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"Other music channels are copying our formula" : Pradeep Dikshit CEO ETC Networks'

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Even as it gears up to celebrate its third birthday on 26 August, ETC Networks is working at re-inventing itself with a host of new programmes and marketing initiatives.

Indiantelevision.com's Ashwin Pinto caught up with ETC Networks' CEO Pradeep Dixit for a lowdown on his plans for the networks' twin channels, etc and etc Punjabi.

Excerpts from the interview:

Are any new shows lined up to coincide with etc's third anniversary?

We will continue adding to our profile in terms of programming. Pandey Pillai Take 2 will launch soon. Take 1 of the same show used to air in 1999-2000. It was taken off as we felt the research on the show was inadequate and that a revamp was needed. Through viewer feedback though, we were pleasantly surprised to learn that they had accepted the musical comedy format.

We are also launching a road show Bole Hindustani this month, the aim being to carry the theme of the channel "Aakhir Dil Hai Hindustani" forward by getting viewers' points of view across. The show will travel to cities across the country to give fans a chance to express their views on various segments of entertainment as well as their preferences and sing songs of their choice. The aim is to forge a personal bond with the viewer. In the lead up to the anniversary, we have launched On Air in June. It is a light, feel-good show where people can get the feel of a particular film by hearing what the stars and crewmembers have to say about the endeavour.

Shararat and Road are two of the films that have been tackled in the show already. To expand our genre of programming, we have also launched Gagar Main Sagar which deals with various forms of alternative medicine. Our music travelogue Meri Jaan Hindustan which we took off six months ago will be back this month with a new look. Suresh Menon who stars in Pandey Pillai Take 2 will anchor this show. He will travel to exotic locations around the country, interspersing songs with informative talks about the locales.

Our astrological show Kahani Kismat Ki will complete 1000 episodes over the course of this month. The success of the half hour daily show at 10:30 pm proves that people have an insatiable appetite for that which they cannot see. Our predictions which get posted on the site www.entertainmenttv.com get an appreciable number of hits.

Will the channel be going in for a new look to get in more viewers?

We constantly try to innovate as an improved look is the surest way of sustaining eyeballs. When you talk about a channel's look, you are basically referring to the quality of the programmes, which have to change and adapt to viewers' habits and the changing environment. The channel runs the risk of looking stale if this does not happen. This kind of planning and implementation cannot be achieved in one day.

Are you planning to change the programming mix or the channel profile in any manner?

No. When other music channels are following us and copying our formula of religious based programmes and Hindi songs, which are invigorating to listen to, why should we shift tracks and change the trend? When you have a winning combination as a trendsetter, you simply have to make sure that the distance between you and your nearest competitor is substantial.

What is etc's channel share at present vis-a-vis rivals MTV, Channel V, B4U Music? What is its USP?

There is quite a big gap between etc and the other channels. As per TAM data for music channels share for all cable and satellite homes from 23-29 June, etc's share was 41 per cent. The nearest channel B4U Music is languishing behind with a 22 per cent share. MTV's share is 16 per cent and Channel V's is 11 per cent. In the Hindi speaking markets, our share is in fact slightly better at 43 per cent. B4U Music's is 24 per cent, MTV's is 12 per cent while Channel V's share is nine per cent. We have taken figures for viewing time of over 15 minutes. A time period shorter than that merely implies channel surfing.

Our USP is firstly excellent distribution. We reach 80 per cent of all cable and satellite homes in the country. So, in fact, there is no need for us to set any targets in this area. Secondly, we function as the bridge between Bollywood and the people. Thirdly, we make constant efforts to improve on our look with a team of over 150 people looking after etc and etc Punjabi.

"When you have a winning combination as a trendsetter, you simply have to make sure that the distance between you and your nearest competitor is substantial"
 
Film actor Manoj Bajpai in an etc show

How is the channel faring on the advertising front?

Just this year, we succeeded in attracting over a dozen new brands notwithstanding the market recession. Companies include Nokia, Kelloggs, Intel, Brittania and ITC. In fact, Coke too had no hesitation in signing on for our show Sun n Dance Hour which launched last month. The unusual zest of remix songs from old and new films fits in well with the soft drink manufacturers personality. In April, for the first time we went in for an increase in our ad rates. The hikes range from 20 to as much as 120 per cent, depending on the slot the advertiser is targeting. I would like to point out that other channels are not even thinking along these lines. In fact, they are slashing their rates citing decline in the advertising pie. Our pitch to the advertising community is that our content offers excellent intrinsic value to viewers. So the price the advertisers pay must be commensurate with the value they get from product reach.

Is the channel planning to form tie-ups with corporates for cross promotions relating to programmes?

On 1 July, we entered into an SMS arrangement with Positive Comsol for our initiative Bollywood Birthmarks where the viewers can wish their favourite stars on their birthdays. In the first week of implementation, we received 10,000 entries. This month, our star lineup includes Kajol and Johnny Lever. Viewers just need to type in etcbmn , key in their message and then SMS it to 303. We have also started organising music events in a bid to strengthen the etc brand in viewers' mindspace. The Global Fusion For Peace that was held in Mumbai on 26 July, will be aired in August on the channel. Our next concert, which will take place within the next couple of months, will also focus on classical and fusion music. We are taking advantage of the fact that classical music in particular is completely ignored by other music channels who mostly rely on forgettable pop music for concerts and events.

"We are taking advantage of the fact that classical music in particular is completely ignored by other music channels who mostly rely on forgettable pop music for concerts and events"
Gagar Mein Sagar, one of etc's novel shows

on alternative healing

What revenue targets have you set for the year?

We have targeted revenues of Rs 48 crores (Rs 480 million) and are right on track, having achieved figures of Rs 12 crores (Rs 120 million) in the Q1 2002-03.

Will etc continue to air music promos in the light of the fact that music companies are complaining overexposure on the tube is affecting sales?

We have a substantial library from where we source content. The issue does not affect us as the music companies pay for all content. Hence, in any case, they will be conservative both in terms of expenditure and the amount of exposure songs from a particular film get. They also keep in mind viewers' choice and preferences. On our part, we are satisfied with our programming mix and do not foresee any drastic change in the existing programming model.

When Zee acquired a stake in etc, an advantage claimed was that the Gurbani programming would help in distribution for etc Punjabi and etc music in the US, UK, Canada? What is the progress on this front?

We are relying on the excellent distribution network and infrastructure the Zee Network has in place to give us the required numbers. Of course, the overseas markets are lucrative as they are in the pay TV segment.

Besides Gurbani, what else do viewers have to look forward to on etc Punjabi? How is it faring?

Every month, the channel organises a special event in Punjab. Popular Punjabi singers are invited and an elaborate stage is set up for concert performances. We also conduct interviews with Punjabi artistes and tap into the different dialects of the state. The result is that when we do a show around them it sounds authentic. We have tied up with Spice Telecom for Saada, a top ten show in which viewers can SMS the channel with their choice songs. In terms of share, etc Punjabi and Alpha Punjabi account for 84 per cent market share. etc's contribution to this is 62 per cent. The TAM figure refers to the weekly channel share of all competitive Punjabi channels from 28 April to 16 June in Punjab.

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