'Movie channels should stick to their core competency of delivering movies rather than trying to deliver something else' : Yogesh Radhakrishnan- Zee Telefilms director, special projects

Very often, an office speaks a lot about the person occupying it. One look at the pearl white walls and the chic steel furnishing, one knows that the occupant is a no-nonsense business man. Yet a small "Sri Yantra" vying for attention alongside a laptop reveals the traditional side of the man. That's Yogesh Radhakrishnan for you.

"I am an entrepreneur and not an executive," he offers. True enough, being 20 years in the media business, one thing that has made him rise above the rest is his entrepreneurial skills.

Surprisingly, in an industry known to take its toll rather too soon, Radhkrishnan doesn't show any signs of slowing down. In fact, we hear that in addition to the seven channels, and numerous other businesses both in India and overseas he is piped to preside over another important portfolio soon. "It might be a business for some, career for others, but it is a passion for me me," he offers.

Excerpts from an interview Radhkrishnan gave to Trupti Ghag:

How would you chart Zee Cinema's growth in the last year? What is the target that you have set for this year?

Fantastic, to say the least! It has been an amazing journey from where we began in 2002-2003. Zee Cinema has grown leaps and bounds in the past two years. It has been the dark horse in the Zee stable. It has outperformed its competitors in the last one-and-a-half years.

We are aiming for 50 per cent growth in our business for the year 2004-2005. It is a very steep target to achieve, not only in terms of revenue targets, but also in terms of the projected GRP targets and brand image.

We want to move ahead from a scale and kind of hype that we generated last year. Be it having achieved the highest amount of TVRs a movie could achieve on a movie channel, or the success of the Sholay campaign. It is something for us to look back and feel happy about. But it doesn't end here. As an entertainment business, the race against time to better ourselves is never ending.

The latest on the Zee Cinema front is the revamp. How did the idea for a revamp come about (it happens on 2 July)?

We are not looking at too many changes, really. We are looking at changing the packaging and the graphics. They have been the same since the introductory phase in 1996. So, we decided to give it a more contemporary touch, a modern new look. What we have done is to polish an already existing diamond.

Is there a new tagline for the revamp? What about the logo? Are you continuing with the colour schemes or are you opting for softer colours like mauves and lilacs?

We are continuing with the 'Movie, Masti, Magic' tagline. We don't intend to change it because we believe that it has worked very well for the channel. Contrary to popular belief, changing the tagline has not gone a long way into really improving the channels rating or people wanting to see it.

Neither are we planning to do any changes to the logo but yes, we are planning to make it a tad sharper, give it that extra finesse. Also we are not contemplating any mauves and lilacs, we are working on the same colours because we believe that green, yellow and blue - the existing colours - have delivered very well.

What is the current brand positioning of Zee Cinema?

Zee Cinema has a distinct advantage over its competitors simply because it was the first movie channel available to the Indian consumer - a first mover's advantage, so to speak. In the Indian cinema genre, it does have good recall.

You have been keeping yourselves busy with festivals and new bands? How have the new bands like 'Rok Sako Toh Rok Lo' and 'Premier' really fared? Why is it necessary to create such festivals, is it just for the advertisers' sake?

Once there is a brand recall to a channel, then the next part is to hold on to the audience, keep them enthused.

Zee Cinema has a large number of properties that are constantly developed and infused with innovation. Not merely for the advertisers, but also for the viewers' sake.

In the high clutter of the movie and the general entertainment channels, the real trick is to get the viewers to remember the movie and the time it is going to be aired. Creating properties is to get the viewer to remind him, to fix up his appointment with that particular movie on that channel at that particular time.

Which are the most prominent brands on the channel?

I don't think there is any brand that is not available on Zee Cinema. Among the movie channels, the highest number of advertisers is with Zee Cinema.

How is Zee Cinema positioned with the media planners and buyers?

I think it is positioned somewhere in between a high frequency-cum-reach channel. Why, because the delivery and the CPRP that Zee Cinema offers is probably amongst the cheapest and the best value for money that any media planner would get in terms of costing.

"The delivery and the CPRP that Zee Cinema offers is probably amongst the cheapest and the best value for money that any media planner would get"

In the media business, the channels have to constantly look out for varied properties... sort of broaden the horizon. Zee Cinema hasn't really branched out into anything else. It is just concentrating on movies. Why?

