Today MAX alone delivers more GRPs than Zee TV : ROHIT GUPTA- SET executive vice president (ad sales & revenue management)

After the Big Event what? That must have been the dilemma confronting Sony Entertainment Television's executive V-P ad sales and revenue management Rohit Gupta in the past year as SET came to grips with life in the "slow lane" post the Cricket World Cup highs.'s Hetal Adesara met up with Gupta for a lowdown on how SET had performed in the year gone by and was given a gung-ho picture of the network's outlook for 2004.

Excerpts from an interview:

How was 2003 for SET?

2003 went off well for us. The first quarter was a bit rough because it was post the World Cup and also because of the CAS uncertainty, there were a lot of brands who didn't want to put in spends at that time.

August was anyways a lean month. But September onwards, we have really not looked back and the last seven months have been really good for us. Most of the brands today are active on our channel and we have started getting a larger share of the revenue from the general entertainment pie.

So overall, 2003 was good for us and we will see the momentum carrying on in 2004. A month like February has been exceptional for us in terms of revenue. Trends are changing and there are more brands currently who want to advertise and brands have also realised that they need to be present for a longer period of time and not just for a short span.

Star Plus accounts for roughly 90 per cent of ad sales revenue for the network. How does the split work as far as the Sony channels are concerned?

For us I would say Sony gives us 70 per cent of the revenue. And we also have two big channels in HBO and MAX.

Last year around this time, there was the World Cup on MAX. There was also the Champions Trophy in September 2002. Both of which were largely responsible for Sony managing ad revenues of Rs 6 billion in 2003. You don't have any big ticket properties this year so it would appear difficult to come anywhere close to these numbers, let alone grow revenues. Your comment.

This year we have the Champions Trophy in September which is a big tournament for us. But obviously it is not in the league of the World Cup. The good part is that Sony as a channel is doing very well. We would be able to clock in far larger numbers on Sony - our main channel. That will offset for a lot of deficit of the World Cup. But that's a planned activity. Whereas the World Cup comes once in four years so you never can plan something on the same lines as that.

Jassi... was launched last year amidst much fan fare. Now that the hype and novelty has subdued, what is the response of advertisers towards it?

Jassi... is doing extremely well for us despite what the ratings show. I think here is a clear case where people are using their gut feeling now. Today if you talk to 10 people, the majority of them will have seen Jassi... The serial has also been able to get first time viewers. This is our key driver.

If you go to see, all our other programmes are also doing very well. For example, Kkusum is doing extremely well after we changed the storyline and moved it forward. There has been a growth of nearly 30 per cent in the ratings in Kkusum. Apart from that CID which is our main other Friday lineup, all our shows have grown by over 25 per cent. So it's not just Jassi... which is the driver of the channel.

We've now more than doubled the gap between us and Zee and today we are clearly the Number Two channel. In terms of ratings we are more than double Zee on prime time which is a benchmark on performance. At the same time we are also bridging the gap with Star. So clearly from an advertisers perspective there is a strong second alternative now which probably wasn't there six to eight months back when Star was in monopoly.

We have clearly moved away from the clutter from where Zee, Sahara, Sab and all are. There's Star, there's us and then there is this clutter.

"We have clearly moved away from the clutter from where Zee, Sahara, SAB are. There's Star, there's us and then there is this clutter"

And looking ahead, what are the properties that you believe will drive revenues in the next fiscal apart from the Champions Trophy?

Apart from the Champions Trophy, we have a whole lot of launches planned every month on SET virtually from now till September. Viewers are going to see a totally refreshed FPC (fix point chart) across all day parts.

If you also analyse the last four to five months, with the channel fertility going up, our shows are opening with high ratings - almost two and a half to three. This was not the case a year back. Most of the shows which we have launched recently have done well now. So the success rate is very high. Earlier a new show would open at one and a half rating or so and it would take two three months to pick up. Today we open at two or three so it's easier to take it up from there. Right now for virtually every time band we've got something new.

That was for Sony, what about MAX?

If you look at MAX, clearly it is now the leader on prime time. Post World Cup we have more than doubled our viewership in terms of number in just six months' time. So in six to eight months, we bridged the gap with Zee Cinema which had a six year head start on us. So Zee Cinema is no longer the number one in terms of prime time. And the other big driver for us is the Mera Movie at 5 pm. So there we will continue to build. We are coming up with more and more innovations like the Mera Movie.

