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We are actively looking to work with regional channels - Helios Media MD Divya Radhakrishnan

Divya Radhakrishnan

1 November 2016 was celebrated with much pomp by the folks at Helios Media. Five years of successful operation in a business (which has seen many come and go in shorter periods) was a good enough reason to party till late into the night with clients, media and friends on the terrace of its expansive office in Mumbai’s Andheri East suburb. High Five was the motto for the evening, and everyone was greeted as such.

Started by media vet Divya Radhakrishnan (on 1/11/11) who was later joined by former Zoom business head Bala Iyengar – who is now a partner in the business, Helios Media today has gained a good reputation for itself as a company that delivers. Over the years, it has helped in the monetization of channels such as MTunesHD, Fashion TV, Epic TV, FoodFood, Living Foodz, FataFati, Green TV, Fakht TV, Spin TV among many other.

With a staff strength of 55 (most of them involved in ad-sales branded content), Radhakrishnan states that the company has attained a level of stability and is looking at revving up its gross billings to the triple digit crore mark. She has been bringing in professionals and delegating responsibility to the team she leads. “I am basically a gardener,” she says, looking at the terrace lawn that her office looks on to on the top floor of an office complex in the suburb of Andheri east.

Indiantelevision.com’s Papri Das got into a tete-a-tete with Radhakrishnan to get her insight into what has been achieved so far and where she sees Helios Media going. Excerpts:

Helios Media is often viewed  as an outsourced ad sales wings for channels. What is the company’s positioning in the market currently?

Clients initially approached us for the monetizing aspect of our services and were pleasantly surprised by the bouquet of services we offer, which has grown over the years. We are currently not only into pure play ad sales. We have a tendency to typecast things and put things boxes in our country. Therefore, to launch something new that doesn’t fit into the general notions of mainstream, to carving its own niche is a long journey.

Our aim is to highlight these services and solutions as part of the entire mix, which in turn helps the revenue grow, and is not just considered as an afterthought. Therefore, the thought ‘Beyond Obvious’ came into being, and it has been our brand positioning since the past three years. We didn’t chance upon the concept overnight, we studied cases, researched extensively, interviewed people from the industry, and found the need gaps and oriented a team on this mantra.

What value addition is there for channels to let Helios Media handle their revenue monetisation? Are you able to fetch them premium rates for their inventories?

Hypothetically speaking, say I have a channel going at 20 GRP which sells at an effective rate of Rs 1000, now what will I sell a channel with 5 GRP for? Rs 50, if you apply a simple sales principle. But, Helios Media has the confidence to sell it almost close to Rs 1000. We do that with right positioning of the content and brand akin-ness.

I have often been asked how I can fetch premium rates for clients when we don’t control bulk inventories in the market across different media platforms. Our proposition isn’t to sell inventories in packages, we treat each channel differently, and a different specialist handles its sales. Just because the channels have outsourced their sales, it doesn’t mean that their inventory 'sort of' goes to a supermarket shelf.  We target brands based on the brand akin-ness with the channel, and given that we serve niche channels, there is no question of overlapping their sales needs.

For example, when we launched MTunes, we researched extensively with Ormax to understand what was lacking in the music scene, to hit the sweet spot that brands wanted to target and the channel could offer. It is interesting to know that we managed to get several brands involved at the content level, and explore innovative solutions through deals with the channel, as we worked around the restrictions of the music IPs having separate owners.

How do you go about selecting the channels to partner with?

Call us picky but we are very particular about the channels that we choose to sell for. If you look at our client bouquet, each one of them is a specialty channel, which needs to be positioned uniquely in the market, otherwise it won’t sell well. You can’t sell a channel such as BTVi on simply the standard unit of trade, that is, GRP. You have to sell the brand positioning, for which you need to get under the skin of the content. Therefore, a lot on how we choose clients is based on their basic understanding of this, how comfortable they are with acknowledging our inputs and working according to it.

While it is easier for us to do that for a channel we were involved with from its inception such as MTunes and Living Foodz, we have also brought in clients well into their life cycle – Food Food, Fakht Marathi, etc.

In the past five years, Helios Media hasn’t aggressively chased new clients and taken time to add a new channel to its portfolio. Is this a conscious decision?

Ours is a very people heavy business. It has to make logical sense to me to expand my team to add new channels to sell. It doesn’t seem cost-effective or time-efficient for us to add a bouquet of 50 to 60 channels and build an enterprise. Where we see expansion is in the increase in revenue and value of our clients, because it directly links to growth in our own value.

We have a channel portfolio of eight now. But, there were almost 80-odd broadcasters who approached us as prospective clients, but many a times we decided not to work with them. It is because most of them lacked the depth of understanding of the media concessionaire businesses. From broadcasters going ‘I want to launch a channel one day’ to people with content who hadn’t done up the lining to folks who simply don’t understand the distribution ecosystem: there are examples of such broadcasters galore.

Helios Media is often compared to media agencies, and its performance judged on new clients and account wins. Do you find that unfair?

Frankly, it doesn’t bother me how many crore of account I handle as compared to others, as long as I know how my business’ bottom line works.

Media agencies work on two and half per cent commission basis from the client’s marketing spends whereas we work on revenue-sharing. Therefore, when I say we have done business of X amount of billing, Helios Media’s earning is a substantial part of that net billing we have done for our clients. We are in a different sphere altogether. Their commission is linked to the clients spends, while ours its directly linked to revenue. A brand can cut down on its spends, but our fortune is tied to the client’s fortune. Thus, evaluating Helios Media’s business and performance on number of new accounts or total strength of account is absurd.

Since the launch of Brand Chef, how has this new vertical been performing for the company?

We have recently spun a new division called Brand Chef which is about consultancy for food brands. From celebrity chefs, food bloggers, popular digital stars with cooking content, we have a wide range of content solutions for brands that work directly with this division. Clients range from Go Cheese, HUL, Marico, and many more. If I were to give an estimate of how successful this division has been for us, it is almost 50 per cent of our top line revenue. We see immense potential in the food sector. We have plans to launch social media strategy for clients specifically in the food sector.

What prospects do you see in regional market?

We are actively looking to work with regional channels. Regional market pricing is always higher from an advertiser’s standpoint, because it has very little spillover. Also, the industry is slowly getting over the myth that Hindi is the national language. You move outside Mumbai and go to Pune, people respond to you in Marathi. Therefore, brands need to stop putting an overemphasis on the so called ‘HSM- or Hindi speaking Market.’

We are in talks with a regional client who is seeking our help to decide on what format they should launch in GEC, movies or something else? There is another network seeking our consultancy on which language they should go into. So, we are currently doing market prospect planning as well.

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