Television

'What we need to do now is concentrate on our week day prime time band' : Sneha Rajani - Max business head

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It has been an eventful time for Max. It recently aired the champions Trophy. Having successfully shored up its share on the weekend due to its focus on Sunday, it is now concentrating on strengthening its week day prime time band. It is also putting together plans for next year's cricket World Cup.

Indiantelevision.com's Ashwin Pinto caught up with Max business head Sneha Rajani for a quick chat. She recently took over from former head Albert Almeida who was tapped to head Sony.

Excerpts:

Firstly, could you talk about the push given to The Champions Trophy by Max?

If you look at the, ratings you will see that once again cricket on Max has delivered higher ratings than on any other channel. This started four years back. The non-India match ratings have been a revelation. It has been the highest since the World Cup. Our ratings were certainly helped by the buzz that Extraaa Innings bought and the innovations we did.

Some advertisers I spoke to were not too happy. Do you feel there would be some cooling off in the next edition of the event?

One grouse is that a lot of the matches including the final finished way too early. I think the advertisers are smart enough to understand that its in nobody's hand whether the game ends before 100 overs or goes on till the end. This Champions Trophy has been fascinating from a cricket point of view as it has been unpredictable. When you have a high scoring game you have an idea of who will win and lose. Here dodgy totals kept viewers in suspense. It could swing either way. This is why the non-India ratings were more than what was achieved in 2004. So I don't think it would in any way effect the next year's Trophy.

A lot of matches did not last 100 overs as it was a bowlers tournament?

Matches ending early is in nobody's hand. As an advertiser, if you decide not to put money the next time around in 2008 because of this and most matches last 100 overs it will be a lost opportunity. You cannot pre-empt anything.

What is Max's game plan going to be to build up buzz and anticipation ahead of the World Cup?

We tailor our campaigns around where an event is happening. The campaign is always skewed to reflect the country a tournament is being played in. So when the Champions Trophy was in Sri Lanka it had a sub continental feel to it. In England we incorporated the stiff and proper mannerism into our campaign.

In India we did the Shaadi campaign to emphasize the spectacle. Everything was shown as larger than life and melodramatic. Now when we go to the West Indies the campaign will be around beaches, sun and sand. It will have a carnival atmosphere.

You are doing a 'Host ka Dost' hunt. What are the logistics involved to find someone to go the West Indies?

This initiative is being done in collaboration with Reliance. It is a hunt for someone who'll be part of the Extraaa Innings team for the World Cup and other cricket that we may have.

If one is selected from the call they would be asked to come for an audition at Reliance Webworld, where they have to give a two to three minutes performance in front of the camera. There will be five finalists who would be further shortlisted by public voting. At present we are just at the call stage. We should wrap this up by the second week of January.

'Matches ending early is in nobody's hand. As an advertiser, if you decide not to put money in 2008 because of this and most matches last 100 overs it will be a lost opportunity'

What are the big properties that Max has lined up for now till March?

We signed some big movies recently. Fanaa is coming up as a weekend premiere. We also have Apna Sapna Money Money. January and February 2007 is where big titles will be shown. In terms of thematic blocks right now we have a King Khan festival.

Certainly having a theme block associated with a star brings in loyalty. We will also have a comedy festival lined up for December.

How do you push the non-blockbusters?

It's simple. We market and promote them in a way that has not been done before. It is all about the buzz you create - old wine in a new bottle. On air promotions are a key. You find a key moment that defines a film and you push that. We had a movie called Nayak, which tanked at the box office. It has delivered tremendous ratings for us though.

In the past you focussed heavily on Sunday with housefull and then the blockbuster at 1 pm. How did this help grow your share over the weekend?

Our reach has grown by 20 per cent. A 12-hour slot delivers an average of 1+. We will continue to focus on Sundays as well as festivals that happen once in a month. What we need to do now is concentrate on our week day prime time band. The evening slots are fine. The afternoon band is doing well where we have a block for women.

My job is to strengthen the Monday - Friday prime time band from 9 pm. There will be a mix of titles. We have 36 China Town, Golmaal.

What libraries were recently acquired?

To name a few we have acquired Sajid Nadiawalla's library, Yash Chopra's library and Ramesh Behls library recently. Our library is over 1000+.

What are the changes that have happened in the acquisitions process in the past couple of years?

We have always focussed on acquiring the top five to six films in a year and that will stay. The scenario has changed with more players. More buyers for the same product means that the pricing has become buoyant. Competition is good and It keeps us on our toes.

One big change that has happened, especially in the past year is that films are acquired before their theatrical release. This is a risk that all broadcasters are taking. This was not the case earlier on. Then it was more staid. You now go by track records in buying films pre-release. We just presume that a certain star cast with so and so director and producer should be doing well.

If you go with established producers you should be fine. Sony has great relationships with them. Shaadi Se Pehle was a title that we bought pre release. The acquisition process is very organised. The producers are fairly realistic, they know which film is to be priced at one crore and which at 10 crores.

How important are dubbed Hollywood films?

Extremely! We launched Hollywood Hungama two and a half years back. It is one of the most loyal slots on our channel. Each year we acquire 25-30 titles.

You had in the past done the innovation of the onebreak film. What further innovations can we expect to boost viewer loyalty?

It worked for us initially and then it did not. Viewers got worried that why is the channel not having a break. They might feel that one ad break equates to a channel not doing well. They are conditioned to having breaks in between a film. Also we had a lot of ads on our plate to schedule. The one ad break did not prove to be economically viable.

We keep looking at innovations that will surprise people. In this Champions Trophy we had huge cut-outs of Mandira Bedi and Virendra Sehwag at Mahim. We will do some wrap around programming on films and we are also looking at an innovation during our ad breaks. We do outdoors on special occasions, like for Lucky we had done an outdoor and we might do it for Fanaa too.

Are you also looking at new formats like chat shows, news related film specials to add variety or is there too much of this already on Indian television?

No! We already have Sony and Sab for this kind of content. We have a news show Current Bollywood but we will not be adding to this.

New media segment is growing in importance in terms of mobile and the internet. What can we expect from Max in this regard?

We did a lot of mobile activity for the Champions Trophy. It was very interactive. We offered movie trivia on the mobile and did contests as well. Clips we do not offer as the rights belong to either a mobile firm or a producer. Whether we go beyond will be an a decision that will be taken as an organisation and not as a channel. We won't rule it out though. On the net right now Max site basically offers film information.

One way that Max has separated itself in cricket has been through personalities like Mandira Bdei. Are you planning to extend this association further through the film platform?

We already do this. She used to anchor Extraaa Shots which was a wrap around show for our films. Manish Vanicha is now anchoring the show. He is now doing stuff on cricket. So while Mandira moved from a cricket anchor to a film anchor Manish did the opposite. Next year you will see more personalities.

Besides cricket and films what other events is Max looking at over the next few months?

We have the Max Stardust awards coming up. We have been doing that for the last two years. I would say that it was the best looking awards show last year. Concerts air across the network.

Could you talk about how your client portfolio has grown as well as ad rates?

In the last year our client base has grown by 25 per cent. I am not in a position to talk about revenues or increase in ad rates.

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