Viacom18's crown jewel, Colors, is completing six years of run this month. What started as a dream run for the channel turned into a bit of a bumpy ride with Star Plus holding on to the leadership position and Zee TV giving a tough fight. Lately, Star India's second Hindi general entertainment channel (GEC), Life OK, is also showing spike once in a while to add pressure. However, Colors CEO Raj Nayak is not perturbed. As ever smiling Nayak puts it, that's the nature of the beast'. He maintains that Colors is an extremely profitable channel and he expects it to bounce back to the No. 2 spot anytime between the end of mid-September and the first week of October. In a freewheeling interaction with TelevisionPost.com's Gaurav Laghate, Nayak spoke about Colors' journey, his vision for the future and how the audience loyalty for channels is changing. Edited excerpts...Q. Colors is completing six years in July. How do you see its recent run?
Out of the six, I have been here for the last three years. The way I see it, Colors had a great run the last three years and we closed the fiscal on a high in terms of top line, bottom line as well as channel share. If you take an average, we stayed at No. 2 among the Hindi GECs for the whole of last fiscal. Yes, the last two to three months we have been fluctuating at No. 3, but that's the nature of the beast. With the new fiction launches, we hope to bounce back to a strong No. 2 position anytime between the end of mid-September and the first week of October.
Q. So you maintain that Colors is a profitable channel?
When I was given this job three years ago, the mandate was very clear. Build brand Colors, grow profitability, retain leadership. And that is the mantra we have been following since then. To answer your question, yes we are an extremely profitable channel.
Q. In the past three years, you have taken big risks and introduced variety in content, a lot of which at a very high cost. How do you maintain profitability?
It is in the Colors' DNA to be cutting edge and innovative. This is something I inherited from my predecessor. All that we have done is to lift the game to another level, scale our properties and enhance our production values, without losing focus on monetisation and the bottom line. The thought process is simple"we want to remain the leader, with a strong focus on the bottom line.
Q. How do you see that happening? When we look at the week-on-week performance in the past 12-13 weeks, no fiction from Colors has been in the top 10 fiction shows.
It makes a good marketing statement. The question is not if it is there in the top 10 list. Our focus is on the overall channel GRPs and to be able to build that with a healthy mix of fiction and non-fiction. There is no doubt that fiction is the staple diet for any GEC and we are focused on strengthening it. We work slightly differently.
Q. How do you define good programming?
In my years of experience in this business, I have come to the conclusion that there is nothing called good or bad programming. You can attribute values to production quality, narration, direction and storyline. But these are judgemental and is a matter of individual taste. There is only successful and unsuccessful programming. If the majority likes a product, it is successful.
Q .But is there a success formula for fiction shows?
Unfortunately, there is no fixed formula for it. If there was one, everyone would have copy-pasted it. There is some amount of trial and error. You identify the story, subject, test the concept, you get your research right, you get the pulse of the environment, you believe in the concept, get the casting right, do your marketing well, and then wait for the Thursday ratings. After all this, there is still no guarantee that the show will work as there are so many other factors such as time slot, competitiveness of the show, etc. This is a dynamic business where you are on the treadmill 24 hours and are rated every week. The pressure is enormous.
Q. You recently launched a new fiction show and promos of a second are on air. How many new shows are in the pipeline?
We have recently launched Meri Aashiqui Tumse Hi'. It's produced by Ekta Kapoor's Balaji Telefilms. The initial feedback is very positive and I am sure it will grow over the next few weeks. In July, we are launching another fiction show titled Shasti Sisters'. After that, there are two more in the pipeline, for which we are yet to fix the time slot.
Q. So which are the problem shows that you have decided to knock off?
Good question. That's the biggest challenge of a GEC. Sometimes we end up sacrificing a good show based on ratings only. But in the current competitive environment, there is no other yardstick we can apply. So shows that are not rated well go off air.
Q. So you have three fiction shows coming up. What about non-fiction? Is Bigg Boss' coming back? And will Salman be the host? What about Fear Factor'?
