Television

We are targeting all the thinking, 14 plus individuals who are tired of the saas-bahu soaps" : Arun Arora - Times Group president

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Bennett, Coleman and Company Limited is flirting with television once again. But group president Arun Arora is clear that this time round, the relationship with the medium is for keeps. In the pipeline are not one, but four TV channels that the media powerhouse plans to unleash in the next 15 months. None is designed as a 'me too' channel, but will have a distinct personality of its own, a genre untested on Indian airwaves thus far. Arora oversees the venture, and Zee import Apurva Purohit spearheads the television initiative.

Inside the behemoth that is the Old Lady of Boribunder's edifice, Arora's office is a relatively spartan affair compared to the bright and funky decor that marks the Zoom ramparts two floors above. His restrained responses to queries about Times' ambitious TV plans belie the obvious enthusiasm that envelops the organisation, currently in the throes of the launch of the first channel off the block - Zoom.

Arora himself is upbeat about Zoom, an entertainment and lifestyle channel modeled on the lines of Times' popular city centric supplement that has exalted Page 3 to a fine art. In a chat with indiantelevision.com, Arora held forth on the various programming, marketing and distribution plans that are being put in place to ensure a smooth launch for Zoom.

Excerpts:

Zoom now seems to be ready for an imminent launch. Are things ready on the marketing and programming fronts?

Broadly, things are in place. But the final touches to tbe FPC are being given, and should be ready by next week.

What about the distribution end?

We are lucky on this end. We have started seeding the boxes, and have already seeded more than the targeted number.

Where are you seeding them initially?

All TRP towns. Hindi speaking, of course, but we are also looking at the south.

Which are the channels from the Times stable that will follow Zoom?

The spiritual channel called Ananda, will launch approximately 12 weeks after the launch of Zoom. It will be around mid December, but no date has been thought of yet.

While the business channel is still far away, the launch of a music channel from the BCCL stable is more likely in the near future, but no name has been finalised for it so far.

We are working on the format for the channel, but it is not being thought of as a Times Music addendum. Even our Planet M stores are not Times Music shops, they are more a destination store for all music companies. The spiritual channel will also be run at an arm's length from Times Music, while recognising and exploiting the synergies of existing Times products.

Have you appointed separate business heads for the individual channels?

For Zoom, Ashwin Balwani is the business head. Balwani, an old Times hand, has been involved in the launches of music label CBS, Times FM in its earlier avatar, and Planet M. While the Zoom team reports to Balwani, Apurva Purohit is the chief operating officer for the entire Times television initiative, to whom all television channel heads will report

What are the preparations being made for the launch of the business channel?

The business channel is around nine months away. We are looking at buying some space in Delhi too, we have shortlisted some 17 properties from which we are trying to finalise some.

"When we say we are going to be like Bombay Times, yes, coverage of parties will be there, but that will be one element of the programming mix"

What kind of research and thought went into the making of Zoom?

We tried several things that had not been tried before, the house has never been afraid of experimentation, but we dont experiment foolishly, and hopefully, this time too, the experimentation will prove us right.

We believe that people are slowly getting fed up of the saas bahu soaps, and every channel, by and large, is showing the same kind of scheming mothers in law and daughters in law, which has put off a lot of thinking minds. Zoom is for those minds which find different entertainment interesting.

So you are not targeting the masses, since most of the masses still prefer the soaps?

You see, it's a 'mass niche'channel...I know, it sounds like a contradiction in terms, but look what we are doing with the Economic Times, we are catering to the masses, but by doing it, we have made it the world's second largest financial paper....but, it's still not just a mass-appeal paper.

So, is Zoom targeted at the 18 plus viewer?

Yes, but that's not to say that the 14 plus viewer will not find anything interesting in it

Which are the international broadcasters you have tied up with for footage?

There are some like E! and others with whom we have tied up.

How is the programming on Zoom going to be divided, will it be a mix of Hindi and English?

It's going to be a language as we speak it, we have tried to keep it as natural as possible

What is the product positioning of the channel?

We are talking about the metrosexual, the youth, someone who uses her mind, who is self confident, who knows what she wants to do in life....

Is it skewed towards the male audience?

It is for the metrosexual, it is skewed towards the intelligent, aspiring urbanite...

Is it the Bombay Times kind of reader who's the targeted viewer?

Of course.

What kind of a programming matrix will Zoom have?

A 12 hour matrix, seven days a week, with programmes revolving around lifestyle and celebrities, you name the celebrity, actor and we could confirm that he would be somewhere on our shows.

Will there be a lot of coverage of celebrity parties?

When we say we are going to be like Bombay Times, yes, coverage of parties will be there, but that will be one element of the programming mix.

How much of The Times of India brand will you actually use in the content and marketing of Zoom?

We are using, at this point of time, the minds of a lot of our colleagues, rather than the brands. The brands have been designed by these very people. So, while designing the content, packaging, while making the FPC, their input will definitely be used.

