Television

'SET will grow for at least three years before it consolidates' : Tarun Katial - SET business head

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His skills as a programmer are unquestionable, going by this 30 year old's track record. He's been one of few individuals in this industry who managed success way ahead of his time. One year after his entry into SET, Tarun Katial is now the man in total charge of the Sony network's flagship channel. He's also the top cat who is behind the success of Indian Idol from its conceptualisation.

Though Katial shies away from giving long interviews, his observations on the industry makes him one of the most sought after media professionals.

Katial expounds on what is on his mind as regards the growth of SET and the year ahead to ensure escalation for the channel in terms of eye-balls and the pecking order.

Indiantelevision.com's Sonali Krishna met up with Katial for a lowdown on what SET has up its sleeves for the year ahead.

Excerpts:

aWhat does your new role as business head of Sony TV entail?

It is really to ensure that SET is on track to achieve our strategic and business targets. It is also to make sure that all is in line in terms of content, communications, value to the consumers and advertisers.

SET had a good 2004, being the only general entertainment channel (GEC) to witness growth. What do you attribute it to? Do you forecast similar growth this year or do you feel it is a period of consolidation?

Really it was our initiative of doing things differently, making innovations on content and communication, of daring to venture into areas like reality programming that most television channels hadn't got into which has paid us very good dividends. It was also a year of consolidating some of our lead shows which are several years old like CID, Aahat, Crime Patrol which gave us an edge on variety content vis-?-vis the other channels.

SET will continue to grow this year. And it has at least three years of growth before it consolidates.

Where will growth come from?

It will come from all time pies. It will come from growing our current top shows to a large extent, doing stunts across the year, doing more variety programming, and building our soap franchise even further.

What are the plans for 2005?

2005 saw the first Indian Idol. The second series is scheduled for the second half of 2005. Obviously, the Idol franchise has now found its equity in India with over four crore (40 million) votes coming in. It also has a huge sense of interactivity with the viewers. So we are looking at developing the franchise and taking it further. Obviously creating awareness on the franchise will be much easier now. But we are looking at taking it down the SECs and down the geographical markets this year.

There will also be much more work done on the reality genre. Variety being the name of the game for SET, we will develop many other franchises in this area.

The launch of Batliwalla House No. 43 this year is also another cross- genre show that we have done. We have tried to do cross-genre television which started with Jassi..., a cross-genre between drama and comedy (literally a dramedy). Devi is a mythological soap while Batliwalla.. is a chatcom. Properties like CID have a huge element of soap in it.

Also, we are looking at doing television for the right reasons hence the launch of Rihaee which takes a strong stand on crime's against women and we are hoping to make that platform much bigger to provide a consolidation point for most women under stress. We are looking at tying up with a lot of NGOs as well as creating a national help line and also trying to enlist a lot of A list celebrities who will endorse the cause.

What are going to be the key focus areas for you this year?

The key focus area would be to strategically create content that flows from one end to another - as a funnel from one show to another for over 70 per cent of our target group so that we can retain our audiences more than what we are currently doing. Also, we plan to work on specific day parts to ensure that they grow into leadership positions.

'Reality TV will be a major focus area this year'

Indian Idol has delivered for SET as a whole. It has helped develop the slot and grow the overall channel share. The channel's image has also received a boost. With Idol coming to a close, how has SET managed to capitalise with a property like that to ensure its long term impact on the channel?

If you look at our Fridays, all our shows beyond the Idol franchise are doing extremely well. It has increased our reach levels on Fridays hugely. We are currently the number one channel on that day. This is a good start. Also, it is not only the show that flows out of Idol which is CID that is doing well. Crime Patrol is also delivering over 5 TVR and Aahat 2's ratings stand at about 3.5 TVR. We actually launched shows without too much of marketing because we had the Idol franchise which was creating a lot of sampling for the channel.

Rihaee on Thursdays has opened very well, again without too much of a marketing blitz. Our reach levels have gone up significantly which makes it far easier to hold and get newer audiences onto the channel.

Sony seems to have invested over Rs 400 million on Indian Idol. But the return on investment has not been in line. Would you agree with that?

