"One has to take away as much as one can from competition" : Star India senior VP - ad sales Monica Tata

Monica Tata has completed a decade with the Star India network. She started her career with Sanjay Dalmia's Independent Television and Sunday Mail. In between, she spent some time with Midday group of publications before joining Star India in December 1992.

Tata has grown with the organisation and is currently senior vice president - ad sales for Star Gold, Star World, Star Movies and Channel [V]. Tata has a team of 35 people reporting to her. An ambitious hardcore professional, Tata sees herself heading a network after five years or so.

In a t?te-?-t?te with's Ashwin Kotian, Tata spoke about the changes in the marketplace in the last decade.



Has the business of deal making between agencies and channels changed in the last decade?

The television industry and satellite channels domain is a dynamic and a constantly evolving medium. Ten years back, the Star Network was lagging behind and we used to sell on the basis of perceptions and relationships. Now, we have the numbers too. But, more importantly, the relationships have become stronger.

In recent years, one has seen a lot of focus in deal making. Due to consolidation, agencies (media and creative) are under tremendous pressure. This pressure has filtered down to everyone down the line. The change in attitude is reflected day-in-day-out as agencies grapple with shorter deadlines and increased client expectations. Everyone wants to have an edge over the other.

However, in this kind of an extremely competitive scenario, everyone involved has become too business oriented. People in the business could be a bit more human and realise that there is a life beyond TRPs, GRPs. Clients are putting pressure on agencies to extract more out of each advertising rupee or dollar. There is greater emphasis on going beyond the normal plain vanilla offerings. Sponsorships across media has become the name of the game even in TV related airtime selling.

There are some changes in the marketplace and advertiser - as mindsets are changing. It is a welcome sign. Somehow, most planners and buyers are still struck to the past notions and connotations of media buying. However, there is a certain threshold limit beyond which it doesn't make sense to devalue a property.

In the future, I see auctions and bids becoming a likely possibility. However, technology needs to be improve and the time lag in decision making process needs to reduce dramatically in all parts of the country. The response factor has to be quicker.



What efforts are being made to ensure that the advertisers/clients are not alienated?

As far as advertisers are concerned, the emphasis is on trust and value creation. We are moving away from the traditional give-take or buyer-seller mode to partnerships. There is an ardent need to create long term relationships and associations. We aspire to give back value.

As I mentioned earlier, we used to depend on relations and perceptions. As the leader, we are now moving on to the next dimension of "client servicing" in air-time sales. As leaders, the Star network is taking steps to unfold the path forward. This is also counter the perception in the market place that air time sellers are not doing enough - in terms of what is being referred to in traditional marketing as - "after-sales".

We shall ensure that we maintain an ongoing dialogue with advertisers. This is to break away from the general perception that air-time sellers indulge in a lot of "hit-n-run" and don't keep in touch with advertisers once the deal is done. We are examining different ways of going that extra mile. We are proactively seeking feedback from the advertisers about the response and benefits of placing ads on our channels.



"We are moving away from the traditional give-take or buyer-seller mode to partnerships. There is an ardent need to create long term relationships and associations. We aspire to give back value."



Does the sales pitch and negotiation process change in the case of different channels?

The process of rate negotiations varies from channel to channel. There are different norms and methodologies for general entertainment channels and for the special interest channels - I don't refer to them as niche channels. In the case of the general entertainment channels, the game is number driven and is entirely ratings driven.

The mantra "the more the merrier" holds true. But, in the case of the special interest channels, the sales pitch revolves around the environment. The environment offered by these special interest channels goes beyond the usual metrics of ratings. For example, consider English entertainment channels such as Star World. It might not have numbers but its USP (unique selling proposition) is audience/viewer loyalty. There are people who would only watch such channels.

In the case of special interest channels, there are a lot of opportunities to customise packages and properties. However, one has to ensure that the customisation is in sync with the core brand premise or proposition. There has to be some kind of integration.

There is a need to improvise and innovate. I must admit that it is easier to attain these tasks in the case of certain channels and more difficult in the case of others such as Star World. You will eventually see greater localisation in Star World and we shall announce some mega plans soon. The channel has a loyal and exclusive audience. It has very little duplication too. The viewers are highly involved with the channel and highly addicted.



Give us some examples of cases where you conducted innovations?

For instance, in the case of Star Movies, we have the right environment and substantial ratings within the English movie genre. However, we felt the need to go beyond. We packaged the proposal in such a way that the channel had a great look and feel around it. We also promised advertisers that we would keep the clutter at minimal or zilch levels.

There is no commercial break for the first 45 minutes and viewers get engrossed. We created festivals around different topical events of happenings. More importantly, these festivals fitted with the brand propositions. These might be little things but add a lot of value to the table while negotiating with advertisers and agencies. To sum up the argument, it is all about bringing greater perceived value and effective customisation.

