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'Innovation's key to success in music biz' : Bharat Ranga - Zee Music & Zee Cinema business head

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Music channels operate in a space that cannot be really defined as static or having set formulae. Certainly not in India. There was a time when Channel V wanted to be a youth channel, but returned to its old avatar of being a channel that prominently plays music. This space also witnesses ambushes. In such an environment, Zee Music, a channel that faced identity crisis till some time back, is attempting to evolve. It's riding on the back of some innovations and the fact that it has access to a large number of songs, filmi or otherwise. The strategy of Zee Music is to broad base viewership without losing its existing clientele Zee Cinema and Zee Music business head Bharat Ranga in this interview with Indiantelevision.com's Manisha Bhattacharjee and Bijoy A K discusses various issues related to these two channels.

Excerpts:

How about an overview of the music industry?

Music channels category is, probably, the only category, which does not drive power from its core strength. When we talk about news channels, they derive their power from news. The general entertainment channels derive their power from entertainment programmes. Movie channels derive strength from cinema, but music channels do not obtain strength from music. It is strange, but it is also true in India.

Music channels draw more strength from attitude, humour, lifestyle, etc. Even if prominent brands are taken, the likes of MTV and Channel V have tried sprucing up their fare many times, but always from the point of view of changing the attitude, style and class, which have been laced with humour and lifestyle and packaged well. A music channel in India has always emphasized on things around music and not directly on music.

The reason for this is that music industry, or consumption of music in any form in India, has always not been commercially very successful. Music cassette sales have been dipping for the last 10 years. Look at the consumption on the Net; music is being consumed free. Piracy is eating into the earnings of record companies. To be frank, music channels in India tend to shy away from their core competency.

How is Zee Music trying to be different or addressing some of these issues?

It becomes very difficult to break the set norms, though we sense that something needs to be done. Last year, we did a quality research on the numbers and consumer behaviour pattern. We realised that this is the time to build on this space and the need is to undertake innovations. Since we have the largest library of films, which we acquire through the Zee Network, our library of film songs is also big. In a way, Zee Music not only has access to the largest music library, but we own the rights too. This makes us the best in terms of exclusive music software.

We also feel that as a network we understand the music space well as we have had a heritage of music-based shows through programmes like Antakshari and Sa Re Ga Ma. Putting this understanding to good use, we have created a `live' time band on Zee Music. The format is also base don our understanding of the radio, which says that if you interact with viewers or listeners on real time basis, they enjoy it more than just listening to music.

Do you feel that Zee Music, unlike other music channels, lacks popular faces in the form of VJs?

That has dawned on us that despite trying to be different, we cannot be totally different. We have realised that we were going heavy on music, low on faces, low on VJs and low on attitude, which is what MTV and Channel V keep on bombarding viewers with. We have observed that VJs' chattering on popular music channels are like commercial breaks. Since on Zee Music we do not have so much of chattering, we do get some good GRPs. It's almost like a movie on a movie channel. Longer the break, more the chances that interest of viewers will wane. It's quite difficult the right mix, but we are trying.

"The ideal package is to have a combination of attitude, aura & music backed by strong marketing and promotional activities"

Will we see VJs with more `attitude' on the channel?

As I said earlier, the beauty lies in the fact how we hit the bull's eye, giving rise to a situation where the viewers enjoy excellent music, backed by some excellent packaging. VJs would be like connectors. There would be changes in the channel, but I would not like to divulge the whole strategy at this time relating to the types of VJs and how we would like to package our programmes. What I can say is that VJ-ing will be defined differently on Zee Music.

Who is your target audience ---the SEC B,C and D types or the higher socio-economic groups?

We are now attempting to target SEC A without losing out our core base that is formed from SEC B, C and D because our type of mass audience would fall in the age group of 15-34. However, our research has shown that till last year we had been primarily attracting viewers in the age group of 35 years+ from SEC B,C and D and not from the age group 15 to 34 years. This is primarily because Zee Music has some great music and the VJs speak pre-dominantly in Hindi. We were doing very well there, but, unfortunately, that's not the place where advertisers would like to put their money.

What is the time-band where consumption level is high on Zee Music and what type of shows drive in the viewers?

