English entertainment: Neither channels nor advertisers look at ratings: Ferzad Palia

Colors shook the category from its slumber with the launch of its English general entertainment channel. It launched with the concept of Essential Viewing and went on to introduce Instant Premieres with Mr. Robot, Tyrant and Better Call Saul, etc. The channel revolutionized English entertainment viewing by introducing Live Binge of all-new seasons of Mad Dogs and Orange is The New Black eliminating the need for illegal downloads from the internet.

Binge watching, simulcasts' with international airings, the idea of viewers choosing their own premieres with Infinity-on-Demand are few decisions which made Viacom18?s Colors Infinity stand out.

Colors Infinity, which recently turned a year old, is also credited with rolling out India?s first first-ever homegrown English language music TV show -- The Stage. Geared up for a bigger and better season 2 is English and youth entertainment head Ferzad Palia.

Right after the success of Vh1, Palia was given additional responsibilities of the English entertainment cluster with Comedy Central and Colors Infinity. He was also given the task of increasing the presence of MTV and MTV Indies. Palia is also credited with accomplishing organizational vision of drawing synergies across platforms and businesses.

In conversation with Megha Parmar, Palia sheds light on the journey of the two English channels, advertising, new show pipeline, plans to enter the English movies space, digital platforms booming in India,the way ahead for the channels and the English cluster, etc.

Excerpts :

How has been the journey of Colors Infinity in a year?

It has been a fantastic. I don?t think we could have asked for anything more in a year. Right from putting some of the best content to scheduling back to back episodes of few shows, simulcasting content within 12 hours from the US through our property called Instant Premieres. The Stage has done extremely well, and is now coming with its second season. Colors on Demand offers viewers the first round of shows that they want to watch in weekends. It?s been a momentous year.

Has the 10-second ad rate increased since launch?

The first year was all about setting benchmarks. This will be a valid question a year from now. We have seen a very encouraging quarterly growth of 30 per cent in terms of the number of advertisers. We have over 100 advertisers on board, and we sell at a premium rate at par with the competitors. We have seen a significant growth in our ad sales.

Which time slot is prime when it comes to English entertainment?

It?s different for different advertisers largely. The prime time slot is between 7pm and midnight -- for both our channels, Colors Infinity and Comedy Central. There is also a non-prime time slot in the genre which has a different set of audience watching the channel through the day.

Do home-grown shows give you more rates than the acquired ones?

Yes, they do. It allows you flexibility to integrate advertisers on prime. And, with these shows you can do a lot of customization. Plus, recall levels are very high for local productions.

Approximately 250 million viewers in India watching English content which is a very sharp target compared to a Hindi GEC. Does that lead you to targeting only premium advertisers?

250 million is definitely not a small number base by any imagination when compared with Hindi entertainment. Even when you look at the overall numbers, this is a significant figure. We have advertisers across the board from various categories.

What is the ratio of original content to acquired content you are aiming at for both the channels?

The number of hours of local programming is not very high when we look at it by percentage but it is significant in terms of the buzz that it creates. On Colors Infinity, we would like to have more home-grown content. We are looking to increase the local production content on Colors Infinity. It all depends on the feasibility and profit because it is far more expensive to produce. Thankfully, we are seeing great traction for our local shows. So, we will up the quotient of local production. The ratio is difficult to state, but we will keep increasing as much as we can. But, that does not mean we will not acquire new titles.

You are launching the season two of The Stage. How was the response for the first season? What new will we see in S2?

We received a phenomenal response and I think we exceeded our own expectations.  It was an experiment. It was the first time English speaking hunt was put on the national television. Soon after we concluded the first episode, we knew that we will have a second season. It?s been a fantastic journey.

The second year is bigger and better. We have taken a lot of learnings from the first season. Last year, we could not do open auditions because we had not even announced the channel when we shot this show.

So, this year we have conducted auditions across the country and have received a phenomenal response. People have come from all parts of the country both, online and on-ground. The talent pool has opened up significantly. Few of the best singers are on this platform now. It?s a very well represented set from across India. So, we have got into a larger set, bigger production; it?s much bigger this year.

What will be the differentiator with S2?

First, it would be the auditions that we have done. Second, the scale of production is much bigger. There are lots of twists and turns that take place in the show on a continuous basis. There will be several on-ground shows that we plan to do after the season ends. It?s set to take The Stage into another level.

