"Max aiming at 30% ad revenue growth for just the non-cricket content" : N.P. Singh - Set India CFO & Max business head

These are busy times for Max. The channel, which has been starved of cricket for over a year and a half now, is all geared up for The Champions Trophy, which kicks off today.

Max has rejuvenated cricket presentation with its Extraaa Innings programming which this time around has gotten bigger. Its efforts at broadening cricket viewership from males to the family have been appreciated by the ICC. At the helm of things is Sony CFO NP Singh, who recently took additional charge as Max business head after Rajat Jain left to head Disney’s India operations.

For Singh, the wheel could be said to have come full circle, for it was the launch of Max that he was assigned, when he joined Sony in 1999. In a t?te-?-t?te with’s Ashwin Pinto, Singh exudes confidence about how the Champions Trophy would fare in the ratings sweepstakes. He also dwels on how Extraaa Innings has been beefed up, Max’s distribution plans globally and the new HR practices he put into place.


In addition to heading HR, IT & new media, business development functions along with the finance portfolio you were recently given charge of Max. How are you settling in with this latest responsibility?

I would say that I have already settled in. I took

over this role from the beginning of July and over the

past two months there has been a lot of activity. I

have settled in easily, because, I have been involved

with this channel for a long, long time.

Things have come full circle for me. I joined this company in 1999 and was a part of the team that launched Max. In fact, this was my first project. From among that team I am one of the few that are left. In any case as CFO, I am involved with every strategic decision that is taken for Sony and Max. I have been

in the know of what has been happening on this

channel and the other channels on the network for quite a while. All this made it more comfortable for me to come in and settle down quickly.

In what way is Max going to embellish its presentation of The Champions Trophy?

The production is being done by Sky. We have a set of experts who will provide commentary and people like Sanjay Majrekar, Tony Greig, Mark Nicholas and Michael Slater. In addition, the wrap around programming that we have, which is Extraaa Innings, is something that we have worked on.

For the World Cup last year, we had achieved a high when we decided on the Cape Town studio. It was set against the background of the Plateau and the Table Top. This time we have a studio in London, the London Studio. It is the largest one used by any sports channel. It is situated on the banks of the Thames River overlooking St. James Cathedral.

It gives you a good view of the London Skyline. You get the complete feel of London which will give our viewers the English experience. We have added Rakshandha Khan to the Extraaa innings team. She will be a roving reporter. At the venues she will interview viewers and players. She will add that dash of glamour and entertainment.

What are some of the other new features that have been added?

We are introducing a news capsule by Mandira. She will share the highlights of not the game but of what has been going on around the game. This will include what the players do when not playing cricket, venues, hotels the players are living in.

We are also seeking to introduce the interactive element. We are launching a cricket game with Kapil Dev. You download it through mobile. We are also launching two ringtones. We created two music videos. Ala La Rei will have a ringtone. The montage music video we made for Extraaa Innings will also be converted to a ringtone.

On air there will be Q&A sessions. Here panellists will answer two questions a day from the viewers. We will be using Hawk Eye during Extraaa Innings to give another angle to our viewers. Another feature is Mind Over Matter. When a cricketer uses his intelligence in a difficult situation we will show that.

"The performance of the Champions Trophy on Max is not merely dependent on the performance of the Indian team. The whole presentation matters"

What viewership trends do you expect to see for the Champions Trophy? While the ratings you got from the India-Pakistan game would have been encouraging, the form of the team must be a cause for concern, one would have thought.

The performance of the Champions Trophy on Max is not merely dependent on the performance of the Indian team. The whole presentation matters. We are looking at improving the ratings that we got for the World Cup. We got an average of 6.9 for the tournament. We achieved the same rating for the India Pakistan match in Holland which was a truncated game.

This was much more than what the competition was able to do in another tournament, which had been held a few days prior to the Holland tourney. We have set a higher target based on the investments we are making in the presentation.