No comments.

Could you throw light on how reality TV helps the general entertainment segment as a whole?

Reality TV brings in a lot of variety into the general entertainment space. We have clearly seen that with Indian Idol. It won ratings over seven TVR in the 10-11 pm time band, which no other soap has been able to do in a long time. It brings in newer audiences, over and above what is available in the general entertainment category. It also acts as a differentiator, going beyond just soaps. Reality TV is a platform for real people and real emotions; if it is done in a positive way like what we did with Idol, then it has a huge rub-off effect. It will also be a major focus area for us this year.

But Idol also worked because of its novelty as a concept. If one keeps on doing reality shows, doesn't the novelty factor wear off?

There are different twists in reality shows that can provide entertainment.

Do you think GECs are not experimenting with a variety of shows in different genres?

Sony today is the only channel that provides variety to its viewers. We are the only channel to have invested in dramedies, thrillers and reality programming. We have also done docudramas like Crime Patrol and Rihaee on prime time.

Aren't dramas and melodramas the best sellers on TV?

Yes, they are. Emotion always sells. Indians are emotional people and are value driven. If drama sells, it can be sold in a lot of formats. Reality TV has its own share of dramas and melodramas; it is the presentation which is different.

Do people watch programmes or channels?

Generically, people watch programmes and not channels. But yes, there is channel loyalty. If provided with good back-to-back content, viewers tend to watch channels. This is developed over a period of time.

Where is the growth for GEC's going to come from?

It will come from doing things differently. Getting into new genres and doing a wider spectrum of content will attract more audiences.
What according to you will be the next big idea in programming?

The next big idea will come from really crossing genres; it will be between reality, drama and comedy. If you can match all three, then that's your next big idea. Indian Idol is a classic example of a mix of comedy and drama with the trials and tribulations of the participants set in a reality backdrop. If one were to re-invent this wheel with real people in a different backdrop and put all the quotients in that, that will form the next big idea.

Which are the Sony shows that need to be tweaked or phased out?

Hum Do Hain Na is getting phased out. We have a new Balaji soap coming in called Kaise Ye Pyaar Hain at 8 pm. We are working more closely with CID and CID Special Bureau. This month CID Special Bureau is going to see a lot of new cast launches. We have Sudhanshu Pandey joining the CID SB team. We are going to have a lot of cast and cases which will crossover between the two shows. A lot of spikes and stunts are planned.

Jassi.. will go through a makeover by the 15th of March and the story will take a very interesting turn. The show is not going to be phased out in the foreseeable future. Also, we are moving Aahat 2 to the 9:30 pm slot from the 11th of March on Fridays. Ayushmaan is a show that needs work and we're in the process of doing so.

Which are the shows that don't need to be fiddled with?

Kkusum, CID, Crime Patrol, Aahat 2 and Yeh Meri Life Hain I would think are quite stable and don't need to be fiddled with.
Do you agree that programme placement is a great opportunity but can fail if the brand of the product is not properly married to the content?

We don't ever take on anything that fails to marry the brand. It is only when a show seamlessly goes through in the brand that we go ahead. So if we did Loreal, then Jassi… is all about fashion and the whole shoot was anyway planned around a fashion week. Loreal got huge mileage, something that they would have never got with a 30 second commercial. Now with the tie up with VLCC, we have integrated the brand at a timely juncture with Jassi's make-over and hence the marriage of the show with the brand is perfect.
What are the new avenues to grow advertising on TV?

Advertising needs to get more creative in its content rather that just getting creative in its placement. There are creative ways of placing advertising and there are shows which allow for this. The Nokia Hindi SMS is a classic case of being innovative about placing an advertisement. And we have seen various other ads like this - the ICICI debit card on Idols or the Mauritius Tourism board and Jassi are some of them.

But the content of the 30 second spot must also be hard hitting and refreshing; this is something that advertisers need to work upon.

Most creative minds have been said have distinct quirks in their personality? What are yours?

I have a diet fetish and I almost squirm before I have anything oily. And through the day I can't really have a heavy meal.
What are your key strengths which have enabled you to succeed in such a short span?

Work hard and don't chase the result!

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