Television

'If there are large eyeballs to address with local content, we will do it' : Sumantra Dutta - Star country head, Middle East, Africa and Pakistan

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Star is eyeing growth in Middle East, Pakistan and Africa. Which is why it has created the new post of country head for these three markets and appointed Sumantra Dutta, who has been in the News Corp family for 14 years, to take up this role from 1 July.

Dutta rejoins Star from News Outdoor India (News Corp‘s out-of-home subsidiary), where he served as the company‘s managing director.

Dutta was also involved in the FM radio start-up venture and successfully established Radio City as a strong brand with a revenue that fell just below market leader Radio Mirchi which had a seven-station presence compared with Star‘s four.

Prior to this, Dutta led Star India‘s advertising sales and marketing teams.

In an interview with Indiantelevision.com, Dutta talks of his new role and the company‘s growth plans in the three markets that he will spearhead.

Excerpts:

By creating the new post of a country head for Middle East, Africa and Pakistan, has Star identified these three as high growth markets?

Middle East is emerging as the hot spot for growth. Pakistan is also expected to boom because of globalisation. Africa is an almost virgin market for us and there is scope in taking our channels to various countries there. The businesses in these three markets is under exploited. The task is to identify the opportunities, develop distribution, push ad sales.

Will Star‘s effort include localising content for the Middle East market?

India and the Middle East share similarities in TV content consumption. In India, Star Plus is the leader channel and the Star bouquet is very strong. The task is to aggressively grow the Star brand in the region. The need to develop connect with the larger audience base is always there. We will study the market and find the right profiling, language and content offering.

Even Zee network had to experiment with local content for further growth. Is the advertising revenue skewed heavily towards local content?

The television ad spend in Middle East is broadly in the region of $1.5 billion. The free-to-air (FTA) channels account for 90 per cent of the total ad pie and within this category, Arabic content gets the lion‘s share.

So will Star get into local content with local partners?

There is scope to grow ad revenues even within the pay-TV segment. The Middle East is booming - be it in real estate, tourism, or other areas of business. Star has clear plans in servicing the burgeoning demand in this market. If there are large eyeballs to address with local content, we will do it. But our first task is to study the market and identify the gaps.

How challenging is the Middle East market to conquer?

The challenges are similar to that of India. It is a highly competitive environment and has about 360 channels beaming into the region. The only differentiator is that media buying and planning is much more sophisticated in India. The idea is to put the learnings of this market in place in the Middle East.

I have the added advantage of being associated with Star‘s start-up businesses. The size of the business is really in the opportunity that it throws open for the company to exploit

Isn‘t the distribution scenario also a lot more different?

Distribution is much more organised than in India. The region has DTH (direct-to-home) and FTA. In India, cable TV continues to be strong. The idea is to also find newer channels and revenue streams. The mobile telephony base, for instance, is big and Star has not tapped this segment.

What is Star‘s strategy going to be in these three markets?

It is too early for me to define that now. But we need to go into a higher growth trajectory. Faster, higher, stronger - that is the credo. We will play the same game but with more attitude. We will be growing the team - because you are only as good as your team. The idea is to go and knock the ball out of the park.

Don‘t you feel that you are being continuously marginalised into businesses that are relatively smaller in size than what you were earlier handling being part of Star India‘s core team in the broadcasting arena?

I have the added advantage of being associated with Star‘s start-up businesses. I moved from the high of television to the FM radio space. I was out not to just launch a FM radio station, but to kick-start the entire category. In the outdoor advertising business, the challenge was to bring respect to the category and get the local administration lease out long-term contracts. The size of the business is really in the opportunity that it throws open for the company to exploit.

Since News Corp is globally getting out of the outdoor business, is the India part up for sale?

I wouldn‘t like to comment on this.

For somebody who has been associated with Star for such a long period, which are your most precious moments?

The launching of Star News in 1998 and National Geographic Channel in 1999 were momentous events. But nothing beats the launch of the Amitabh Bachchan-hosted game show Kaun Banega Crorepati (KBC) in July 2000 as it changed the fortunes of Star in India.

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