Television

'We are getting into the broader international entertainment space' : Ferzad Palia - Vh1 India associate GM

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In May, Viacom18's international music and lifestyle channel Vh1 started the makeover process. Repositioned as an international entertainment channel, it ushered in new shows and introduced a new tag line 'Vh1 - Get with it'.

Vh1 will, thus, stand on three legs - music, shows, and fashion and lifestyle. Music, however, will still constitute 50 per cent of the programming mix.

In an interview with Indiantelevision.com's Ashwin Pinto, Vh1 India associate GM Ferzad Palia says 25 shows will be launched during the fiscal and the new-look image will result in a 100 per cent revenue growth.

Excerpts:

What factors prompted the rebranding of Vh1 to an English GEC?

We launched in 2005 when there was a need to fill the gap for international music. Music channels had all gone desi and mass. Vh1 came in as a flanker and a need gap fulfiller for lifestyle and international music. It has now been four years and we have achieved our targets. We have repopularised international music. We have also ensured that good international acts come into the country.

In 2008 we did research as we felt there was a new need gap. The lifestyle shows on our channel like Pimp My Ride were popular. The audience felt that we were taking the lead towards differentiated international entertainment. This buoyed us into getting into the broader international entertainment space.

Music still constitutes 50 per cent of our mix. But now we are also going towards international entertainment with a renewed vigour.

What about content repositioning?

The channel has a new look and feel to it. Our tagline is 'Get with it' and is demonstrative of our brand, personality and content that is new and cutting edge. We bring in trends from across the world. We have launched four reality shows in the Monday-Thursday 11 pm slot. We also launched an animation show, South Park. The good news is that these shows cut across our TG.

Our focus for the next few weeks will be to launch content that allows people to gather information on entertainment on a real-time basis. We will look at new gadgets, gizmos, Formula One and Hollywood.

Vh1 currently stands on three legs - music, shows, and fashion and lifestyle.

What is the brand philosophy of Vh1?

Vh1 is a combination of entertainment and edutainment. The brand is young and vibrant. The tagline, 'Get with it,' expresses that.

What value is Vh1 looking to bring to the English general entertainment landscape?

While other general English entertainment channels run similar shows, our product mix is different and daring. Nobody has taken the lead on international music. Going forward, you will see that Vh1 will cover the fashion and lifestyle segment the most.

I don't think that we fit into the English GEC space per se. Our focus is on international entertainment and it covers different formats.

Who is your TG?

Our TG is 15-45 SEC A,B. Most of our viewership comes from the southern metros. The interesting thing is that the mature audience from 25-45 watches us as much as the youngsters do due to the variety in our offerings.

Our audience is 60 per cent male. We talk to different audiences at different time bands. Youngsters watch us in the morning, early in the evening and also after 11 pm which is when we air reality shows. The mature audience tune in at around 9 pm and, to an extent, early in the morning. While we do Hip Hop hustle for the youth, we also have Vh1 Jazz Masters for the older and more discerning viewer. Our analysis tells us that our audience watches news to get information - and then for entertainment they tune in to Vh1.

'We have 110 advertisers on board. We expect 100 per cent revenue growth for the year'

Could you talk about the shows that allow Vh1 to be differentiated and daring?

Pimp My Ride is about taking a thrashed automobile and making it a wow machine. The audiences took note of us with this show. Then our positioning got accentuated with a show called Yo Ma Ma (it is about kids trash talking each other). This concept had never entered India. This was a big point. All our shows have had some sort of twist. Punked with Ashton Kutcher gave birth to MTV Bakra. The difference is that Kutcher punks his celebrity friends. We launched Saturday Night Live.

We will launch 25 shows this fiscal.

What are the plans for the weekend?

Sunday Brunch with Jim Morisson will return. This airs rare, unseen footage about an artist. We are launching a party block from 10:30 pm-2 am on Saturday and Sunday. We also air stacks of episodes of shows like South Park on the weekend for people who might have missed out on episodes over the week. At the same time we are conscious of not repeating our content too much.

You had mentioned giving people the latest news on fashion and Hollywood. How would this work?

Content will be filmed and shown weekly. So we will launch a weekly show on Hollywood called The Scene over the next 10 days. We have a daily show at 10 pm from Monday to Friday, Daily 10, which is about the 10 top things that have happened in the world of entertainment. It is slightly gossipy in nature. Then there is The Fabulous Life which is one of our flagship shows. It takes you into the lives of the rich and famous celebrities. We also have a show that profiles what happens each week in the world of fashion. Another show BG Racing on Track is about Formula One. It tells you what happened in the previous race and also goes behind the scenes with the drivers and sees what they are doing and where they are partying.

What marketing activities is Vh1 doing to spread awareness among viewers and advertisers about the repositioning?

We have done a high decibel outdoor campaign. We used radio. We tied up with about 50 gyms and salons across the country. We use this as an activation platform. We are also on Facebook and Yahoo.

Are you looking at creating local versions of any of your international shows?

Yes! However we will be very selective in what we do or else there will no difference between us and competition. We are in the process of finalising a few concepts. A Pimp My Ride India is a distinct possibility.

Then we will be doing an initiative called India Rules later this year. Here we will take Indian Acts abroad and give them an international platform. For us , it is a reverse migration and cross pollination of ideas.

We have a lot of local talent but there is no platform to allow it to go to the next level. We feel that it is our responsibility to give them a platform. This I would like to clarify will not be a hunt for a rock band. Anybody with musical talent can approach us. Our message is that the world is waiting for you.

What are Vh1's plans on the events and digital space?

We constantly do on-ground experiential events. We bring down international artists often. We are now looking at the consumer product space. A lot of brands have evinced interest in associating with Vh1 as there is synergy. We are looking at like minded brands. They have to be premium and have a certain amount of audience respect. Categories could be telecom, handsets, apparel, footwear. The tie ups will be in the nature of products and services.

We will also make a big play on the digital space. It could involve packaging content for the mobile and the Internet.

Do you see the brand tie up business growing to become a significant source of revenue, apart from advertising?

It will eventually be a big source of revenue. At this point of time, our objective is to build the brand.

How is the channel being pitched to advertisers?

It is being pitched as a unique content channel. The way we integrate brands sets us apart. These days you have to work harder for every rupee. Nokia has an express music phone. We created a show Nokia Vh1 Playlist. Viewers decide what plays here; they send us their playlists. Nokia's brand proposition is touch, play, share. On Nokia's site you can see the playlist. When we play the song, your mug shot comes along with a few lines like why you like Bryan Adams' song Summer of 69. You could dedicate it to your girlfriend.

We started it last year as a weekly and now as it worked, we have made it a daily show. With Airtel we have an initiative Hello tunes Made Easy.

How many clients do you have?

We have 110 advertisers on board. We expect 100 per cent revenue growth for the year. The client list is diverse from a 50 paise candy to a Rs 500,000 jewelry set. We have not been affected by the slowdown to the extent that we had originally feared.

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