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'News channels don’t sell themselves correctly' : Chintamani Rao - India TV CEO

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He can be called an outsider to the broadcasting world, but he claims to have seen the media from both sides. Having spent close to 30 in the world of advertising where he did everything, except the creatives, he’s now getting to know things from the other side having joined a broadcasting company. India TV’s newly-appointed CEO Chintamani Rao can be said to be in an enviable position.

However, it would not be an easy job for him to establish the India TV brand further in the market --- his primary aim --- as competition is cut-throat and the market is so fragmented that sometimes even angel’s fear to tread here.

Rao, who has been associated with Universal McCann, was responsible for all the non-advertising businesses of the group including Result McCann (direct marketing and event management). In his advertising career, he has also been associated with other brand names such as O&M and Lintas and done stints in India and abroad.

In this interview with Indiantelevision.com at the company’s studio facility in Noida, on the outskirts of Delhi, which is his first brush with the news media after joining the Rajat Sharma-promoted India TV, Rao gives sneak preview of things to come and what he’d be trying to do, while maintaining that he’s still in the “learning process.”

Excerpts:

Do you see yourself as an outsider in the broadcasting industry?

Let me put it this way - I am still in the learning mode. Still, this business has comforting similarities to what I was doing earlier. The difference here is what I was looking for.

What is the difference that has spurred you on to join a news broadcast company?

Lot of people were surprised when I announced my decision to join India TV. They said, 'after being in the advertising industry for so long, you are changing track.' That’s exactly the point --- so long. In my 31 years in advertising, I think, I’ve gone through the whole range from media planning, buying, outdoor… At the cost of sounding immodest, I can claim that I have done almost everything that had to be done in the advertising industry; except, of course, the creative part.

In this very road, I see no new mountains to climb, at least none that beckon me. Television is full of action, and the news space is growing rapidly. I look forward to a great deal to learn and do here. I am certainly not in the retiring mode.

'The Hindi news space is brimming with activity and India TV has got a strong brand in Rajat Sharma'

In this quest for new challenges, how did India TV happen?

I can’t say that I was actually looking for India TV or to join this particular organisation. My career took its own course and circumstances brought us (Rajat Sharma and Rao) together.

But after having joined India TV, I find this place interesting and stimulating. Especially as India TV is in the Hindi news space, which is brimming with activity, and the fact that this organisation has got such a strong brand in Rajat that it would be challenging to exploit the brand value for further benefit of the company.

(When Sharma was asked the reason for getting a CEO and that too an advertising professional, he had this to say: "As we have grown and been expanding, on this road of growth we will be facing many more challenges. India TV indeed would need an experienced and rich hand to advance the further growth of the channel." Rao, according to Sharma, is the “best professional” amongst the many the company was searching for and his understanding of the media business would be an asset. Especially from the marketing point of view.)

What do you find exciting and challenging in the broadcast business now that you are in the thick of it?

Television is an intellectual property. So, what makes one TV channel different from the other? It’s content. And, I have been managing content all my life. Just before joining India TV, I was running an agency that was into media buying. Now here, I have to sell the media. What’s challenging for me is that I bring that perspective of buying and selling as also managing content. I have never been in the creative business and here also I leave that to others like Rajat, except, of course, giving my feedback to the content creation team.

What would be your main agenda at India TV?

Without doubt, it would be to build the India TV brand further so that the brand extension translates into viewers, advertisers and help the distribution team. It’s a symbiotic relationship amongst all these functions and I hope to further facilitate that. Then, one will have to identify the target audience and whether that audience is being served properly. It’s very important to also properly identify the target, otherwise even ad sales initiatives might not bear fruit.

How do you plan to do brand extension for India TV?

I ask myself the question: 'What’s unique that India TV has?' The answer is Rajat Sharma. Let’s face the fact, he’s the only star in the Hindi news space. As a marketing professional, my job is to leverage the asset of India TV and that is Rajat Sharma.

Do you seriously feel that India TV’s biggest asset hasn’t been properly exploited till now, which might be a reason for the news channel to languish behind others?

I would not like to comment on the latter half of the question as I have just joined and am still learning the tricks of the trade and India TV is fairly young in the business. But the answer to the first part of your question, is, of course, the asset hasn’t been properly exploited.

Would we see more of Rajat Sharma in marketing and advertising initiatives?

I cannot divulge the plans immediately. So, continue watching this space.

What is your opinion of the news market in India?

It’s not an easy business to be in. Let us not have any illusion on that. Like others, I also go by Tam data, which indicates that the news market is about six per cent of the total TV audience market. Out of that, three to four per cent is made up of Hindi news. On one side, the audience and the market that news channels are targeting is very small, compared to the entertainment space, for example. This also means that the news market can go nowhere, but up with the cable penetration increasing in the country. The positive aspect is that Hindi news corners the maximum share of the news market and it is in this space that India TV is operating.

Keeping these facts in mind, it would be safe to say that all news channels in India start off with the same base, depending on happenings and events out there in society and in the country and the world. So within this limitation it’s a function of being different and being able to get into a viewer’s repertoire of what he/she typically watches.

As the CEO of India TV, do you have an idea what does a typical viewer of news channels typically watches?

There are viewership data available, but no diagnostic research done in this field. So, I would not be able to tell you what is typically watched. What I understand, however, is news content is not driven by marketing decisions.

Do you feel that a certain limitation in understanding the news business, has goaded the TV news channels, especially Indian ones, to mindlessly dub almost every event an exclusive and every happening an a breaking news?

What little I have learnt and observed till now that in the news business reaction time is very less. You see, or tend to see, what the competition is doing and how things can be done differently.

I hope to bring a fresh perspective to the business, a perspective of a non-journalist. If something is irritating, it’d be rejected. That’s what I have learnt in the advertising industry, which is a two-way response street. You do something and you’ll get a response. That’s how things should be.

'The advertising pie, has not being growing as fast as the number of news channels. My understanding is that news channels don’t sell themselves correctly'

With India TV poised to make forays into the regional news market, do you feel it’d be a financially sound move?

As I said earlier, one has to first decide who the customer is. After having done that, then one must go ahead designing the product accordingly. There is a fairly large market of local advertisers, but then one would have to identify the target audience before making such forays.

On the other hand, the regional market does offer certain prospects. If at a marginal extra cost, one can open up market, then why not? The Gujarati news market is big enough, I think and at a little incremental cost that market could be targeted by India TV.

Has the total ad pie being keeping pace with the growth in the number of news channels in India?

The answer is no. The advertising pie, as you are referring to, has not being growing as fast as the number of news channels. My understanding is that news channels don’t sell themselves correctly.

I’ll reiterate, one should decide who the customer is. There’s no point if I compete with, say, Star Plus in trying to attract the type of advertisers or all of them, which get on to entertainment channels. It’d be foolish for me to do so. As a news channel, I should know my strength, and my target audience. This knowledge would help me in selling my product better.

Do you really feel that there is severe misunderstanding of the selling aspect when some news channels are doing extremely doing well in terms of ad revenue?

From years of being on the other side of the table I can say that media sellers by and large don’t know how media planners plan or how buyers buy. Of course there are exceptions, there always are, and they are the ones who are successful.

If you are selling a news channel - in fact any so-called niche channel, or what I prefer to call unique content channels - you must be clear about the role of your channel in the media plan. Essentially, to whom you are relevant and why.

In my experience, media typically don’t have an answer to that question, much less the question of what is the competitive advantage of their channel.

What's the time frame for India TV to be in the top three brackets from where it is now?

I don’t want to speculate on that. We are a serious player in this business and the faster we get to the top, the better. We would not be satisfied being a marginal player.

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