How did the advertisers react to The Stage? Were they keen to come on board? Will we see any brand integration in S2 of The Stage?

The response has been very good. Renault who was our title sponsor last year has renewed its association with the show. That tells you clearly how the show has worked well. Advertisers have been very supportive of us. We also have Gionee as the 'powered by' sponsor and Unibic as another sponsor. Yes, there will be brand integration.

How has The Stage added to the growth of Colors Infinity?

I think, it has brought in a new set of audiences which were not sampled in the genre in the past including the metros. It also brings a balance of youth and mature audience on the channel because its programmed such that it plays very popular tracks, songs from the biggest International music artists.

Shark Tank has done very well for the channel. Do you plan to have an Indian version of it?

Yes that could happen in the near future. We are exploring options. This was a part of our aim to push forward differentiation and be disruptive.

You are also planning to launch Vogue BFF in collaboration with Conde Nast India? What is the concept of the show?

There is a show that we have created which is scheduled to go on air from the 24 September at 9 pm. It is a 10-episodic show and starts with Deepika Padukone and fashion stylist Anaita-Shroff Adajania. The weekly show will be hosted by the model Kamal Sidhu who promises to offer the audience insider access into the world of their favourite celebrities.

We have got Maruti Ciaz, Yu Mobiles and Myntra as sponsors on board. It will also feature Kajol, Mickey Contractor, Sonam Kapoor and photographer Atul Kasbekar, Lisa Haydon and designer Tarun Tahiliani, producer Karan Johar, designer Manish Malhotra and Kareena Kapoor Khan, Arjun and Anil Kapoor, etc.

How is Comedy Central fairing? Are you planning to have any home-grown content even there?

We have experimented with local production on Comedy Central and we will continue to do so.

How many households do you reach with your English entertainment channels? What is your target audience?

We currently are reaching out to approximately 40-45 million households for each channel. We look at a TG of anyone in the age group of 15-50. We have certain shows that cater to the young as well as certain shows which cater to a mature audience.

Our audiences are coming from everywhere. We are seeing some good traction coming from the metros as well. It is just not a metro phenomenon but far and wide into the 1 million-plus market. For a genre like English entertainment, we do not necessarily look at ratings too much. But, from the social media point of view, we are getting traction from across the country. 60 per cent of Colors Infinity's viewership comes from the non-metro market, and our English cluster commands 53 per cent market share in the genre.

How important is BARC as a metric?

We essentially do not look at ratings for the English entertainment genre; nor do the advertisers. The sample is way too small and the error is way too high. We are working with BARC to see how we can fix it.

With the number of VOD/OTT platforms increasing in India, is an English entertainment channel still relevant? Do you see any threat?

No, it is not a threat to TV. I think the two will seamlessly co-exist and benefit each other over a period of time. The consumption on digital is very different.

Television has its own relevance. The kind of content that we are putting out and at a fast pace, we are not letting the consumers miss on anything. There is no need to go beyond. We are extremely economical as television where a consumer is concerned. From the quality of content that we are putting out, the consumers have been appreciative of the way we have gone about our programming and, therefore, have not willingly downloaded.

With several new players entering the English space, do you think that it is getting cluttered? Also, is Viacom18 planning to enter the English movie space?

I think the entire English eco-system is still under-served. There is a scope for many more offerings for this audience. When you are in the niche segment, what happens is essentially there is a difference between specialty channels and general entertainment channels. So, you will continuously see the segmentation being happening as broadcasters build their portfolio. At Viacom18, we have an English music and lifestyle channel with VH1, comedy specialist channel with Comedy Central, and we have a general Entertainment channel Colors Infinity.

We will see what the future holds. We will continue to evaluate various spaces including English movies, but there is no concrete thing to mention.

The growth of the genre is mostly attributed to the rise of the English-speaking population in smaller cities. Besides this, what else could propel growth for this segment?

I think English is growing into popularity tremendously and right now from the school level. Needless to mention, it is benefiting the genre a lot. And so is digitization. As it carries on, more households will have a chance to view and watch English entertainment. That is also going to help the genre grow. Our social engagement data and research clearly shows that the trend is growing with more and more people consuming it on television.

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