The thing is, a cinema channel ought to be a cinema channel. We do have some shows on the channel, the traditionally film based ones and we are in process of launching a couple more. In fact, we would be launching a bunch of shows on both Music and Cinema simultaneous. But yes, the thrust will always be movies.

I would like to reiterate again that the movie channels should be in the business of airing movies. They should stick to their core competency of delivering movies rather than trying to deliver something else, which people are already getting to watch elsewhere.

What is the percentage that Zee Cinema contributes to the Zee bouquet in terms of revenue?

I wouldn't like to give something in terms of percentage. But yes, it demands a high loyalty within the Zee-Turner bouquet. Every distributor and cable operator has always insisted on having Zee Cinema as a part of its bouquet.

It is a dark horse in Zee-Turner stable and would emerge stronger, this year, with its new look.

Why do you keep calling it a 'dark horse'?

I think it was an underrated channel, right from the time it was launched. Always under the shadow of Zee, be it in terms of its deliveries, reach, or numbers. But the moment the Zee network started separating each into individual channel sales, every brand was harnessed to its true potential. It was then that Zee Cinema showed its true colours and really delivered very well.

Do cinema channels enjoy appointment viewing?

Appointment viewing is something that general entertainment channel deliver. Movie channels do have loyal viewers and the idea to create 10-1-5 appointment packages, which we did last year, were a success. I think the festivals that we conducted to promote a time band really helped us. We are slowly moving towards appointment.

How is the day part divided?

The day part is divided into six bands. We air a movie at 9:30, then at 12:30, followed by a noon band at 3:30, then a movie at tea-time at 5:30 and night movie at 8:30. We also have a mid-night movie at 12:30 am.

Correct me if I am wrong, the effort that goes into planning or creating festival special campaigns for Cinema is more than the that for general entertainment, especially logistically?

Media planning is a very difficult job, whether you have to plan for general entertainment channel or niche channel. But yes, I do agree that, in the case of appointment viewership, it is very easy for some channels to pin point and prove their top three shows. They can easily bet that their GRP levels can't go beyond certain numbers.

I do agree that planning for a movie channel is not an easy job but I think people have managed to work it.

"Creating properties is to get the viewer to remind him, to fix up his appointment with that particular movie on that channel at that particular time"

What about budgets for marketing and promotions?

We do have a large amount now. It works out to about 15-18 per cent of the channel's revenues. It used to be a negligible amount earlier.

What are the new acquisitions for the season?

We have a bunch of acquisitions, but we are still in the process of finalising it so I can't really tell you now.

What about crossover movies and Diaspora movies? You had indicated earlier that you were planning to acquire a few and create a dedicated time slot?

It is not that the crossover movies are being produced in large numbers. They were at one point of time. But because they are not doing too well, you see lesser amount of movies released this year. The audience preferences become quite clear at the box office.

By and large, one knows that the movies that perform well in the box office also perform well on TV as well. But, yes that's not the case always. Recent examples have shown that the movies that didn't do quite well at the box office delivered fantastic ratings.

But it is usually a safe bet that the movies that have done well at box office definitely do well on the small screen.

What is the kind of money that goes into acquisition of movies?

Acquisition is a huge process. As a group, Zee is getting into a lot of movies, not only in terms of distribution but also acquisition in country and oversees. Nitin Keni is heading that unit. This year we are looking in investing a huge amount of monies in acquisition of movies and it obviously runs into 100s of crores (billions of rupees).

What about Hollywood movies? The latest trend seems to be dubbed movies.

I wouldn't like to read too much into that. Titanic and Jurassic Park are not the ideal examples one would give for all dubbed movies that work well in Hindi. If it was true then all that had to be done was to collaborate with an English movie channel and dub each and every movie!

Indian audiences will not accept everything that is on English movies because Indians prefer fiction. By and large, movies which have done well on TV have incidentally done well on theatres in India.

There is no real theory in saying that all dubbed movies will do well or all Kung-Fu movies will do well. It all depends on how well strategies work around the movie brand. I think our competition worked around it and they have succeeded.

It was early last month that you set up a separate distribution arm for Zee Music and Zee Cinema. What was the need?

Distribution does play a key role as far as placements of channels are concerned. With my experience in the distribution side of the business in the last 20 years, I have seen the necessity for a channel to be well distributed. It is largely because of the very unique way our market is structured.

Our market consists of 40-45 per cent black and white TV sets, so obviously a channel that is not highly placed gets completely shunted out of these households. So to create a kind of a bridge between us as a channel and various cable operators and MSOs, we decided to have a small distribution arm. It was set up to facilitate and keep informing MSO's and cable ops on the various programming efforts.