Successful examples of customisation on Channel [V] include Coke [V] Popstars, Bada Bisleri Bada contest, Kelloggs Cheese it Cheez Out, Kwality Walls Dil ka connection and Panga Castrol.



Category-wise, which are the top advertisers on the network channels you handle?

Our top advertisers are still the FMCGs (fast moving consumer goods), colas, automobiles and white goods. We have seen increased spends in healthcare - even ministry of health campaigns. Insurance is yet to bloom fully because of the IRDA (Insurance Regulatory Authority of India) and I&B ministry regulations. Even in the south, we have roped in some small-average advertisers such as Henkel. We are making efforts to bag the smaller advertisers.

On Channel [V], we have seen new categories coming in - telecom, computers, credit cards, automobiles and even white goods. With Channel [V], we have broken several exclusive campaigns first much before the other competitors bagged the campaigns.



"In terms of channel shares, we have catapulted far ahead of MAX and are running neck to neck with Zee Cinema. During the weekend, we have forged ahead of Zee Cinema."



What are your plans for Star Gold??

We believe that Star Gold has the potential to replicate the success of Star Plus. The entire Nimbu mar ke campaign was more of an attitudinal campaign. It worked wonders for the brand "Star Gold" and encouraged sampling.

We have taken several steps to reposition the channel offerings. Consider for example, the Solid Gold and the Special Gold slots. In fact, our strategy of dubbing action-packed English blockbusters in the Saturday 8 pm slot has paid rich dividends. In terms of channel shares, we have catapulted far ahead of MAX and are running neck to neck with Zee Cinema. During the weekend, we have forged ahead of Zee Cinema.

You will see a lot of similar initiatives in the near future. Eventually, we plan to air our recent acquisitions including the cross-over diaspora films on Gold.



Do events and news play important roles in the make up of a pure movie channel?

I feel that combining the two (events and movies) is a misfit and the strategy lacks clear-cut long-term vision.

If you notice, even Bollywood based events are not doing well in terms of viewership. There is a decline. Initially, there was a craze and excitement but it is waning. If you notice, there has been a sharp reduction in the actual number of events held. If such events have to succeed, then they must be as big as the Oscars.

In the case of Star Movies, the channel has benefited tremendously due to exclusivity in screening the Oscar awards. It is an event whose premium value cannot be disputed. Over the years, it has neither lost its sheen nor its "ask" in the market.

Another property which is losing sheen is news related to Bollywood. This is due to the constant coverage given by news channels to Bollywood. There could be an opportunity in creating properties such as Bollywood News (what Star News had earlier with Samar Khan as host) but one needs to look at it more carefully.

Telefilms is another category which hasn't taken off in India. Indian viewers love to associate with films which have a Bollywood feel. Normally, the tele-film makers cannot afford stars. They also compromise on the production values. All these aspects have succeeded in alienating audiences. But there is potential and one needs to indulge in re-thinking.



Will in-TV product placements be an added revenue stream for channels?

It certainly can be a revenue stream but we still have a long way to go before perfecting the mechanics. One can do it across a network which has several dominant channels in - different genres - which are miles ahead of competition. Having said that, it requires extra effort.

However, one has to strike a balance between customising the content in an acceptable manner so that it doesn't upset the viewers. Moreover, there has to be a clear-cut limit beyond which creative aspects wouldn't be touched. There is a possibility that things might become chaotic. One needs to develop stringent yardsticks to monitor.

Successful examples of customisation include Coke [V] Popstars, Bada Bisleri Bada contest, Kelloggs Cheese it Cheez Out, Kwality Walls Dil ka connection and Panga Castrol. In most of these cases, we managed to get a multimedia 360 degree spin around the programmes which benefited the brands. In the case of Channel [V], we were helped by the fact that some of the programming is developed indigenously.



"Collections have improved dramatically over the last two years. The IBF has been very proactive and all the channels have benefitted tremendously"



Tell us about channel outstandings and collections?

Collections have improved dramatically over the last two years. The Indian Broadcasting Federation (IBF) has been very proactive and all the channels have benefited tremendously. At Star India, we have a separate division which is involved with collections. This team works closely with the sales team. Of course, the financial year-end sees some usual glitches such as shifting towards April.



How do you cope up with the pressures of increasing targets?

Targets are a way of life. The key is to increase yields. As it is, ad budgets have remained static. One has to capture a greater share of the existing market in each genre. One has to take away as much as one can from competition. It is not an easy task but not impossible too. It all depends on developing packages which add value. Clients have to be assured of value. One needs to look beyond effective rates. Targets can be achieved with self-belief. We believe that we are the best.


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