The good part is that all the games are day games. That means primetime for India. Avid viewers as a habit will come in at 12:45 pm, which is when Extrasa Innings starts.

Could you talk about Max's in-house production team that made the music video as well as the TVCs?

The in-house team conceived the rain spot with Mandira. This team is top of the line and have won lots of awards. It was conceived by Avanish Agrawal and his team and shot by Sujat. Our in-house team conceived the music video. In fact, we are talking with music channels regarding airing it. It was shot in Pondicherry. In the video you can see the freshness that goes along with passion for the game and the entertainment it provides. The Ala la Rei video was conceived by Euro RSCG.

While the concept of Extraaa Innings was worked upon in-house Fresh Brew produced it. They have the capability of expertly producing a show at that level. For the live game, Sky is using a 26-camera set up. For the Videocon Cup also we used 26 cameras and the review we got from purists and experts on the game were overwhelming.

The ICC has said that it only wants ads aired in

between overs and before and after an inning.

Basically, it is objecting to the kind of roving popups that were witnessed during the Asia Cup. What is Max’s stance on this?

Our understanding with the ICC has always been on the line of not having too much clutter. Our aim is to make the cricket as clutter free as possible.

If you go back to what we did for the World Cup and the Champions Trophy a couple of years ago there were no pop ups in the viewers face. Our advertising strategy did not face any resistance from any quarter. We are already following the ICC’s guidelines and there is no issue with that from our side.

"Our campaign with Mandira is not only aimed at housewives. We are also targeting males"

Are you planning road shows for the cable fraternity ahead of the event?

In the build up to the cricket season we did a lot of on ground activity through Mandira Gully Cricket. Mandira went to several cities including Ludhiana, Lucknow, Surat, Ahmedabad and Delhi. Mandira also visited cable networks to get their good wishes.

Our campaign with Mandira is not only aimed at housewives. We are also targeting males. The viewership of Extraaa Innings went up by 32 per cent for both males and females during the World Cup and she played a large part in this spurt.

What ramp up in declared distribution is Max

targeting through the Champions Trophy?

The price freeze by Trai has led to a stable distribution revenue pie. Our aim is to cut the pie more in our favour as much as possible. The One Alliance Group is working at increasing the number of subscribers for Max.

Max is the driver for the One Alliance bouquet. Our main market is Hindi speaking. This is not to say that we are ignoring the South. Cricket is the pivot around which we can move our channels into the South.

What are the properties on Max and Sony that will be promoted using the Champions Trophy as a vehicle?

Sony is promoting their upcoming Indian Idol on Max

very actively. We are cross-promoting Extraaa Innings and Champions Trophy on Sony.

What goals have been set for the channel in terms of ad revenue?

While I cannot share with you the actual revenue numbers, we are looking for at least a 30 per cent growth in ad revenue. It is an apples to apples comparison. Last year there was no cricket. For this year, that 30 per cent figure is based on non-cricket content.

Will you be telecasting the Champions on your

international platforms?

No. We do not have the worldwide rights for the event. Our international channel goes into different territories and those rights belong to different parties.
"Over the past couple of years we have adopted several new HR practices. They range from having a very effective communication strategy for employees across the company to coming up with specialised and generic training programmes for employees across the board"
Abroad in which countries is Max available and what is the subscription charge in each country?

Subscription charges vary. It depends on the market

dynamics and what it can bear. We made Max

International in July. It is available in the Middle East on Pehla. It is being tested in Europe. That launch is expected to happen in the third quarter. We are talking with different parties for carriage.

Which countries are you targeting for launching Max Intl and what is the timeline?

We are going into the US in October. We are looking at Africa as well but a timeline for that launch has not been decided. Australia and New Zealand are still some time away for us.