"With etc and Zee Music, we have more than 50 per cent of the music channel market share with us"

How is Zee Music now positioned now after the recent revamp?

Zee Music has come up in a very unique fashion. It was a brand that had lost a lot of its credibility in the past with various re-launches. The last launch therefore was a difficult task. So we decided to take a route called "Sound of India". What we basically did was to give the channel a face-lift, and change the brand image. I must say that we have started attracting a lot of brands recently.

The idea, behind the revamp, was to use the strength of the Zee library into Zee Music. We have copyrights for more than 5000-6000 songs and we are working on a few other software deals. In addition to that we are have a full song concept, where we exclusively air complete songs of the movies with us.

We also went along the VJ hunt path because we thought that the music channel did require a particular image, in our case a strong Indian music channel one. We needed to get into minds of people and create that recall. The hunt was really necessary and we have been fairly successful. I think 2004-2005 we are going to be strongly placed.

Besides the strong Punjab- Northern states market, which is the strong market that you are looking at for Zee Music?

It is definitely an all India product for me. Plus it is a free-to-air product, unlike other music products that are on a pay mode.

It has helped us to penetrate into markets to a large extent. In the last six months, we have emerged as serious players. Earlier, we were pretty much discounted in the markets.

If so much of an effort has already gone in then why is the channel still not in the reckoning?

Running a channel business in not akin to waving a magic wand! It takes time build a brand, achieve penetration, build an image. We have fought very hard. We have structured the channel, have really tried to give an image that a music channel requires. It has not been a very easy turf.

Zee Music's core audience belongs to the 15-34 demo bracket. To get into the audience mind, we had to ward off the competition provided by the bigger brands that have been around.

I am not really discounting etc though. I also head etc and now I have responsibility of handling both. Yet I have managed to keep both the channels separate.

We continue to see etc as the trade channel, rather that hard core music channel. But with etc and Zee Music, we have more than 50 per cent of the music channel market share with us. That makes heartening news for us. It might not make our competitors happy; after all they do claim to be bigger brands.

"There is no media planner for films in the country, who can escape without advertising with etc. It is a compulsory buy for them as a brand"

What is the positioning of etc versus Zee Music?

etc is on different route altogether. It's more of Bollywood, information, music. I think it has more of information based entertainment.

etc can proudly claim to be the number one music channel, in terms of reach, nos, GRPs, top shows. It has delivered well in the last five years and it continues to do well. There is no media planner for films in the country, who can escape without advertising with etc. It is a compulsory buy for them as a brand.

It has been a very strong trade channel for the exhibitors, distributors, and retailers both of audiotapes and films. It has got a huge penetration as it is a free-to-air channel.

Whereas Zee Music will follow the path of the other music channels, get into their market shares.

It is common knowledge that if a media planner can't see it, he won't believe it and he certainly won't buy it. How is it then that you have managed to convince your buyers?

I admit that there has been some distribution problems that we are tackling but it is not as if the channel is not seen at all.

If that was the case then we wouldn't be able to deliver the numbers that we claim we have. Or else you would start doubting numbers.

Reality shows help fillip ratings and so do ground events. Are the other reality shows planned? What are the promotions and ground activities that you have planned?

We have some thing very big ones coming up. Something that the television audience in India hasn't seen so far. But I can't talk about it as yet. You will have to wait and watch....

We hear that Zee will soon be launching a South Indian channel. If it is true, then where are you positioning it?

Nothing at the moment for Zee, but yes we are planning a music channel from etc group. We are calling it "etc box" and we would be making an announcement within a month's time.

What are the plans for next Zee Cine Awards? Will they also be held abroad next year?

We have something definitely bigger planned for it this year. After all it did generate great TRPs for us. And yes, they will be held abroad, we are not too sure where though. But ideally we would like to organise it in the markets where Zee has a strong hold like the UK, the US, South Africa or Europe.

There was a lot of chaos on the ground event. It was something that was talked about a lot in media. Would you like to comment on it?

It is all a learning process. Yes, there were a few problems, but then again something of this magnitude had never been attempted before.

You recently launched the three niche dish movie channels on cable - Premiere, Action and Classic channels. What I am really interested in knowing is where is the content? Are you looking at shows as well?

Believe me, movies have a huge repeat value and yes we do have a large library. But we are not looking at any programming. It is too soon to talk about it.

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