Television

'We are now focused on growing other businesses' : Akash Khurana - Nimbus Communications MD and CEO

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Quaint wooden swings and benches strewn between potted plants dot the terrace that overlooks Dr. Akash Khurana's neat and sleek office in the refurbished building recently christened Nimbus Centre in suburban Mumbai.

Downstairs, the hum of workers giving finishing touches to the post production facilities and studios that will drive a large part of the software house's expansion plans is a constant reminder that Nimbus is growing, and bigger still. But even though the gentle breeze that sways the leaves outside beckon to creativity, Khurana turns his swivel chair the other way, and gets down to the more serious business of running Nimbus. Meet Akash Khurana, scriptwriter, actor, HRD professor and, MD and CEO of Nimbus Communications.

A year after taking charge at the helm, Khurana has eased in well into each of the roles he continues to play with finesse. The promised facilities at Nimbus have almost all come up, Nirvana Television, the subsidiary spun off to service satellite channels is raring to go, and Nimbus' movie division is ready with its first Hindi feature film.

In a chat with indiantelevision.com's Aparna Joshi, Khurana spoke of his experiences of the year gone by, his projections for the growth of Nimbus and his hopes for the television industry.

Excerpts -

How would you trace the growth of Nimbus as a company?

The history of Nimbus could be traced as an opening of avenues for the entire industry. Nimbus created huge capabilities of risk taking, particularly in the sponsored programme arena. We built a strong leadership position, which continues till today, despite competition. With a history of pioneering behind us, the key thrust now is on the development of new businesses.

It was Nimbus which initiated the practice of adding value to television programming, which can be especially tricky with a state owned channel. The first sign of corporatisation of Doordarshan, as it were, in the area of air time sales, was catalyzed by Nimbus. Then again, on DD, Superhit Muqabla was one instance of milestone programming that we set. All this made us a specialist on advertiser/sponsor led channels.After that, of course, it became a business opportunity for everybody. But even after 15 years, we still dominate the space, in content creation as well as marketing.

We will soon have two new shows on DD National Network and given Nimbus' national presence and continuing association with Doordarshan, we are also marketing shows like Hawayein and Shaktimaan on the DD national network. Nimbus is also present on the Trivandrum DD channel with the No. 1 daily soap, Allakal.

Does regional television figure high on Nimbus' agenda as well?

We were the ones to start a new genre in the South with Shakti, that launched on Sun TV, making it the first of the 'mega serials' that later spawned a whole lot of similar shows down South.

More recently, Nagamma, a socio-mythological currently in its 3rd year has been among the Top 3 shows on Gemini TV. It was launced on a sunday night slot, which was traditonally considered to be a low viewing and unpopular slot. And the success of Nagamma in Telugu, prompted us to remake the same programme in kannada, which has now been on air for more than 12 weeks and continues to be among the Top 3 shows on Udaya TV.

Apart from a major participation through programmes in the South, we have produced programmes for other regional channels as well. We did Indradhanush for Alpha Marathi.

No broadcaster is being ruled out as we plan a major thrust in satellite television software.

And to drive this business forward, we have recently floated a subsidiary Nirvana Television, that would cater to and create programming specially for satellite channels.

How has Nirvana Television been active in its sphere of operations?

Nirvana has made a systematic entry into the satellite arena by providing creative direction and software expertise to television events like Femina Miss India, the Zee Cine Awards in Dubai, Zee's India's Best....

Apart from this, a diverse range of shows are being developed. We are working with some great talent on our new shows, and are looking forward to an association with more creative people in all departments. Developing the comedy genre, in particular, would be a major challenge that we would like to take up. We have already commenced production of a show in this genre.

How has the last year been for you?

It's been a learning, and a challenge. On the one hand, thus far, I have been perceived as a creative person, or as an HR management person. On the other hand, as CEO, interacting with every division and department in the company, and the wearing of more than one hat, has been an interesting journey for me. I'm sure in the entertainment industry, it's a dream assignment for anyone to combine creative talents with managerial skills, although it does call for effective time and task management, more than anything else.

What are Nimbus' plans on the film production front?

Sarhad Paar, starring Sanjay Dutt, is almost ready for release. We have already made a mark in Marathi cinema with Ek Hoti Vaadi, and are also toying with the idea of making another Telugu film. Aziz Mirza and Raj Kanwar have been signed as directors for making films in Hindi.

We are also going to be expanding our international network in a major way in the coming days. We already have a representative in Los Angeles, who is working on alliances with Hollywood studios. Plans are already on to make international feature films.

Is the broadcast industry a better place than it was say five years ago?

It's interesting the way channels have matured in the last five years. Today, there is far more science and sanity in evaluating programmes. No doubt, even the channels have had their setbacks, and today, survival for broadcasters has become serious business. But importantly, there is far more collaboration and trust between channels and production houses.

"We are not interested in increasing the head count in the organization for the sake of it. What we are interested in is taking on people who are willing and able to multi-task"

But are channels willing to experiment and innovate?

It's happening, but slowly. There has to be an audience that is willing to experiment, too. There is evolving a set of viewers that is willing to try out everything. There are niche viewers who will be thrilled by innovation.

Where will the innovation come from? Are there good concepts and scripts being evolved?

There are, but there is a further need for these. Which is why, a course like Qalam (the annual scriptwriting workshop organised by Indiantelevision.com, spearheaded by Dr Khurana) is needed. It has good people supporting its cause as well as a good faculty, and it enables me, on a personal level, to be able to give back a little of what I have taken from the world. In fact, creating people who are creative is creativity, too!

Is there a good actors' pool available to the industry to implement the innovative concepts that broadcasters would be willing to try?

It's a reality that there are hardly any good training schools or workshops for actors. Besides, most actors of this generation are not interested in knowing anything beyond the scenes that concern them, and are not involved in the learning process. In fact, a combination of passion and capability is a must for a good actor.

It was last year that Nimbus launched itself in a new 'lean, mean, keen' avatar. What exactly does it stand for?

Exactly what it says. The total Nimbus staff strength worldwide stands at 75. We are not interested in increasing the head count in the organization for the sake of it. What we are interested in is taking on people who are willing and able to multi-task.

The word 'mean' in the slogan however, has no negative connotations, but implies that we are as driven as we are passionate about our work. And anyone who delivers on these counts gets immediate rewards and recognition.

Recently, we have redefined certain leadership roles in the Nimbus top management: Sunil Manocha, who has had the longest tenure at Nimbus is now Executive Vice President, Television and Sports, Raju Udupa will head air time sales as Vice President, Marketing, and head of production James Rego has been promoted to Vice President, Sports Television.

Seasonal businesses like cricket have driven Nimbus' revenues to a major extent.

Our attempt is to reduce the peaks and troughs in our businesses, and aim for linear and exponential upward growth. We are now focused on growing other businesses, which is why we created Nirvana Television, and are also focused on expanding our motion pictures division. All this is with an eye on the mission we have set for ourselves - the goal of becoming a billion dollar company by 2010.

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