"Innovative content well marketed can work wonders" : LV Krishnan - TAM India CEO

LV Krishnan, chief executive of TAM India, is a soft spoken man. But that could well have worked to an advantage for someone who been in the hot seat these last two years while the country became a single ratings currency driven market.

It was also a matter of personal satisfaction for Krishnan that the Zee Network, which had looked with suspicion at the authenticity of the ratings system, came "back into the fold". This period has also seen TAM Media rolling out new services and expanding its peoplemeter coverage across the country.

Excerpts from an interview Krishnan gave to where he offered opinions on a number of issues, including programming and promotions.

What do you think will be the key events of 2004 from a TV ratings perspective?

Impactwise, if it was news last year, this year it is the kids segment that will make a big splash.

Sports, as a viewing segment will jump up even higher that last year. That's because unlike last year when after the World Cup, for a huge period there was no cricket, this year seems to have a more continuous flow of cricket happening throughout - India-Pakistan, the ICC tournament, Australia in India, the Asia Cup.

And if India continues to perform well the ratings are going to look even better (the interview was done before the India's cricket summer of content came crashing down with a huge thud in Sunday's second VB Series Final).

For the Test matches, India registered ratings which have never been seen before. So sports as a genre is going to be big.

An upcoming genre probably in the metro markets is going to be health. Good health content will find an audience.

News of course will continue to thrive and the elections will only add to that.

Talking about metro markets, as far as we understand, the Times Group is looking at a Bombay Times-Page 3 kind of channel, broadly on the lines of Indian version of E! How do you see such a channel doing?

That's a new genre actually, but that's already being catered to by fashion channels like Trendz and NDTV India's Night Out segment.

They're pure fashion channels, what I'm referring to is the lifestyle channel proposition.

Even Trendz, if you look at some of the slots, they do have sections on social events. For example, suppose they were telecasting something on Kolkata, they would cover things happening in the city, focus on a particular restaurant, etc.

I've chatted with the Trendz guys and I think they are very close to what E! is internationally - local plus a little bit of international stuff.

How is NDTV's Night Out doing?

It's a good slot. It's right at the top end, picks up some viewing. It's not a mass viewing proposition.

The same thing will happen even if somebody ventures into that whole time. It will be pegged right at the top end segment. Viewers in general consume only bits and pieces of such types of offerings. At least, so far.

But the interesting thing here could be that it can focus on two things - general lifestyle and Bollywood. If you look at the news channels, some of the top programmes that news channels pick up are Bollywood-centred shows. So there is potential definitely, for something like that. But it needs to grasp attention in such a way that viewers walk in continuously and sample the fare.

So you feel that might be difficult to sustain?

On a continuous 24-basis, yes.

Because, even today, the socialite party circuit is basically, Mumbai, Delhi, Bangalore and to some extent, Kolkata.

Beyond these metros, by 10 O'Clock life pretty much closes for the rest of the country other than the television being on.

So therefore it has a very narrow focus. It might catch the attention of the rest of the country in terms of viewership, but in terms of content generation, it would probably be too much of eating of the same plate.

Aside from health, which you've already mentioned, is there any other genre that you feel has potential?

F1 motorsport I think is will slowly gaining popularity. With Bahrain and Shanghai getting on the F1 grid and if Hyderabad also comes on, then this can really catch on. Of course it is early days yet but if (F1 bossman Brian) Ecclestone actually decides to give it all the push, then it could take off this year. And be well established by 2007.

But isn't this a very narrow focused CAS or DTH-specific kind of offering?

See excitement can be built up. It's an opportunity for something new to enter the market. With huge promotions it could gain millions of new audiences.

What about entertainment channel programming? How do you see that developing? Are there any trends that have come out of 2003 that provide some indicators of how 2004 might pan out?

There are two learnings that come out of 2003. One is that innovative content, well pre-tested before launch, can work wonders.

The second important aspect is the marketing of a programme.

"Creating content for the group I want to talk to, by understanding their lifestyles and taking their aspirational values into consideration, that is changing the way content is being generated"

As Jassi showed?

Jassi is just one of the examples. Star has a couple of good examples. It could even be movies. It need not be related to mass entertainment only in terms of soaps. A proper infusion of marketing can actually change the fortunes of a programme.

Which is what Star seems to have perfected to an art.

Perfected pretty well. Now, the biggest learning we get in terms of promotions, is it's not just outdoor sites, etc.

Even here there are two key learnings. One is that the way you promote the programme on your channel and your network channels, there is a science of media planning that comes in over there. The more you have developed that skill, to schedule the spots in the right manner, to catch the right audiences, mingle the spots so that the right number of exposures happen with the audiences, you will be able to build in more by way of walk-ins into the content itself.

Therefore the science of promotion is slowly catching up.

The second part in promotion is the content of the promo.

If you look back even nine to ten months ago, promotions were primarily stating 'this time, this date, my programme is getting launched'. There was no reason given as to why you should come and watch it.

Now programmers are looking at qualitatively changing the content of the promos so that audiences are tickled enough to want to come in and watch.

So the science of promotions in terms of planning it, as well as creatively executing it, is becoming extremely important. And that's one of the biggest changes that is happening today.

Look at sports for instance. Sports is slowly changing the way it is marketing to the consumer.

