Viacom18's Ravish Kumar on TRAI tariff order, regional content strategy & Colors Gujarati Cinema

Viacom18's Colors Gujarati currently dominates the market with a 43 per cent share

MUMBAI: Viacom18 head regional TV network Ravish Kumar has led the company's remarkable and rapid rise as a regional force in the last couple of years. Viacom18's regional TV network currently contributes 22 per cent to the company's revenues, with eventual objective of achieving a 50 per cent share. Taking another step towards accomplishing that target, the company on Tuesday announced the launch of its latest regional offering - Colors Gujarati Cinema. Set for a 1 June launch, the 24-hour movie channel will help Viacom18 further consolidate its position in the Rs 100-crore market, which is dominated by Colors Gujarati with a 43 per cent share. The twin channels are expected to take Viacom18's share of the pie upwards of 50 per cent rather quickly. In order to understand the larger objective behind the new channel and the company's overall content play in the regional space, interacted with Ravish Kumar, the driving force behind Viacom18's regional expansion.

How does the launch of Colors Gujarati Cinema serve your larger strategic objectives?

We’d like to expand our footprint in the markets where we are strong. Like in Kannada, first we expanded into a second GEC and then we launched a movie channel. Being the number one player in Gujarat, we are following a similar model. In markets where we dominate or have strength, you will find that the television and film ecosystem is inter-related. A robust TV market normally augurs well for a robust film market. That's broadly been our strategy. Where we are strong we see how we can get stronger and how we can leverage a greater share of the advertising pie in the market. As a GEC you are anyway acquiring movies and being the only player in the market it is incumbent upon us to grow the ecosystem and now that we are committed to it and we have relocated our teams (from Mumbai to Ahmadabad), we want to pull out all stops. The bigger challenge is getting viewership to Gujarati.

How does the Gujarati language market compare with other regions? Does it offer any unique challenges?

The biggest challenge is going to be viewership; weaning people away from watching content in Hindi or other languages and getting them back to watching Gujarati content. Other than that I think there are unique challenges in every market. Here it is different to the extent that we are the only player. In many ways the more players you have the easier the journey because you know more content offerings usually implies greater share of the viewership. So we actually hope this will put the market back on the radar of our competitors and force them to take a closer look at it.

Are advertisers crafting ads specific to this market or running local versions of national ads?

I think you started off by just having regional versions of nationals ads and that logically went to sort of local versions and regional versions of the same product but very localised advertising. You see a mixed bag. What they are doing right now is that even though their brands and companies are based out of Gujarat, you will find ads which are specific to Gujarat in there. So, we usually tend to see a mix of both and I think in a perfect world we would like to see more ads being customised by the market and we are reaching that turning point rapidly.

The new channel launch is coinciding with the start of the cricket World Cup. Gujaratis are big on cricket. Do you see that as a potential hurdle?

Not really. Look, there will always be something or the other on TV. There is never a good time to launch. Before this was the IPL, now it is World Cup and then there will be something else. From our perspective it is a great time to launch because the schools are out, people are sitting at home and viewership will actually go up. We are offering them an alternative which never existed earlier. We are not looking to grab eyeballs overnight or just for a short period of time, we are in it for the long run.

Colors Gujarati is hugely successful and a clear market leader. Now, you are launching a dedicated movie channel. How do you define success going forward in a market like this?

Success for us would be growing the share of the pie. If Colors Gujarati Cinema can be as big as Colors Gujarati itself, I would term that as significant. More importantly, I want the viewership of Colors Gujarati to start going up and I'm hoping this channel also helps in making that happen.

Let's talk a bit about your regional channel portfolio. Can you take us through each language market and put into perspective the performance of Viacom18 channels?

Colors Marathi has grown significantly in the last one year. You look at the nine-month period before the new tariff order came in, we are up some 69 per cent to be precise. We have grown explosively. We have a robust pipeline going into the future, not just of shows but movies and events as well. We have a great line up and some aggressive plans to grow. In the last one year, we have seen ourselves and become a strong number two player with Zee Marathi continuing to dominate the market. Star Pravah is half our size right now. So, we have come a long way.

