"When we grow at 30 per cent that is bad" : Ashutosh Pandey - ETC Networks operations VP

While the competition in the music sphere is hotting up in the Hindi segment, etc claims to have a clear lead over the others. Not content to sit on its laurels however, the channel has been introducing a slew of new initiatives. correspondent Ashwin Pinto caught up with ETC Networks operations VP Ashutosh to find out more. Ashutosh moved to ETC last year. Previously he served with Zee Telefilms as VP – Southern Channels and then in the capacity of VP retail sales.

Could you talk about the new programme initiatives on etc?

We have Home Theatre. This provides viewers with the latest information, gossip, previews and reviews of Hindi films. We have an SMS based show Show My Song 3030. We also have a live talk show. We will be having Kareena Kapoor on it within the next few days.

Then you have etc Haseena a bi-monthly slot and Rising Stars. As a music channel we know that besides fulfilling commercial obligations we know that it is our duty to encourage young talent. Rising Stars basically focuses on the best newcomers that are there in the market. We spot promising talent and it is in our interest that fresh talent comes on the scene and grows. Haseena as the name implies is for an actress who has come on to the scene. The heroine talks about herself and her journey in cinema in this chit chat.

Anything else?

We also recently launched three programmes which are purely musical in nature. Tarana, for instance, is a pot-puree of hits from the 80’s and 90’s. Another new show Dance Dance showcases dance tracks from various films and pop albums. For nostalgia viewers can sink their ears into Pop Flashback.

Is the ETC brand statement going to change?

We are sticking to our core message which is 'Aakhir Dil Hai Hindustani'. Frankly if a brand, particularly Hindi, has a decent presence among the film and music industries we can try to make it more happening. There is no need to change it as we are anyway number one. For most of the 52 weeks in a year barring a couple we have the most shows in the top 25.

Even for ETC Punjabi we have a 60 per cent market share. So when you are leading by some distance why would you want to do something drastic to change the image?

We are not into the numbers game as far as launches are concerned. We would rather consolidate on the three shows that we have just launched. It is silly to launch 20 shows at one go and then realise that this is not happening and that is not working and then re-launch again. We want to nurture fresh programmes and then move on. There is never a booking of shows that is happening.

Are there any new time blocks that you'll are focussing on?

We are strengthening the programming hour in the evening with some of the above mentioned shows. It is focussing more than what we have to build upon. Our bigger shows in the future will be slotted there especially the live show.

The prime band for us is post 7:30 pm. However it need not be the 8:30 pm or 9:30 pm slot as is the case with a lot of other channels. However this is not independent of the rest of the programming that is going on. Basically we are looking at this slot to strengthen our positioning. Today when every producer comes to etc we look to give back to the industry what we can. They contribute so much.

Has the look, logo of the channel been changed recently?

You will see a major change in this in ten days time. We have been thinking for a long time about new packaging, new ID. The look will be completely different. This has come after months of planning. We think that the new look will be a much more happening blend.

It is more to do with the position that the channel has which is Bollywood and music. Therefore the packaging will reflect that image.

Over the past year were any changes noticed in viewing habits?

Even though more channels like CMM have entered the fray we have not lost market share. Therefore the net effect is that we have not seen much change.

With the movement of film industry the focus shifts towards a certain trend. For example five years back item numbers were not many.

Today there is Lara Dutta who is willing to do an item number. The channel accordingly changes to meet emerging trends. Changes in the music industry get reflected on our channel. The percentage of remix albums today is higher than ever before.

What on ground events have been planned for the year?

ETC did not have too many live events previously. This year there will be a difference. The first big show that we did was etc Baisakhi Blast on 9 April. In the last one year there has been no live event done by any channel that had over 20,000 people present.

We had artistes from Pakistan, UK’s Sukhwinder Singh etc. Encouraged by this we are planning to have four to five live events. The next one will take place sometime in August.

"We have been thinking for a long time about new packaging, new ID. The look will be completely different"

In terms of distribution what progress has been made?

Our founders are very strong in the distribution business and we have benefited greatly from that. Our reach is more compared to the other channels as it is free to air. Distribution has never been a problem. We reach over 30 million homes.

We do lag a little though in the four southern states. We are trying to build on that now. We are looking at cultivating relationships with the cable operators in remote areas. We are not present in the US. However you meet any Punjabi in the UK and we are the most sought after channel.

If we had to go free to air there every Indian in the UK would be watching us. The Asian countries are also getting interested in us. We are on Thaicom and we reach the Middle East, Far East. We have not yet reached Australia. We get enquiries from places like Maldives where operators want to distribute us.

What opportunities do you see for etc in the convergence arena?

For broadband in terms of one to two years the situation is not going to change so drastically. We will not be talking about one pipe giving me everything. It will not happen so soon. A few years back we imagined that the internet would change the world.

When you concentrate so hard on etc doesn't it cut into Zee Music's share?

No! Zee Music is in a different genre. Programmes there are made quite differently. It is like having Zee TV and Star Sports.

Do you think that MTV adopting the soap concept is a viable proposition?

I would not like to comment on this as I have not seen the product. If a day comes when we realise that we are no longer number one then we could look at such a format.

Today there is no logic in us breaking our heads as to why etc should not go into serials. I have not seen the market abroad so much. So I cannot really comment on how a serial would fare on a music channel.

"We look at every beta before it is up on the channel. So there is no question where people wonder what is happening"

In the recent past there has been controversy over remix music videos which to an extent were allegedly suggestive and provocative. What kind of internal censorship norms do you have?

We have our own programming team which looks into this. In the past there have been occasions where we have been restrictive. Some trailers we have restricted from our own side. We had approached the producers about our decision.

We interact with them on a daily basis. We look at every beta before it is up on the channel. So there is no question where people wonder what is happening. The content gets routed and so there are no shocks. There are enough controls and checks in place.

Are you talking with any mobile content providers regarding content sharing?

No! We have television rights for the music. We do not have other rights. That is an area that we are still to explore.

For SMS how are deals worked out and how many responses do you get?

We have partners who negotiate with the cellular companies so that we get nation wide coverage. If I had to do a deal with Airtel or an Orange or Idea cellular we would have to worry about making 100 deals. Our partners do the needful for us.

Right now there are two shows that are SMS based. We have many contests though that are SMS based for which there are prizes on offer. For the Live show we had 700 calls. Mind you it is only half an hour. For a contest we can get around 3000 responses for each.

Online what additions have been made?

Many of our contests also have a web presence. In the next couple of months you will also see a completely renovated site for etc. It would be even more informative.

We have done a lot of homework on it. We could even have webcasts of certain important programmes.

How are things faring on the advertising front?

We have everybody from telecommunications to FMCGs. Last month Western Union came on board. We have HLL, P&G. What happens is that many advertisers are seasonal. Coke advertisers in festival seasons. Soaps though are not seasonal.

Automobiles are a new sector. Previously they were not there as they had thought that we were not good enough. Now they continuously deal with us. On etc though we don’t have things like mutual funds or banks like ICICI. Our whole aim is to try and make sense to the advertisers. As far as branding with them is concerned this happens in contests like the one we did for Kahani Kismat Ki.

On the revenue front how was 2003 and have any targets been set for this year?

There is no media company that is more profitable than us in terms of all ratios. We made almost Rs 490 million last year with a profit of Rs 150 million.

When we grow at 30 per cent that is bad. The etc and Zee management are very clear about the rate of growth that we should have. It would be around 35-40 per cent.

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