For Hindi general entertainment and movie channels the strong markets are the Middle East, US, UK and Africa. In Asia, they are Singapore, Hong Kong, Thailand, Malaysia. Basically, the countries that have a strong ethnic Indian population. In terms of emerging markets, what is surprising is that Israel is a market that is coming up. China and Japan are also coming up. Maybe Indian channels in their entirety cannot go into those markets yet as 24-hour channels due to capacity constraints. However, many of those broadcasters are seeking Indian product for their networks.

What are the challenges involved in distributing Max abroad?

We have only just begun. The first challenge is to make sure that the channel is available across all the international territories. That is where our focus rests at the moment. You have to meet competition in every market that you get into. That is not something, which worries us.
Are you doing any marketing initiatives to build a

close connect with NRIS?

We plan to do focussed marketing initiatives for Max

International. As I said we are only in the Middle

East at the moment. However, we have cross-promotional advantages available because of Sony. When we go to the US and most other international markets we will enjoy similar benefits.

Is Max International being customised to meet the tastes of NRIs?

Max International is not an identical copy of what viewers are getting here. It is tailored to the needs of the international market. There are various sensibilities that we have to take care of. In addition to viewer demand there are local territory

sensibilities. We keep that in mind when we come up with out FPC.

For example, the UK has certain regulations that we have to follow rigorously. Upto a certain point in a day we cannot show any semblance of violence. So we look at family oriented content at that time.

Looking beyond the Champions Trophy what are the major movies and events that Max has lined up for the rest of the year? Have you acquired any big titles?

After the Champions Trophy we have planned an Amitabh Bachchan film festival. We are in the process of acquiring some blockbuster movies. When we get out of the cricket season we get into the movie season and we have ample product available to retain the viewers gained during the Champions Trophy.

As far as events are concerned there was one on 8 September at 9 pm. We aired the ICC Cricket Awards that are the Oscars of cricket. It was held in London. In the fourth quarter you will have the Filmfare awards.

What is Max's share of the Hindi movie channel market?

I can say with pride that Max is the leader. Over the past six months Max has been neck and neck with Zee Cinema for leadership across all day parts. From Jan -July 2004 from 7 am to midnight we achieved an average TVR of 0.53. This represents a 57 per cent growth. Zee Cinema’s average TVR is only slightly ahead at 0.65.

In the primetime band, which is post 9 pm, we are ahead. We managed an average TVR of 0.98 while Zee Cinema managed an average of 0.83. We have managed this through innovations like movies with a single break, Mandira Aapke Ghar, Kapil Aapke Ghar.

We have achieved success with Hollywood Hungama on Sundays. These are our dubbed films. Anaconda managed a TVR of 4.1

What are some of the HR practices that Sony has

recently adopted for employee retention?

Over the past couple of years we have adopted several new HR practices. They range from having a very effective communication strategy for employees across the company to coming up with specialised and generic training programmes for employees across the board.

We have rendezvous with the employees. Within three months of a new person coming into the company he/she has a session with a senior manager who will talk to them. The new employees can give their feedback and inputs on what their experience has been thus far.

However, we do not leave it at that. We pick up the issues that emerge and find solutions. This means that there is a very close looping of all the feedback that we receive. In this way we have managed to build up a huge amount of credibility with the employees. We have also worked on having transparent performance appraisal parameters.

We have also introduced a transparent rewards and recognition process. Transparency has helped us increase the motivation levels of our employees. That has helped the company build a very strong bond with the employees.

On the IT front what are the new systems that have been put in place?

We have continuously been making investments in both hardware and software. We are currently focussed on digitising our asset library. It will take some time for us to complete this. It is a combination of both in-house and outsourcing.

It is a step in the right direction from a futuristic point of view. When everything is moving in a digital direction it is important that all our content is digital. Then there are space constraints. We cannot keep adding tapes to our library.

Will broadband play an important role in sport

viewership in the future?

Broadband will play a significant role not just in sports but in general content over the next five years. I am not limiting this to just television channels. There are a host of services that will be provided by broadband operators.

Broadband is something we could look at in the future. We always look at emerging businesses and work to take advantage of these opportunities at the right time.

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