'Major effort around Utsav is going to be to get into the press pie' : Kevin Vaz- Star India senior vice president ad sales

At first glance, Star India's senior vice president ad sales, Kevin Vaz comes across as unassuming to a fault. But there is no getting away from the fact that this soft spoken man has in eight years risen from being just another ad sales executive to heading sales at India's lead broadcast network.

Vaz, for the first time ever, gets up close and professional in an animated conversation with

Excerpts from an interview Vaz gave to Sonali Krishna:

What was the highpoint of 2003-2004 on the ad sales front as far as Star is concerned.

The highpoint for Star was that in essence we had a fantastic year across all the channels. Certain channels of ours grew, and other channels had a much higher growth than normal. If I had to give you figures it would range from 15 to 25 per cent. Across all the channels, we had a huge growth this year, in spite of having a year with India-Pakistan and lots of other cricket, Star Plus managed to get a bigger chunk, and the rest of the channels at Star network also managed to get a much bigger chunk.

But, there must have a dip in terms of ad sales due to the India-Pakistan matches this year?

Not really, because if you had to compare it season to season, last year was the World Cup and this year was the India-Pakistan series. When you compare it, India-Pakistan turns out to draw more viewers, as it essentially has more number of matches where India is playing. When you look at it from that point of view, I would say, from last year to this year, and to be specific, look at the months from May to April, across the channels we managed to retain all our clients .

We planned it differently this year. What we did in terms of strategy was we got our deals in earlier. And we tied up with clients earlier and saw how, instead of doing things last minute, we could work out deals right in the beginning which could be phased out accordingly throughout the year. So we were not under any pressure. Last year, when the World Cup was on, we went through the market trying to offer better deals for that period. This year right across the channels, we did not offer the industry any better deals.

Cricket at the end of the day, as much as its strong viewership value, would only happen for 5 days in a month. Star plus delivers rating of cricket 365 days in a year. So, yes, there are few brands which would associate with cricket and which would want that hype, but the same brands cannot ignore Star Plus. If Samsung was the title sponsor for the India-Pakistan series, Samsung at the same time spent huge monies on Star Plus, because they need the other 25 days. So, basically what we did this time is that we got into a lot of forward bookings and that's how we worked it better.

At the Star network today, are the channels all sold separately now or are there still network based deals that are negotiated.

Currently all channels are sold separately.

But I believe that you are going be switching back to the network deals.

Well, wherever possible, yes, we will be working out network deals depending on the clients needs. Earlier, since there were three channel heads, network deals were totally out of the question. But it's not going to be a rigid thing. We are not going to enforce something to the effect of every client buying Star Plus has to buy on every other channel. That's not the way we are going to be looking at it.

But what would you be pushing, network based deals or singular ones?

We won't be pushing anything. We would be flexible with a client wanting to buy on a single channel or on the whole network. But yes, a client who buys on the whole network could be a little more favourable to us but at the same time we will not be forcing it down.

Star Group CEO Michelle Guthrie has in a recent interview said that even if you have all programmes in the Top 100, there will be a constraint on growth unless you start growing the pie beyond the $500-$600 million that the TV ad market is at today. Do you think the launch of Utsav will go some way in growing the pie?

Basically, the way one is looking at Utsav, is to see how it can complement Star Plus. Star Plus as a channel would anyway figure with most media planners.

Where Star Plus would fall short would be maybe for smaller clients with smaller budgets. If a client has 50 lakhs (Rs 5 million) to spend over a two or three month campaign, he cannot look at Star Plus. Not because Star Plus cannot deliver the objectives, but Star Plus cannot give you that frequency for such a period.

When we looked at Star Utsav, it was designed to compliment Star Plus in terms of:

  • Small advertisers, who can't pay the entry fee on Star Plus, would get into Utsav.
  • Getting new Clients onto Star Utsav and also how Star Plus and Star Utsav can be shown together to ensure better reach.
"When we looked at Star Utsav, it was

designed to compliment Star Plus "

But will this mean a strategic way of increasing the pie or will it just be eating into the market share of the SABs and the Saharas (And Zee also I think you mentioned somewhere)?

It will surely increase the pie. What we are looking at is looking at increasing the number of categories on board. Getting smaller categories that might have semi-national or national presence but are using press at the moment. So, our whole effort is going to be on how we can get into the press pie. And to get people who have not advertised before onto television. Our initial growth will come from the press.

But it will also eat into your competitors' pie…?

It will have to. A part of it will have to come from there. There's no two ways about. We are not going to get a completely exclusive client base of audience. But at the end of the day, we are also looking at growing it (the pie).

So basically, small and medium enterprises (SME's) will be your focus TG.


Which are the weak babies of Star and what are the potentially strong ones? What is going to be your strategy to improve ad sales across the bouquet?

I wouldn't call anything weak. Because if you look at every genre, we are pretty much up there as a number one or a number two. Star Movies is the number one (English) movie channel.

But the competition is saying something else...

When I say number one, I am not saying there is a huge lead. But Star Movies having a bigger library and more tie-ups automatically delivers higher hits.

To continue, if you look at Star World, it doesn't have any competition.

Star Gold is one channel which we have focused a huge amount on. In the last one year Star Gold has jumped by a huge percentage. Gone are the days when we used to call Gold a classic channel. In the last 12 months Gold has had the biggest growth for us in terms of channel share, in terms of movies.

