When Rohit Gupta joined Sony Entertainment Television as executive vice-president, sales & revenue management on April 15 this year, the question in the industry was what could Gupta, an economics graduate who had spent his entire corporate career prior to this at Xerox Modicorp, possibly bring to the table in selling media.
When the same question was put to SET India CEO Kunal Dasgupta at the time, he said Gupta would be able to offer a fresh perspective as he was coming on board without any preconceived notions.
Just under three months after joining the group, and at a time when SET is girding to take on all comers with its World Cup properties, Gupta outlines his plans and just what it is he has to offer at SET in a t?te-?-t?te with indiantelevision.com's Thomas Abraham.
When you joined Sony, that most commonly voiced reservation was that you had no media selling exposure. What was it that made you make the switch after what had been essentially a one-company career?
Well I was looking for a change and some new challenges. And the two industries I thought I could contribute to were IT (information technology) and media and entertainment.
I had been in talks with Kunal (Dasgupta) since October. Also my discussions with Jon Petrovich (executive V-P, international channels for Columbia TriStar International Television) convinced me that Sony India had the full backing from Sony International in its efforts to reach the top in India. Sony was No 2 but clearly aiming for the top slot. Then there were the World Cup cricket properties. It all made for an exciting challenge.
What clear advantages has your experience at Xerox brought to the table and what has been your biggest challenge in getting a grip on the media selling business?
What I would like to bring in here is the importance of client relationships. This was the key focus for us at Xerox. The biggest challenge for me is in understanding the complexities of programming inventory. The task before me is how to maximize earning potential on the inventory levels.
You lay great stress on client relationships. Could you expand on that?
It is all about how you manage client relationships. How you achieve targets you have set for yourself with the client is very much part of the process.
The key message is that it is more of a solution selling approach rather than a deal based approach. We have to look at the year down the line and tailor our assessments and strategies towards that end. Looking at it from the client's side, until you fit into his overall marketing plan in a long-term perspective, you are not heading anywhere.
And as much as we have to be a part of the client's overall marketing plan, they must be in the know as to our plans as well. We have to give them real value. For our eight to 10 biggest clients we make them aware what the year's calendar is looking like as far as big ticket programming is concerned.
So what is it on the programming front that you believe will excite your clients?
In May we started the Subhash Ghai film festival. In August, (probably 15 August) there is Lagaan premiering on SET.
Apart from the movies we have three big ticket shows lined up. Firstly there is Russian Roulette, which is a licensed product from Sony Pictures International. The show has been a huge success wherever it was broadcast.
We will also soon be launching a musical format game show. Then there is the Balaji weekend series that is set to launch. It will run for thirteen weeks over 39 episodes. The Balaji show will provide the lead in to our weekend movies so we expect to block up the weekend prime time band (8 pm to midnight).
In fact we want to brand our slots - the 9 to 10 band on week days, movies, weekend programming.
(This interview was done before the news broke that THE big ticket show from Sony - Kahin Na Kahin Koi Hai - with Madhuri Dixit as the anchor was finally launching.)
Are there any other areas that you feel require changes being made?
I am a firm votary of systems in place. You have to strengthen your accounting management process. Your outlook should come out of a process rather than individuals.
"In this quarter we have held on to our numbers on all the channels. At the end of Q2 we will again review. "
What kind of a vehicle does SET with its channels Sony, MAX, and AXN offer to potential advertiser partners?
I have already talked about SET as far as programming is concerned.
On Max it will obviously be cricket. When there will be no cricket, we will be doing blockbuster films.
Our plan is that 60 days before the Champions Trophy (Sri Lanka in September) and 100 days before the World Cup (South Africa, March 2003) we will build up the hype. There are three types of viewers we are targeting. The purists who will follow cricket wherever it is telecast. Then there is the entertainment seeker. He or she likes the game but also wants to be seriously entertained. It is not so much the contest itself that draws him in. And lastly there is the uninitiated, who couldn't really care less for the game. If we can draw this section into our ambit, we will have hit Bull's Eye.
The difference we want to create is that with the name Sony, which is clearly an entertainment channel, we want to create programming to spread our audience to the maximum. We have tied up with top production houses for programming one and half hours before and an hour after each match that will be telecast during the tournament.
AXN has been showing phenomenal growth month on month. The fact that we have a specific India feed is proof enough of the value we attach to AXN. Among the new initiatives on AXN is for Who Dares Wins. We are planning a five-city promotional tour for the show.
Is it not true that the advertising pie hasn't really been growing? And in an environment where there are more and more claimants scrapping over the same ad spend, how do you propose to significantly increase revenues?
While the kitty might be the same, there are always ways to grow the business. We have also to look at alternate revenues. We have to look beyond C & S (cable & satellite) spend and look at the total of A&M (advertising & marketing) spend and see how we can expand.
And regarding a stagnant ad pie, speaking for Sony, we've had a fantastic quarter with 30 per cent growth in revenues compared to the average of the last three quarters.
Does SET have all advertisers on its channels? Is it well balanced?
The majority of big spenders are already on our channel and some who have gone away have come back. This is one of the reasons for the growth I had mentioned.
Which new type of advertiser would you like to bring in and why?
We will target all the new sectors that are opening up; insurance, petroleum, telecom, Services.
Do you think the media independents and agencies are really bringing value to the table for advertisers or are they just bringing in lower costs without the accompanying quality? Do you believe the advertiser respects the media vehicle these days or does he stomp all over him to get his point of view
I can't make generalisations on this. It has to be client specific and client driven clearly. There is a limit to desperation sales. The whole idea can never be to sell at any cost. Who is the client, what does he do with you, the past, the future relationship. All these are factors that will determine what we do and how we go about it.
Well business is tough and targets have to be met. That discounting is rampant is a given. And if you have unsold inventory, the pressure to sell would be there would it not?
At the end of the day, if it doesn't make business sense we will not fall into the trap of selling unused inventory at any value. There is a cut off below which we will not negotiate.
On the revenues front how are you currently placed?
In this quarter we have held on to our numbers on all the channels. At the end of Q2 we will again review.
Have you drawn up any special strategies as far as selling the World Cup is concerned?
The centerpiece of our drive forward as a network is without doubt the ICC World Cup. There is a separate sales team selling our cricket with separate targets and a separate focus. For this we hired a consultant from the US, Creg McCastle. In the US, sports is huge and he has worked on some of the biggest events there. He helped design the sales packages, value branding, promotional activities. Essentially, the effort is to make the event bigger than ever before.