UTV woos 'Bindass' youth

After carving out a separate space for Hungama TV in the kids genre, Zarina Mehta is at work again. Her challenge this time is to hook the youth onto a general entertainment channel.

Finding a target group that wasn‘t specifically tapped by the other channels was her first task. She commissioned research firm PQR to help her discover what she calls "our zone."

Four months on, she has decided to tap the 15-24-year-olds. And within this segment, she has identified college-goers in the age group between 17-21 years as the core constituency of her channel.

"There is a common characteristic that runs in the blood of this age group. They reflect the brand values of fun, frolic, fearlessness and freedom. They want to do things, are optimistic and find joy in being young," says Mehta.

Arriving at Bindass as the name of the channel was a natural extension. "We were clear that the channel would reflect the spirit of the movie Rang De Basanti. Synovate conducted a survey with 1,000 respondents and came up with the name Bindass," she says.

As UTV Youth venture COO, Mehta is geared up with a three phase plan and a piggy bank of Rs 1 billion (drawn from Rs 2 billion outlay over three years) devoted to the first year alone. In GENX, the joint venture company that will roll out the channel and other youth-related initiatives, Malaysia-based Astro will be a 50 per cent equity partner.

"We will have broadcast operations but also have an extended web (communities and entertainment), mobile, gaming, events and retail play," says Mehta.

The age group that Mehta is targeting occupies 23 per cent of total TV viewing in India. As they constitute a large part of GEC viewing, her task will be to migrate them to a content format that is unique.

"We have to discover our prime time. The 9-11 pm band clearly belongs to Star Plus, Zee TV and Sony."

Set for launch in June-July, the channel‘s content recipe is still a mystery. But there will be no music, no soap operas and no lifestyle. "There is plenty of opportunity to get this target segment. Since it is very competitive, I can‘t reveal what kind of content we are going to have in the channel," says Mehta.

Movies will be an essential ingredient but the channel drivers will still be shows. "We will need to have a library of 50-60 feature films aimed at this segment. The acquisition process is on,” Mehta says.

Though the channel will also source international content, the focus will be to create "India‘s first local youth entertainment brand." Mehta hasn‘t frozen on the full content of the channel yet, but animation may be included. "We need to be fearless and experiment. We have to take risks," she says.

As part of its approach, UTV seems to be adopting a multiple revenue model that old timer music channels MTV and Channel [V] have tried and tested in the market. MTV VP creative and content Ashish Patel calls this form as ‘multi-platformication’ which includes online, mobile, events, retail and merchandise.

In order to trap this highly elusive segment of the populace, a diverse offering would be the key. What it also symbolizes is a brand building exercise that connects on multiple levels with the core TG.

The first phase of rollout will include revenue from web play, mobile games and on-ground events. Having a spread out portfolio in areas of movies, TV content, gaming, animation and airtime sales, UTV will hope to leverage from its existing operations.

"We have acquired a majority stake in Indiagames and will use this to extend our channel presence in terms of brand and revenues. We will also tie up with mobile operators. And to reinforce the brand, we plan to have three big events in a year," says Mehta.

In the second phase, Bindass will foray into the retail segment (probably with an outlet such as a coffee shop or cyber café, a highly frequented venue for youth) and simultaneously roll out merchandising activities. "Retail will be a separate investment outside Rs 1 billion. We will go with a partner for this venture and should have a presence by December. The effort is to have an integrated approach and create a holistic youth brand experience," says Mehta.

Though not a direct threat, music channels have been targeting a similar demographic segment. "UTV, however, seems to be having a sharper focus within that TG by eyeing programming at the 17-21-year-olds. But we are essentially music channels and having been in existence for so long, are not really worried," says Channel [V] head honcho Amar Deb.

Mehta is looking at a co-existential approach to the genre. “I think both MTV and Channel [V] are great brands. But they are music channels. We don’t have music, we can totally co-exist with these two channels. Even tie up with them perhaps.”

Bindass, however, will be different from the MTV and Channel [V] brands. "At its core Bindass is Indian, no micro-miniskirts, no fleshy videos, we need to reach deeper into the core needs of the viewer and hopefully become their preferred choice,” avers Mehta.

What do the general entertainment channels think of the core TG Bindass is targeting? "It is too narrow a segment and there will be hard pressure on scaling up revenues. The space is too niche and in any case all local GECs are tapping it in their 15-34 TG," says SET India COO NP Singh.

Surely, Mehta has a tough task cut out for her. Building a youth brand will require all the right ingredients and big money needs to be continuously pumped in. Deriving strong revenues from merchandising to support the youth brand has also failed against a dominant pirated market in India.

But not many had predicted the success of Hungama TV which was pitched against multinational brands like Cartoon Network and Walt Disney. If Bindass succeeds, it will hit MTV and Channel [V] hard even as they are planning to be more than just music channels.

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