But clearly, Star Gold is not the leader in its genre, as compared to the other channels under the Star Bouquet. Any specific plans for Gold as regards the coming year?

Next year a huge amount of investments in terms of programming is going into Star Gold and Star Gold will also contribute a huge chunk to the network in terms of revenue.

"Next year Star Gold will also contribute a huge chunk to the network in terms of revenue. "

What strategies will you be implementing?

From the programming point of view, lots of key investments, from the sales point of view, positioning of movies slightly differently. The look and the feel of the channel will also change. It won't be an overnight change, but will be a gradual makeover.

Looking at a more general picture, how has the business of deal making between media agencies and channels changed in the recent past?

I think it is still the same old way, but what I think what is happening is that the business has reached a stage where agencies are incessantly trying to drive the rates lower and this may not be the best for the television business. That's why you see, a lot of pitches happening on today's date. It's all gone rate driven.

Gone are the days when you would see agencies getting a lot more to the table in terms of strategy, in terms of positioning. It's all about what rate you can buy a Kyunki…, and what rate you can buy a Kahani…And that's what becomes the crux of deciding an agency. That's shocking. Maybe the TV channels are to blame also. This will essentially drive the CPRP lower. So instead of competition taking this one step higher, it has become the prime reason for the fall of CPRPs. Whereas Star Plus has been trying to use this to position itself, competition has not taken up this matter so as to increase sales.

But isn't there a forum, where the TV industry sits down and discusses crucial issues which effect you'll as a whole?

See, you've got the Indian broadcasting foundation (IBF), but I don't think it has reached a point as to what we should take up as a rate point. Currently, it deals more with issues like unified policies. But we have really not got down to how we can place benchmarks for the industry. But yes, I feel there is a need for us to sit together and create benchmarks. Otherwise it's just going to make everyone bleed.

What have been your experiences in negotiating with media planners and buyers across markets?

If you ask me, I feel very sad about the way the business has been gone about. If you look at the last one year, there have been a huge amount of pitches and none of them are very sure as to how long the business is going to be with them. They are not very sure as to what they are delivering to the client, because there is always someone quoting a better rate or negotiating. That becomes their biggest problem. So, their endeavour is constantly trying to drive the rate lower. So, in a nutshell, media buying has taken on more dominance than media planning.

Is there a threshold level beyond which discounts shouldn't be given?

See, we are not like a manufacturing unit, where when the demand increases, you can increase production. For us our 10 minutes remains 10 minutes. So, for us to achieve our objectives one is to try and increase our yield and the second is trying to sell more time bands. Our whole business works backwards. And this is where Utsav will come in, wherein we try give options and variety to out clients. Instead of moving somewhere else, we'll try and get him onto the same basket.
What happens when programmes don't get good ratings?

We don't sell on CPRP. So yes, for new shows the client is bearing certain amount of risk, but no show has really disheartened our client.

"I feel there is a need for us to sit together and create benchmarks. Otherwise it's just going to make everyone bleed. "

Doesn't the fact that Star Plus being so far ahead of the competition in a perverse sort of way devalue the efforts that go into selling it?

Well, some channels sell, some channels negotiate, so it's the question of what your objectives are. As I told you earlier, for Star Plus it would be getting the best rate. When you talk of 10 minutes, 10 minutes is 10 minutes at the end of the day. It's the total FCP that you have. That remains a constant. So your growth comes only from values. Star Plus is way ahead, still at the end of the day, if one is looking at a 20 to 30 per cent growth, you need to see how you can get some extra value for every CPRP. So, every rating point that you can deliver, Star Plus would set an additional value. So that's the differentiating factor.

But yes if you look at it, certain channels may have to sell their product, but the deal with Star Plus is that one is trying to get the highest yield and how you can get maximum out of the clients budget. Our objectives are trying to get clients exclusively onto our network, getting clients exclusively on the channel. And that's the only way we can keep up the game on today's date.

The flip side of this is that as far as sales targets are concerned, there would be enormous pressure that sales should match the ratings in terms of the distance between you and the competition? How do you cope?

We as a company have never sold on rating points. If you look at it, the share of rating to the share of revenue is disproportionate. The share of revenue is much higher than share of ratings. So, if I had to compare myself to competition, which would be a Sony and a Zee put together, Star's share to revenue ratio, revenues will be much higher. What I am saying is if a Sony has to be a rating 5, Star will be rating 11 and 12, but the revenues will be disproportionate. That's the only reason, why we have not gone down, as the simplest thing for us to do was going by the CPRP route. Being up there, with such huge margin, if I had to give a CPRP guarantee, I don't see Sony or Zee as competition having anything left.

On a more personal note, your rise at Star has been phenomenal these last two years. How did your journey with Star begin and what do you believe are the key strengths that have got you where you are today?

I wouldn't call it phenomenal, because I started my career in this company as an executive and yes, I have done pretty well in Star. I got promoted practically every year. So it's not just the last two years, but yes it's been a good performance right from the beginning.

"Well let's just say Kevin Vaz works hard and plays harder. "

Your key strengths that you have brought to the table…

Believing in the product and trying to see how you can do something beyond. Dedication.
So is Kevin Vaz a man of all work and no play or is there a side to you that one has not seen?

(Laughs) Well let's just say Kevin Vaz works hard and plays harder.

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