Apart from that we've also got a whole host of premiers on MAX - at least one to two premiers a month which is a big thing for us. We accept that to drive viewership further on MAX. In fact today MAX alone delivers more GRPs than Zee TV.

What about HBO and AXN?

HBO is going to have its best year possible till now. Most of the big blockbusters are going to be on HBO. We launched the quarter with Spider Man which has done extremely well garnering ratings of nearly three. Plus every quarter we have got one big ticket item. We are also going to launch another series of Sex and the City.

We're also looking at AXN in a big way this year in terms of ground activities, so it gives a very good opportunity for clients to do a lot of on ground activity also taking the on air component. This is one channel where you can do a lot of innovations, branding and promotions with advertisers.

So I think between the four channels as we go forward in 2004, I think it is looking very positive for us.

Are there any innovations that have been done along with advertisers apart from air time sales? On Jassi there were the activities you did with Kelloggs and Zen. Are there any other similar initiatives that you have done or are planning to do?

We have done a lot of innovations. Apart from the ones we did with Jassi... (Kelloggs and Maruti Zen), we have also had tie ups with Procter and Gamble, DeBeers - Asmi diamonds and Dabur. That's a continuous driver which we have and that's what differentiates us from others. When we deal with our large clients it's just not a necessity buy, there is value addition that we put in through brand innovations.

Last year we set up our client servicing team with Suguna Narayan heading it. Its entire focus will be such innovations and that have been successful for us. Today the visibility brands get on TV is far more than before. We are in touch with the brand managers on a continuous basis and we understand what the brand stands for. That's how we are able to successfully bring about these innovations.

"If big ticket movies were not working for us and we weren't getting our returns, why would we keep on buying them?"

Big ticket movies have always been associated with Sony. But the criticism laid at your door has been that the costs paid have not justified the returns. Last Year's Devdas was a case in point. Your comment.

It delivers for us and works for us. That's the reason why we keep on buying. If it was not working for us and we were not getting our returns, why would we keep on buying?

How much time does it take you to recover your money from big movies? (One airing, two airings... or more?)

It is easy to recover the money. It works very well for our channel. I can't talk on the behalf of other channels but Sony has been associated with big ticket movies and if you look at any year, the top movie will be on our channel and we would like to keep up with this association.

So obviously it is working well for our channel despite what some media reports say. At the end of the day all these are business decisions and if they don't work we will not be stupid enough to repeat them.

What are the most active brands on Sony, MAX, AXN and HBO?

We have today every brand possible on the network. We have got a large number of deals in the last six months since the channel has been doing well. We'd had a growth of over 50 per cent in terms of ratings on prime time. With that what happens is today for a media planner, if he buys intelligently, he can develop a media plan with Sony taking the lead. So he's not dependant on just taking our competitors on the stool. Sony's share of the revenue that we're getting per client is increasing because the programmes are getting higher ratings.

Today there are a lot of brands who are exclusive to Sony, although I wouldn't want to name them.

Have you seen any new brands/categories coming in?

Well... we have virtually every brand that you can think of. From the FMCG sector we have P&G, Coke, Colgate and many brands of Dabur and Hindustan Levers.

In the telecom sector we have Hutch, Reliance, AirTel and Tatas. In the petroleum sector which is another growing sector, we have BPCL. In other growing sectors like the two wheeler category we have everybody; in the consumer durables sector - we have LG, Samsung, Onida and many more.

Now what has happened is that with the opening up of the categories any advertiser can export hence it has opened up the market further for us. This is one thing that we had not anticipated at the beginning of the year. But now that's happened so a whole lot of brands have come on the channel. Financial sectors and the insurance sectors buy on our network which they didn't earlier. This will also have a large impact on channels like MAX, HBO where a lot of money goes into news and other channels today. But now with the kind of ratings MAX delivers, it is far more effective for male TG clients.

Smaller brands which did not export earlier were only going into the news genre earlier but now they are putting in their money here and getting higher deliverance.

Is there a difference in the profile between those who advertise on Sony and MAX?

Not really. Maybe a year and a half back there was a difference when most of the brands on Sony were not on MAX but that was prior to the World Cup. Post World Cup, the success which we've had on the channel and the kind of innovation that we've done, we have every brand on MAX as well.