Our maximum viewership is between 4 to 8 pm. But the consumption of the channel by youths starts a little early, around 2 pm when youngsters are through with college activities. At present, we have not capitalised on that part at all. Interestingly, GRPs get built during the high consumption time band, while a perception about the channel is built during the rest of the day. That is the time when you build on your brand and attitude through good packaging. Broadly, it is a combination of connecting with people and good music that we are banking on.

What would be the average time spent by viewers on Zee Music compared to competition?

In terms of time spend, Zee Music has a fairly high share of about five minutes. On an average, competition has an average time spend between 5.5 - 5.8 minutes. But Zee Music has a problem of connectivity vis-?-vis competition and the difference is fairly large. While the likes of Channel V and MTV have approximately 75 per cent connectivity in cable homes country-wide, Zee Music is still at around 55 per cent. We do feel if the connectivity problem (or the distribution aspect) is looked into and resolved with an aim to be at par, the average time spend gap could also be reduced or matched by us.

So, you do admit that connectivity is a problem. Any specific initiative being taken in this regard?

I would say it is a limitation. Zee Music is a free to air channel, while the rest of the Zee channels are pay. Etc music channel is also a free to air channel (a separately handled and managed channel that Zee Telefilms bought), but its reach is far more than that of Zee Music. At present, we are exploring certain options for Zee Music, but we also do feel that being FTA has its advantages. MTV was a FTA channel for many years before turning pay and it also did not mind paying for placement and connectivity. In a way, MTV managed to retain its viewership and connectivity base despite turning pay and this is something that we also have to look into.

Will Zee Music bank heavily on interactivity?

There will be interactive programmes, but for three to four hours only. If I can create some roots for entrainment and slowly add the power of music to it, Zee Music would find its target audience. Eventually, the programme has to be appealing visually and music-wise too. Throw in some snazzy packaging and we can have a winning combination.

How are you looking at packaging the channel?

Well, we are not yet through with executing the process so I cannot speak at length. We are concentrating on re-engineering the programming schedule, besides getting the right type of connectors (aka VJs). Interactivity is a great differentiator, which is hitting the competitors hard.

Organising and holding event are other things that Zee Music is aggressively looking at. The success of Item Bomb has shown us the way.

Is Zee Music looking at riding on the back of Etc's larger bigger connectivity, which can also mean having programming and advertising synergy?

Riding piggy back is something that I personally do not like. It dilutes your brand and, second, does not work for long as a strategy. It is the brand itself that should push and the audiences for the two channels are different.

A synergy between Zee Music and Etc Music on advertising deals would be more need based than anything else. If tomorrow an advertiser wants to shift money from MTV and Channel V and is convinced that a better value for money could be obtained from buying a combination of Zee Music and Etc, we could look into it. However, ideally, I'd like both Zee Music and Etc to compete with each other too.

What would be the share of Zee Music from the advertising pie that is targeted by quite a few music channels?

We are part of a listed company (Zee Telefilms) and individual revenue figures are not readily available as we give out a consolidated figure.

The music category is worth about Rs 1 billion and the advertising revenue flows in not because of music lovers but because advertisers are attempting to target the youth. At the same time youth as a category is also catered to by other channels, as there is no great uniqueness of this audience base. That is a concern!

If a rough break-up of the ad revenue is done genre-wise, then 47 per cent would be going to the mass entertainment channels, six per cent to movie channels and only about 0.1 per cent to music channels. The uniqueness of the audience base definitely helps, which is amplified by a bigger share of the ad pie going to news channels. News channels draw far more effective figure than cinema channels mainly because they have a unique audience. Creating a unique audience base is something that music channels did not concentrate on.

Will music channel s survive and be financially viable?

Music channels have to change for survival as the category isn't growing. Initially music channels had a novelty factor attached to them and were considered an innovation, but that euphoria is waning now. The whole music industry was worth Rs. 1,400- Rs. 1,500 million three years ago, but the revenues are falling.

Are you planning to launch big properties at regular intervals on Zee Cinema?

Big films are more part of marketing. Eventually, we will start thinking like mass channels. Mass channels don't operate on one big programme, but on time bands. I don't think it will work any more if I have one big premiere a week. It may get us the desired results in the short term, but for a long term perspective we need to think like mass channels.

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