We already know about Malaika Arora doing a show, the Manish Malhotra show...who are the other celebrity names roped in to do the rest of the programming?

Vir Das is doing two shows - one will be his usual stand up comedian act, and in the other, he will be taking calls, agony aunt style. It will be an interactive show, with live phone ins.

Since Das does his acts in English, will his shows be in English too?

That was the concept, but our programmes are designed to be 80 per cent Hindi and 20 per cent English. He's been taking Hindi classes for this.

"Lifestyle is a large canvas, how it's brought out makes the difference"

What about other shows, like the one Fahad Samar is doing?

Fahad Samar is doing a show called Dancing Divas, which will showcase prominent dancers from all parts of the world, past and present.

What is the time line for the launch of Zoom?

Since we are firming up the FPC by next week, and shows are being done by several production house, we are most likely looking at an end September launch. 60 per cent of programming is being done in house, but we don't have any studio facilities of our own, so everything is outsourced. We are uplinking from Noida.

We have taken 80,000 square feet of space in Kamla mills in Mumbai, and uplinking at some point of time, will come to Mumbai definitely. We are currently doing up the place, and the whole television wing will shift there soon.

Will Zoom not be very Mumbai centric as of now?

It will have inputs from Mumbai, Delhi, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Kolkata. But as of now, since filmdom is here, and many celebrity parties do happen here, yes, it is tilted towards Mumbai, but Delhi will also be covered.

We are targeting all the thinking, 14 plus individuals across the country.

But your shows are of the lifestyle, celebrity, game show genres...how does it appeal to the thinking individual?

See, every story is a story, how you tell it sets it apart. Lifestyle is a large canvas, how it's brought out makes the difference. These are all broad topics and there's nothing to say they won't be interesting.

But how do celebrity shows appeal to the thinking male?

Guys today want to know what Priety Zinta is wearing, they want to know where their careers are going, and they want to get inside Amitabh Bachchan's kitchen...guys also cook these days, and they want to know more about it too.

But how do you track this elusive thinking viewer?

That's a difficult one, but we are going mostly by gut feel as of now, and we have used thoroughly the research mechanisms as are available today.

Was this research done internally?

No, we got an outside agency to do this for us.

How long a gestation period do you give Zoom to break even?

In this day and age of multiple channels, we cannot give just a year or two to break even. If it took three years too to break even, we would be happy.

Times' last venture into television was not a very successful one. What learnings have you carried over from the last experience this time?

When we started television earlier, we were constantly debating. And while we were doing that, some steps were taken to enter the arena. Then the top management decided that we should pay more attention to print. The print gameplan was drawn out in detail.

The top management then decided that with the limited management resources at the time, we would establish leadership in print, particularly in Delhi and Bangalore, and once that is done, we would enter television with our full might. Which is probably why it more a half hearted attempt at some programming for Doordarshan and the like, never all out as will be the case now.

So, will there be a different approach taken to television this time round?

This time, we have not shied away from investment, around Rs 300 crore is being pumped in. If more is needed, it will be put in. This time, we are going the whole hog, as we have done in our other projects.

Is programming for Zoom more expensive than for general entertainment channels?

It would be difficult to say whether a non fiction like the one we are making would be considerably cheaper, because some shows would be as costly as soaps.

But are the shows largely studio based?

Not necessarily. A lot of our celebrity based shows are not studio-based, you also go to their places. But of course, we are not going to exotic locations to shoot like the film people do, we are not doing anything of the sort. So, it will cost less than what a general entertainment channel full of soaps may cost, but at the same time, because a lot of our programming is in

house, there is a lot of economy because we don't pay margins outside. On the other hand, when we took on Balaji, we knew we would be paying what was needed, so we didn't shy away from that as well.

What kind of advertising are you looking at?

We are targeting aspirational brands, auto, lifestyle, MNCs, fast moving goods that lend to television, and all those products that lend to visual advertising will be targeted.

Would you go in for advertorials?

We haven't yet decided a policy that we will have advertorials, but we are not averse to having advertorials, though at this stage, a proper policy has not evolved yet.

Will there be any bundling with other Times brands?

We are looking at that, and the sale is being done by our Response team. A team has been carved out of the same team that sells print, and it reports to the same director, so if he feels that there is a need to bundle the products, it can be done.

Will Zoom be under Entertainment Network India Limited (which runs Times' FM initiative, Radio Mirchi)?

No, it will be under Bennett, Coleman and Company Limited. But wherever there are synergies between the various divisions of the company, like radio, internet, music and print, the synergies will be exloited.

What are the marketing and promotional efforts in place for Zoom?

There will be a contest on whose voice is being used in the channel promos, cross promotions will happen on Radio Mirchi, the Internet will be used, as also bus shelters, and the teaser campaign is also ready. Lemon, which is handling the creative account, has shot the promo campaign in Dubai.

What is happening on the magazine front, the deal with the BBC?

The deal is secured, but the government has not cleared it.

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