"Even during our worst days in the last year no brand walked away from us"

What have been your experiences in negotiating with media planners and buyers across markets? Is there a threshold level beyond which discounts shouldn't be given?

The experience has been good so far. They are doing their jobs and we have to carry on with our job. There will always be the conflict when they will try to bring down the rates and you are trying to hold up on rates. But at the end of the day if you have channel deliveries that are going up and you can give a good value proposition to a brand then I don't think there should be any problem.

We don't always go forward will all the deals that come to us. There is a threshold point beyond which we walk up and say that it doesn't make any sense. Gone are the days when there would be no negotiations on rates. Now we have to say no to some if it doesn't work in our favour.

What happens whenever a programme doesn't have good ratings?

That's where packaging comes in. It's all about how you are able to package your good programmes versus the programmes which are not doing that well. That conflict will always be there because you will never have a situation where all your programmes do well.

How does the sales pitch and negotiation process change in the case of different channels? I mean, the value proposition that an HBO offers is obviously different from that of MAX or SET? What is your team's pitch to the advertisers?

Each channel has a niche of its own. If you look at it, SET is the number two channel, MAX is the number one channel, HBO is the number one channel, AXN again is of value. So every channel is very different from each other. And the good part is that out of the bouquet of four channels that we have, either we are number one or number two in the genre.

So as long as we give a good value proposition to the client I don't think it's that difficult. You can do good deals because the client is also looking at getting good value. If you are able to meet their requirements, then its fairly easy. I mean, it is tough and aggressive, but what is helping us now is that the economy is also doing well and there are new brands coming up.

And as we move ahead into this year, like I said, apart from the channel doing well there are new advertisers also coming in. So there is a feel good factor across and there are increased brand spends. This is the first time that we've seen in this quarter that there are no cuts in brand spends.

Is there a difference in the brands that are aired during prime time and during the rest of the day? What brands appear during what time?

It depends on the client what he wants to buy and how the deal is structured. Every deal is structured differently. We try and package our deals in such a way that the client gets good visibility.

What kind of initiatives to keep the advertisers happy?

Sony as a brand has developed a strong bond with most of the top advertisers over the last couple of years. Even during our worst days in the last year no brand has walked away from us. Everybody was on the channel. So we've got a very strong relationship and foundation that we've built up with our client over a period of time and that's where we talk about value proposition and innovations. That's the key.

In the last year and a half or so we've been continuously been coming up with new programmes. And as we move into 2004, it's again a big year for us as we come with a host of new programmes. So as long as we are able to work towards increasing viewership by doing something new and creative all the time which, at the end of the day is what every most advertisers are looking at and would want to be associated with. They should say that here's not a channel who doesn't think outside the box!

"Across the industry the role that IBF is currently playing is phenomenal and has been a great help for all broadcasters"

Tell us about channel outstanding and collections? What is the general credit period?

We are probably the benchmarks in the industry as far as the outstanding are concerned. We have no issues at all. Our collections or DSO (Days Sales Outstanding) are probably the best in the industry. We also have very strict credit norms. The Indian Broadcasting Foundation (IBF) gives a period of 75 days as per the guidelines but of course there could some exceptions of five or 10 ten days up and down.

Across the industry the role that IBF is currently playing is phenomenal. For all broadcasters for the last one and a half years it's been a great help. We've been able to liquidate outstandings which were three to four years old and were written off. That body has really played its role very effectively and I think all channels can vouch for it.

What are the new revenue streams which TV channels can explore and exploit?

I think the basic thing is that the rates in certain niche channels today is not in accordance with the kind of viewership it is getting. It is a demand and supply situation. As we see more brands coming in and spends are increasing; there would be pressure on inventory and the rates will have to go up.

The last four - five years were bad for Indian advertising industry; the general scenario is down so it was very difficult to even survive in that scenario. I think that has changed now and the key challenge for every broadcaster is to move the barrier up.

Apart from that I think there are lots of avenues which will open as we move ahead through a lot of ground events, interactivity between channels. Today there is a lot of interactivity between the consumer and the broadcaster. The revenue opportunities will come from there.

Has there been a significant change in ad spends for different programmes on Sony this year as compared to last year?

Ad spends have gone up because we are doing well. Spends have increased on our big events, big movies, programmes like Jassi..., Kkusum, Devi, CID...

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