'If pay model comes into place, I wouldn't even think twice before launching four more kids' channels' : Zarina Mehta - Hungama TV chief operating officer

Hungama TV has recently touched the number two position in the kids' channels space and the channel's chief operating officer Zarina Mehta is in an ecstatic mood. What's more, she is also upbeat about the new talent hunt for kids on the only Indian kids channel beaming in the country.

The channel has roped in John Abraham for the same and the two kids who win the hunt will get a chance to star opposite the youth icon in a UTV produced movie. This can be termed as a perfect example of synergy between the two brands - UTV and Hungama TV.

Her enthusiasm and zest for her baby (that's best how Hungama TV can be described) is infectious. In a free wheeling interview with's Hetal Adesara, Mehta talks about the channel's future plans, the kids' space in India and the problems broadcasters are facing due to non implementation of conditional access system (CAS), which will help bring in pay TV revenues.


Hungama TV recently achieved the number two position in the kids' channels space. What has contributed to the growth?

Overall I think the growth has basically come from excellent distribution for which I have Star TV to thank and my own distribution team headed by Kevin Pereira.

Secondly, localisation on the marketing and programming front, that has worked on the channel. Whether it is the Hungama Captains' Hunt, which is such a local area that reaches out to the kids directly and pulls them into the channel. They can actually see who is running the channel. Then a show like Hero, which is right now one of our massive driver shows has done really well on the channel so much so that the repeats of the show has got higher ratings that the first time airings.

The third thing is excellent acquisitions. Doremon is the top rated kids show for the last four - six weeks. This week we got 36 GRPs just from Doremon.

We did a brand study last year in May because we had a very critical brand problem, which we have now solved. The problem was the logo of the channel with the 'h,' which was perceived as too young. The responses we got from kids about the channel were 'not cool,' 'not for me' or 'my kid sister may watch.'

The study was done among 2,000 kids and this is when we realised that we had a serious brand problem. So in October 2005, we re-launched with the new logo and in March this year, we changed the entire look and feel of the channel.

We commissioned the BBC to do design our new on air look but I was very disappointed with what they did. Apart from the new logo with the swirl that they made for us, we re-did the entire on-air look of the channel in-house. This has also helped the channel. Hungama has now become a cool, friendly, fun and Indian channel for kids. The brand perception is shifting now and kids are spending more time on the channel.

The interesting story about the 141 GRPs that we got a couple of weeks back is that our time spent went up. Hence loyalty and stickiness on the channel are going up, which is very comforting to know.

How has your role been redefined after becoming COO of Hungama TV? What are the additional responsibilities apart from programming that you are now looking after?

There are massive additional responsibilities now. Instead of just looking after programming and OAP, I have to look after everything. I am still learning the ropes but so far it has been a good experience.

I have a great team at Hungama and the people are really passionate about their work. There's Kevin Periera, who is the head of distribution and operations; Siddhartha Roy Kapoor is our group head of marketing who looks after UTV and Hungama TV. Then there is Aparna Bhosle who is vice president programming for the channel, Nilofer Dhund who is vice president sales, Venkatesh G is our head of OAP and Shilpa is the head of research.

My task is to make sure that the different elements of the channel work powerfully together so that one plus one is eleven, not even four. And that's what I think we are slowly achieving. Marketing, sales, distribution and programming have to work together. We had passionate people before but they were not working together as a team. Now that has changed.

What are the new shows that you have acquired recently?

There are three new shows that we have acquired and each one of them is really big. But at this point in time, I cannot talk about it because we haven't yet signed on the dotted line.

This year, we will be going to Cannes for Mip Junior in October. Last year, we screened each and every show that was there on the market, so now we know the kids' market place.

What about new local content?

We have a reality talent hunt show called John Aur Kaun?, which is a magnificent idea. We'll be going across five major cities in search for two kids who will get an opportunity to star in a UTV produced movie starring John Abraham. UTV has signed a two movie deal with John and more than anything else, it is a perfect example of fabulous synergy between UTV and Hungama TV.

We were thinking of a big idea for Hungama TV and then Siddhartha came up with this one and I immediately lapped it up. My skill is to manage people and recognise a good idea (not necessarily come up with it) and make it happen.

John has also been roped in as the brand ambassador for the channel. What role is he going to play in this respect?

John is willing to do the movie with two kids because he recognises how popular he is with the 4 - 14 TG. Then we thought that if we are doing a movie with him; then let's take him on as the channel's brand ambassador. He agreed to that too.

We are going to figure out ways to synergise the relationship between John and Hungama TV. We are just working all that out and we have at least three innovative ideas but it will take another month or so to finalize the same. When John comes back from his world tour, we will be ready to announce the specifics of what we are doing with him besides John Aur Kaun?

'I will never ask John to act in 'Hero' or 'Sanya' as it will be a detriment to his brand and also mine'

Speaking about John, how important do you think is it for a kids channel to have a brand ambassador? If we look at the other channels, Nick had Saif Ali Khan and Animax had Irfan Pathan as brand ambassadors… but nothing much came out of it so to speak…

Honestly, if I may say, I don't think they used them correctly. I am never going to use John to say - "Watch Hungama TV." I am going to innovate, which is why it has taken me more than seven - eight months to think how exactly to use him in an innovative long term manner, wherein he can bring a long term brand equity to the channel. It is absolutely a no - no that I will ask him to ever act in Hero orSanya. I will never ever do that as I think it is a detriment to his brand and mine because if Hero can't stand on his own two feet then he is not a hero.