This is what MAX brought in.

MAX brought it in and even ESPN Star Sports are executing it very slickly. Look at the Shaz and Waz show. Although it (the matches) is being played in Australia, they are creating interactivity through mobile. Then there is the live score updates that have been introduced through a tie-up with their sponsor (Hutch).

So it goes to show that they are using television as a medium to promote their own content and the way they are taking forward that content is slowly changing.

But is there any specific direction that you get from the past data is to what sort of programming will be more popular, say suspense, or thriller, romance, etc?

The genres are not going to change dramatically, it is just the way the content is presented that is going to change.

But in terms of content planning, there is certainly one key area that people have started understanding through the data bases. It is that specific groups of people are hooked on to specific genres of programmes.

Creating content for the group I want to talk to, by understanding their lifestyles and taking their aspirational values into consideration, that is changing the way content is being generated.

"The reality is that in the developed countries, television viewing is declining, rather than going up. Because you have alternative options available, the Internet in particular"

Any examples of that?

One of the examples is probably travel shows. Earlier travel shows were all about plain capture of scenic spots. Now travel shows have brought in thematic aspects, like the experiences of a family traveling and the goof-ups on the way. That introduces an element of drama into the content.

Then there is that show Vijay Jasoos on DD1 that has been produced by the BBC World Service Trust. It is a detective series but with a social message about HIV-AIDS built into it.

Can you provide a status report as to what stage your TAM market expansion has reached as of now? What have been the highlights of the last six months on that front?

The state-level market expansion has been completed. Rajasthan was the last one to be covered.

But I thought that you had some problems in Bihar?

Bihar is a problem because the situation there is extremely unstable. We have been in touch with the JIB (joint industry body) committee and we are monitoring how it develops there.

Rest of the eight markets we have already started releasing the data. We have now started work on the metro expansion plan.

Keeping the metro expansion and Bihar out of it, how many peoplemeters are in place now?

We are 4,000 now and once the metro expansion has been completed we will be touching 4,800 peoplemeters.

The biggest change that has happened in this period is that we are now the world's largest in terms of the number of people polling into our system. We have over 25,000 individuals in our panel. It is still urban 100,000+ markets.

The next step is to look at even smaller towns and the rural markets.

Which is when?

We are already in discussions with a couple of broadcasters on this but it will ultimately depend on when the JIB gives the go-ahead.

"The biggest change that has happened in this period is that we are now the world's largest in terms of the number of people polling into our system. We have over 25,000 individuals in our panel"

One group that did not support TAM ratings was Zee. Zee has started subscribing to the service again, but the common refrain among many continues to be that TAM being the only ratings currency, it is something that one has to live with, warts notwithstanding. Your response.

Any system in the world has its positives and negatives. But we're a professional unit and our goal is to be the best in the world. So we have very stringent KPI (key performance indicators) norms that we work under. The good thing that has happened is that the kind of methodology that has been used by TAM, we have been ranked Number 2 by the Measurement Science Unit.

Which is the Number 1?

The US is the Number 1. And the difference between the two is not much, given the complexity that India offers.

In terms of security of the panel also we have put in quite a lot of security norms. That is why today if an intrusion occurs, we come to know about it immediately. And we report it to the JIB immediately.

So therefore instead of looking at it negatively, if some people are doing that, all that they have to do is approach TAM with questions and queries and we will see how we can resolve them in a complete and transparent manner.

Talking of the US, there was a controversy recently that a key demographic the media consumption of young adult males was not being tracked satisfactorily. What has been the outcome of that? How has Nielsen worked around this?

I think this has been hyped up by the media rather than anything else. In general, the reality is that in the developed countries, television viewing is declining, rather than going up.

In an emerging market like India, you don't have a problem of growth in television viewing. But even that is slowly getting stagnated.

You look at the growth in the number of television sets, it is getting stagnated. It is the same guys who are purchasing new TVs.

In urban markets, the cable & satellite penetration has saturated around 65-66 per cent. If you look at the rural market, which is supposed to be expanding, no longer is TV growing over there.

So if you look at the time spent and the number of people who are watching television, that is also getting stagnated over a period of time.

"In urban markets, the cable & satellite penetration has saturated around 65-66 per cent. If you look at the rural market, which is supposed to be expanding, no longer is TV growing over there"

 That's in India, but in the US you're saying it's going down?

Why is television consumption declining in the US? Because you have alternative options available, the Internet in particular.

The environment is changing dynamically. So suddenly, if you see a decline in consumption among some target groups, you got to start looking at what is the TG doing? Is he spending his time watching television or doing something else?

Rather than complaining about the fact that the panel is not picking up the data, they should be looking at why is the panel not picking it up?

What are the specialised services that have been launched recently?

Now we have quite a few of them. The star performers have been the S Group, the Measurement Science Division and Adex.

Adex has been a double star performer actually. The entire industry now subscribes to it. And there is amazing new technology now going in to ensure that Adex data is standardized. So there has been a huge improvement going forward on the Adex side. And now we have the latest one Eikona (PR monitoring service).

Looking ahead, what is the time frame you expect to achieve break-even?

The expansion plan break-even should be in the next three and a half years but in terms of return on the investments that have gone in thus far, it could take five to six years.MM

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