 promos being run on Balle-Balle every day which is more than 50 per cent of the market share in music promos. You'll agree it's not a mean achievement, especially if you consider the fact that six months ago, the share stood at less than 10 per cent.

A year may be a short time in the life of a television channel but it's long enough to achieve certain landmarks. What are the major landmarks in the growth of the channel?

Yes, we have achieved several important landmarks in the last one-year. In the 30th week of our existence, we overtook ETC Punjabi to cross the 50 per cent mark in market share in the youth segment (15-24 age group). That, of course, was our biggest achievement. But there have been others that are as much a matter of pride, if not more.

We were the first to hold a live event in Punjabi music with the participation of more than 16 top artistes. That was on 14 February 2003. Prior to that, we had a New Year show and another one on the occasion of Lohri with both involving the top stars of the Punjabi music industry. For us, these events have been major achievements since no one got so many top stars together on one platform before that.

"In the 30th week of our existence, we overtook ETC Punjabi to cross the 50 per cent mark in market share in the youth segment"

A year later, where does Balle-Balle stand in terms of market share and popular feedback?

So far as Punjabi music channels go, we are the definite leaders in terms of market share. TRPs will bear me out. Though I wouldn't like to bore you with a lot of data, but the fact that our market share stands at 50 per cent (with the rest shared by the others) is enough to show the popularity levels that Balle-Balle has achieved in just 12 months.

Coming to popular feedback, it is reflected in the TRPs. In the 32nd to the 35th week, Balle-Balle's share stood, respectively, at 2.93, 3.48, 3.18 and 2.78.

And the fact that a host of fresh faces and singers have tasted success for the first time through Balle-Balle itself is an indicator of how popular the channel is with the masses.

What's more, with most big brands advertising on our channel, I think we have every reason to be satisfied with the way we have grown. Our list of clients ranges from consumer giants like Gillette, Johnson & Johnson, Samsung and Wipro to companies like the Maruti, Bolero, ICICI, Ranbaxy, Perfetti, Lexi Pens, Seagram etc. Pepsi was the main sponsor of our live show.

What kind of rates do you offer to your advertisers?

Like most other industries, we prefer to work on bulk package deals - like in the hotels. Bulk bookings mean better deals for the customers. Similarly, if our advertisers opt for bulk ads, we offer them better rates. Our ad card also reflects this policy - of rates being decided by the volume of the ads.

Any areas where you feel you could have done more?

There have been some. We are now focusing more on improving the packaging and presentation of our programmes. You'll soon see a new look on our channel, with new channel IDs and new promos. Innovations in brand properties and programming around brand properties of MNCs rather than local companies are other steps we propose to give the channel in the coming days.

Since we are still young, we can afford to be flexible by revolving our programmes around artistes, our clients and the needs of the industry. That's a distinct advantage we hold over other music channels and we don't want to lose that. The fact that we are flexible not just in our content and programming, but in our entire approach has helped us reach the top slot.

"You'll soon see a new look on our channel, with new channel IDs and new promos"

How do you compare the channel with other Punjabi music channels in terms of content and programming, as well as technical quality?

Our TRP ratings and popular feedback show that our innovative and interactive programmes and content are way ahead of other Punjabi music channels. Special conceptualised promotions and music based entertainment shows of tropical nature are just some of the things that set us apart from other competitive channels. At the moment, the channel is airing 21 variety programmes per week. Of these eight are anchor-based and the rest back-to-back. Some more programmes are in the pipeline.

You seem to lay a lot of importance on the interactive aspect of your channel. Why is that?

Yes, we do lay a lot of stress on interactive programmes. After all, it's our interactive programming that has helped us achieve the high market share of more than 50 per cent. Tailoring our programmes around artistes, clients/advertisers and even specific topical events has really helped us grow in the market. Some of our most popular programmes like 'Smash Hits' and 'Theka Gane Desi' are based on the brand properties of our clients while there are others like 'It's My Choice' that revolve around artiste promotion. Our programmes based on letters, album promotions and SMS responses are also extremely popular. 'Inbox' and 'Non Stop Hits' are among our other popular programmes. Incidentally, Balle-Balle was the first Punjabi music channel to launch SMS-programmes and the rest of the channels followed.

How wide is the reach of the channel, within and outside the country?

Quite wide. Our reach has expanded rapidly in the northern states of the country. In fact, the North has been our primary focus area. But the channel's goodwill and popularity have helped it reach viewers in many South Indian states, and also several remote areas of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra, from where we have been getting a lot of SMS response. Statistically speaking, Balle-Balle is reaching around 15 million homes at the moment.

Outside India, Balle-Balle is beamed through Thaicom satellite, which has its footprints across 64 countries. Though we have not tried to push our channel outside the country, individual and SMS-based feedback received by us shows that our channel is immensely popular in the Gulf region and in the entire South Asian region, particularly Pakistan. In the Gulf, Dubai, Bahrain and Oman are some of the places where, as per our feedback, it's a major hit.

The fact that Punjabi pop music is increasingly becoming synonymous with Indipop in the country and outside is evident in individual responses we get from Indians and foreigners from across the region. They tell us that they have seen the channel in countries as geographically apart as Malaysia, Hong Kong, Singapore, Nepal and even Mauritius, not to mention Sri Lanka.

How do you rate the competition that Balle Balle faces today, not only from other Punjabi music channels but also from the audio and video Punjabi music industry?

What competition? Our thrust on interactive programming has ensured that we remain on top. Our market share and our long list of clients and advertisers is enough to show how far ahead we are of others in the business.

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