Television

We believe that India Shining is a great FDI opportunity for India in pitching for international business : Jonathan Howlett - BBC World director of airtime sales

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BBC World director of airtime sales Jonathan Howlett joined BBC World in 1994 from the UK-based Carlton Communications. A former director of sales at Meridian Broadcasting he spent his career within ITV sales.

Howlett was in India recently to attend Ficci Frames 2004. During this visit, indiantelevision.com caught up with Howlett to get a low down on how 2003 was for BBC World, his expectations from 2004 and the competition coming up in the form of so many new news channels...

Excerpts:

How has 2003 been?

Globally 2003 was hugely challenging. The US-led war in Iraq in March created uncertainty.

With many countries issuing travel advisories advertising in the region was hit quite badly. There was a pick-up though at the end of the year when things settled down a bit.

Didn't the Asian bird flu scare towards the end of the year again hit advertising revenues?

Bird flu has not had the kind of negative effect that SARS had. So as I was saying, advertising pick-up has beenphenomenal post-September.

How do you see 2004 shaping up?

After three bad years 2001/2 and 3, we expect 2004 will be good, with slightly heavier (ad revenue inflows) towards the end of the year.

But going by current economic indicators, it is 2005 that is really going to witness the upsurge. We expect 2005 is going to be great.

One would assume that the pick-up in Japan has a lot to do with that.

Japan is really picking up. Five years ago, 90 per cent of Asian ad spend came out of Japan. Following the downturn in the Japanese economy during this period, it is down to just over 50 per cent today. But the Japanese economy is growing again so that is a good sign.

What about India? How has it been?

We have registered excellent growth.

Could you put a percentage on it?

I cannot reveal such figures.

The industry average was between 10 to 12 per cent growth last year. So where do you stand there?

We were well above that.

My numbers on the revenues that the BBC pulled in out of India last year are between Rs 140 and Rs 150 million. I would assume that is hardly significant when it comes to BBC's global revenues so what is it that makes India such an important market for you?

(No comment on the numbers). As a single market, India is particularly important because we have a local cell as well as an international cell. And even while the rest of south-east Asia was going through a massive downturn, India was pretty much insulated from that. What this meant was that we were still able to grow revenues from out of India.

Additionally, India continued to help pull in revenues for the international (Asia Pacific) cell.

The local and regional opportunity, tied in to the depth of distribution, where we reach 15 million homes, is what makes India so important.

Which are the sectors that pull in most advertising out of India?

Till January 2001 financial, IT and telecom were the biggest advertisers. After the recession hit us, we then started to look at travel and tourism and motoring in a big way.

Post September 11 (2001), there were those countries that were tourism dependent that were impacted more. A number of these countries came on board.

What's the next sunshine sector for the BBC?

The FDI route has become big for us. Countries that are doing it are Belgium, Poland, Turkey, Singapore, etc. Japan has also started pitching itself as an investment destination in a big way, which is something new.

How much is all this India Shining rubbing off in terms of actual sales?

I'd love the India Shining campaign to go international. We believe that India Shining is a great FDI opportunity for India in pitching for international business.

So have you discussed the opportunity with the government?

We are having that conversation with the Indian authorities.

We believe that in the next year or so, FDI categories will be good for us.

With all these news channels launching, aren't you being crowded out of that space as far as news channels are concerned. It would appear that you would be competing more with a Discovery or a National Geographic as far as advertiser profile is concerned. Your comment?

We have been hearing such talk for the last five years now (of being crowded out). The fact is that as a channel we are more clearly defined than ever before for the advertiser. We are an upscale channel serving an upscale audience with an international view on the world. Take that together with what the BBC offers through its documentaries and formats and you will realize that our relevance has actually gone up.

And we have been able to convince advertisers just that.

According to my information, BBC's India specific roadshow events directly pull in 20 per cent and cumulatively 40 per cent of the advertising you generate out of the country. Are the road show events, Mastermind India in particular, your highest value propositions as far as India is concerned?

University Challenge actually has higher billing because it has a higher amount of interactivity built in to the show and therefore lends itself to more 360 marketing efforts.

Our best sellout is still our news though.

We are exploring the possibility of bringing some new formats as well. Reality for instance, is something we have done well before with the Hospital and Commando series.

Any such shows coming up soon?

No firm decision has been made yet. Anyway, we have just launched The Advertising Show. It is a good time to introduce such a show, now that overall things are looking up.

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