Bigg Boss' will come in October. But I won't talk more about it. Otherwise, how will I have a press conference for that [Laughs]. Fear Factor' will be scheduled only in 2015; dates are yet to be finalised.
Q: Rumours were that Bigg Boss' was shifting to Life OK. Do you plan to introduce new formats?
That was rubbish. We have invested in the show for five years. Why will we let it go anywhere else? By the way, that is another big challenge for us. As a GEC, we have a lot of format shows. How to bring in a new property without sacrificing an old format is a challenge.
Q. Your dependency on movies has lessened. Is it because movie acquisition is becoming more and more unviable?
It has always been unviable especially for Colors, which has only one full-fledged GEC. Unlike other networks where they are able to amortise the cost across channels, at Colors it directly impacts our P&L [profit and loss]. In fact, Colors was responsible for driving up the prices of movies. For the last three years, I have made a conscious effort to bring it down. And as I said, we are very clear in our minds that if the ROI [return on investment] doesn't work, we will stay away from it. Strategically, as a channel we cannot completely do without it. We have signed slate deals with Dharma Productions and Viacom18 Motion pictures for some of their movies. Maybe someday when we add a second GEC and a movie channel, the outlook will be different.
Q: But now you have Rishtey...
We have not launched Rishtey on that big scale yet. The P&L of Rishtey is not where we can load costs. Hence, it is still one channel for all practical purposes.
Q: So what's the plan for Rishtey?
You will see some reengineering happening on Rishtey, but it's a bit premature to talk about that.
Q. But do you see a trend of finite, short-format series?
I think that is the future of fiction in my opinion. You will see more and more of this trend where channels will start commissioning shows with finite storylines. As CEO, I have to manage the P&L, the quarterly results, etc. and there are only certain risks I can take. But that is the way to go and we have taken those risks in 24'. We will soon announce the next season of 24'.
Q: Have you syndicated 24' in the South?
Yes, we have syndicated the show to Polymer TV for Tamil. We are open to such opportunities. Four seasons of Fear Factor - Khataron Ke Khiladi' were recently syndicated to Sun TV Network for its Tamil, Telugu and Malayalam channels. Even fiction shows we keep syndicating to different regional and international channels.
Q: There were reports of Comedy Nights' going off air. Is that true? Comedy Nights' is one of our most successful shows. We co-created this show with Kapil and his team. We share an excellent relationship with Kapil and every member of the team. Kapil is very clear that he does not want any fatigue to set in and we respect that. Our creative teams are working to reinvent the show, to make some additions to the format, maybe have a new set, to give the show a fresh look. There is no question of the show going off air; it is in both Kapil's and our interest not to tinker with something that is working so beautifully. There is an old saying: "If it ain't broken, don't fix it."
Q Hindustan Unilever was one of your biggest advertisers. However, since last October it is not there on Colors. What is the standoff and how has it impacted your revenue?
Let me get the record straight. We have an excellent relationship with both HUL and their agency Fulcrum, and we have great respect for their business. There is no standoff between us. They wanted a commitment of certain fixed inventory on the channel per hour of which we were able to commit around 40 per cent. With limited inventory at our command and steep targets to meet, we could not find a solution. It has not impacted our business because every time you run an HUL spot, there is an opportunity cost, so in reality it has benefited us.
Q. Finally, what about The Anupam Kher Show'? What are your expectations? Will there also be a second season?
Being the only talk show on a Hindi GEC with celebrities, where there is no script or cue cards, this show will give our viewers insights into the lives of celebrities. Given Anupam's stature in the industry and his relationships, I am sure he will be able to draw the best from his guests. I can assure you that there will be so many new things you'll get to know about the celebrities, something you've never heard before. This will be an inspiring show. Yes, of course. It will have many more seasons; so many other celebrities have to share their journeys through this show. Abhi picture baaki hai (The show is far from finished).
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