Let's switch gears to Karnataka. Between Colors Kannada, Colors Super and Colors Kannada Cinema we have a dominant share of the market. Between Colors Kannada and Colors Super, we have about 42 per cent share of the market and if you add Colors Kannada Cinema it goes even higher. Our plans are to grow and invest there. As we speak, our KBC promos are on air. We are doing Kannada version of KBC on Colors Kannada and that kicks off in June. In addition to that, we have a pipeline of new shows, some of which have just launched and more are in the works on both Colors Kannada and Colors Super.

Our Tamil pipeline is full of new show launches. We recently premiered a Nayanthara movie which gave us a record 8.4 TVR, even for a smaller, newer platform like ours. I think in that particular slot we outdid every major player including Sun, Zee and Star, so that was a huge achievement for us. More to the power of films in that market!

In Bengal, we are fighting for growth and that will continue to be a big fight for us. We have another four shows are on the verge of launch with four more being developed simultaneously. Some of these are massive names. We are doing historical/mytho-fantasy, in addition to the bread and butter which is fiction. But, we are working with best producers in that market who have led shows on Zee and Star.

For Colors Odia, we are just about to kick off a brand new show which is a remake of our top-rated Kannada show. It was also remade in Tamil and had become the number one show in Tamil for us. It is a story which is timeless and we think it will work brilliantly for us.

So we continue to invest in content across the board and we continue to reinvent ourselves. For instance, as soon as we wrap up KBC in Kannada, we have the 8th season of Bigg Boss coming up in September.

You said this is going to be the year of consolidation. What are your top priorities?

My top priorities would be to continue to grow and leverage my strength in markets where I dominate or where I have leadership share. In other markets, I will strive to improve my position, ratings and time spent. For me, time spent is the lead indicator and that cuts across all markets. The bar we set for ourselves is anything in access of 15 minutes for a 22 minute of content is a fabulous time spent. We don't worry so much about reach initially, we focus on time spent because that, for me, is an indicator of good content. So, my focus is going to be on content. My focus this year is going to be on advertising as well, trying to garner revenues especially on impact properties, which in the Hindi space have been under stress because of cricket and other things. Regional has been far more robust and we have not seen any issues there.

There has been a surge in digital content in regional pockets with OTT platforms investing a great deal on Originals and other shows. Has this led to an increase in content creation for TV?

We have not seen a rise in production costs for fiction shows. It absolutely affects us when we acquire movies though. That's where a lot of money is being spent. Between reality and fiction, I think, we have managed to keep cost in check. And I anticipate that it will continue to be so. But when it comes to movies, costs are increasing because digital players are investing a lot. It has actually become a great time for producers because while the satellites prices will continue to move differently from digital pricing, it has also provided an alternative source of revenue for them. They are now investing in making better movies. In short, the whole film industry is on a boom right now.

What was the impact of tariff order implementation on Viacom18's regional channels?

The biggest impact we have seen is on reach. While the tariff order was announced, the backend was not fully ready for it so depending on the operator it has taken time for the backend to be in place, owing to which there were disruptions. The picture keeps getting clearer as we speak. What I'm finding in the regional space is that the strong players continue to be strong and there is a lot of demand for them which the operator has to satisfy. The weak players and the marginal players are the ones who are likely to take a hit. The bigger question on my mind is how does a new channel launch in this environment? And for that, I don’t really have an answer. We are just waiting for the dust to settle.

Have you noticed any consumption trends for content of regional channels on Voot?

The answer is also dependent on the market-wise content we put out there. Our strongest channels, for example, in Kannada you see huge consumption on Voot and that goes down based on your market strength. Across every market, we are seeing robust consumption of content on Voot. It has been complimentary to our TV programming. So, our ratings haven't been affected and our viewership continues to grow. I can't wait for BARC to come up with a measure that looks across multiple screens. I honestly feel that we are not getting enough credit for what we do. My content is being measured on TV, but it is being consumed in many other places and we are not reaping the benefits of that.

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