A brand ambassador has to go deeper into the brand and build a meaningful relationship with the kids and I am figuring that out. I will make it work. It cannot be done the way the others did it. Even Sab TV had done it with Karisma Kapoor… it didn't work.

For my brand it is going to be a deeper connection with the kids. How? I can't answer that right now. The channel will be a medium for kids to connect with John. In no way should either of the brands be diluted by this association… especially his brand.

Are there any other new local shows apart from this talent hunt that in the pipeline?

We are doing a whole new series of Hero, which will be launched in June. We have a fantastic new story written by Aarif Ali and I'm sure kids will love it.

I am also planning a new series of Sanya. Moreover, I think it has a good merchandising and licensing opportunities. All the merchandising and licensing that is happening currently is all international stuff. I want to break to that and I also want Hero and Sanya to become licensing and merchandising powerhouses.

It's going to take the earth and the moon to do it because somehow Indians tend to buy foreign things, which is sad but true. So we need to break that but I'm going to try.

So will we be seeing a separate division for licensing and merchandising?

I must admit that this is one thing where we are nowhere near our competition. However, having said that, we have licensed Yu Gi Oh!with the Pepsi taazzos and it is doing quite well.

Funnily enough, the very first merchandising property in the kids' space was the Shakalaka Boom Boom pencil and they were a runaway success (except that they got pirated since they were cheap and easy to copy).

We are lacking there but we are looking at it seriously now. It is going to be quite some time before we actually start making money there or even giving Cartoon Network and Disney any competition there but it will be a beginning.

There are seven kids channel in the country at present. Together, how much have they managed to grow the market?

From January 2005 to mid April 2005, there were a total of seven kids' channels, which together contributed 300 GRPs. Compare that to the same time period this year (2006) and the number of channels are the same but the GRPs have climbed up to 500. It's a fantastic, unbelievable and sensational growth.

I have to compliment my competition as well as us, because together we are driving value to the kids' space. There are a lot of things that we are competing for but there are certain things that we need to do together. We need to change the perception of advertisers towards the kids' space. We have to make them understand that the current big thing that is growing today is the kids' space and everything else is declining. I really believe that 2006 - 2007 is the year of the kids' channels. For me, I value my competition because if they weren't there I would be lazy and bored. I actually want my competition to work because then the space works and it is important for the space to work.

Overall, the key is to drive our effective rates (ER) up from the current abysmal rates that we have. We should stop selling at low rates because we are worth much more. Even with the cable operators, we should use our clout together. These are the things we should do together. At the same time there is no denying that there is a huge sense of competitiveness amongst Cartoon Network, Disney and Hungama TV. This hots up the space and makes it that much more exciting. No media planner or buyer can ignore us… they may not give us the ERs that we deserve but it is moving in the right direction.

Programming-wise, what do you think is the way forward for kids' channels - live action or animation?

It has to be a mix of the two. Originally produced live action is great but we have to admit that it is very expensive. I cannot afford to have more than two or three originally produced live action shows on my channel. I think the rest of the channel has to be filled with acquisition - whether it is live action or animation.

That is the best way to go. I am very happy with the balance we have currently on Hungama TV.

Are there any new distribution platforms that you are looking at for your content?

We were the first to go on the mobile with our Hungaming channel. We launched it in October. Sadly we didn't make a noise about it.

Kids can download and play the Gol Gol Ghulam and Full Toss games. Also in the pipeline is the Hero game, which is currently being developed. This has been done in association with Indiagames.

What is the latest on the deal with Sun TV for the two regional kids' channels?

No comments.

A couple of years back; at the Ficci Frames seminar you had mentioned that by 2010, we will have 20 kids' channels in India. How realistic does that figure look to you today?

I still think so. As far as I am concerned, we already have plans to launch two more channels and we definitely need to grow the pie.

The only thing that is stopping us is the state of cable in the country. Pay TV revenues have to kick in and viewers have to pay for what they get. They cannot keep expecting free stuff as it is not fair to the broadcasters, cable operators or anybody who is running a business. Why should a consumer get it free? It doesn't make sense to me.

In the market the prices of everything keeps going up but our prices keep going down. Why should it be like that? The government also has to take a hard stand on this. Basically what they are doing is that they are not allowing the market to open. When pay TV kicks in the market will boom again. By not implementing CAS they are actually depressing the growth of the market.

But do you think CAS will be implemented considering its history in the country?

I don't know. It is so sad that it is not happening because it is the only way to implement a pay model. And then the other thing is DTH and we are all hoping that DTH will work.

We have 65 million cable and satellite (C&S) homes and the reporting is a meager five million homes. This is utter nonsense and this is only because viewers are not paying. Cable operators may be underreporting but viewers are actually not paying.

Let DTH come in and reach that five million homes; I will switch off cable and go to DTH because I need to earn. The fact is that we are spending a lot of money. I don't think any of the broadcasters are profitable as yet. There are a lot of issues that need to be sorted out. But India is the best place to be in and it is the best kids' market in the world. Only if the pay model comes into place, I wouldn't even think twice about launching two or even four more channels.

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