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‘I see a tremendous future for regional-language versions of SAB’
With added responsibility of Sony Pal, Anooj Kapoor has his plate full. Though the task of getting Pal up is long and arduous, he is confident that the channel will make gradual progress and come to a good number in some time, much as what happened to SAB. It was at 20 GRPs and Kapoor took it to 170 GRPs.
The challenge Kapoor faces on SAB is different but less daunting. Though the difficult part is to churn out comedy shows seven days a week, there is nothing on the channel that Kapoor wants to change. He recites how his friend Raju Hirani (film producer) tells him that he makes a two-and-a-half hour film in three years, and wonders how Kapoor churns out three hours of comedy content every day.
In an interview with TelevisionPost.com’s Gaurav Laghate, Multi Screen Media senior EVP and business head – SAB and Sony Pal Kapoor talks about the challenges facing the two channels and his vision for both of them.
Q. You are heading two channels—one is genre specific (SAB) and the other is targeted at women only (Sony Pal). Do you see this segmented approach as the flavour of the future?
I definitely think so. I also think that sub-segments within segments are also a very good strategy. So I see a tremendous future for a SAB Punjabi, Marathi, Gujarati or Bengali channel because as you know various regions have their own peculiar brand of comedy.
I also think a lot of fragmentation or segmentation, whichever term you want to use, has already taken place. Now you have an Epic and there is also ID. If you look at the trend worldwide, I think investigation was perhaps the only segment which was left unexplored, which Discovery now has occupied.
So to my mind, most of the segmentation has already taken place. Beyond that, it would be about the same. I cannot visualise further segmentation, unless someone comes up with a brilliant idea and surprises the world.
Q. But do you see the concept of segmented channel as a viable option considering that digitisation has not fully taken place and there is also ad cap and fragmentation?
I think this is a transition phase and it may not be the best idea to launch fragmented channels. Also, I think things have become very complex now. The distribution system is torn between digital, DTH and analogue; markets are torn between metros and mini-metros, SEC ABCDE, less than one million, one million plus, etc., so the permutations and combinations have become very complex and at the same time we are approaching complete digitisation.
Q. But you launched Sony Pal…
I think it may not be a bad idea to launch a channel that offers to consumers something that they are very familiar with. It made tremendous sense to launch Sony Pal as SAB has a different target audience and SET is more metro-oriented. Pal was launched keeping in mind the SEC BCDE and the LC1 audiences, which some of the other channels are also targeting but none from our network was.
We feel there is a market for them.
Q. Talking about Sony Pal, the channel has not yet started performing on the ratings front…
We are confident that Pal will make gradual progress and will come to a good number in some time, much as what happened to SAB. It was at 20 GRPs and we took it to 170 GRPs.
Pal is now at 15 GRPs, and we are confident of taking it up to a decent number. Also, we are very clear that there is more appetite for consumption in the GEC space. There is a very strong positioning of ‘Yeh Pal Hamara Hai’.
‘To my mind, most of the segmentation has already taken place. Beyond that, it would be about the same. I cannot visualise further segmentation unless someone comes up with a brilliant idea and surprises the world.’
Q. What are the main challenges you are facing with Pal? Is it distribution?
Let me give you an example. If there are two brands of shampoo in the market and I am launching a slightly differentiated one, the other two brands are placed on the first shelf and my product is on the 18th. Besides, I do not have an incentivised shopkeeper to tell the consumer to come and try the shampoo on the 18th shelf. That’s my challenge.
The top 15–17 LCNs have been already blocked by other channels by the time we launched. Our reach is 14 per cent at present.
Q. But you can spend more on marketing and distribution…
But then the task is longer and arduous. The challenge is more of distribution and sampling. To take the shampoo example further, the consumer is already habituated to that product and more or less satisfied. Why will she take the pain of reaching the 18th shelf? Breaking the habit is the challenge.
Q. One of the major reasons for success of SAB’s flagship show ‘Tarak Mehta’ is also that each episode has a story. The same is true of shows on Life OK. But as story progresses in Pal’s shows, how will you get the same level of stickiness?
First, in every episode of all the shows, we are dedicating the first one and a half minutes for ‘Kahani Ab Tak’ (story so far). Also, on the weekends, we are airing special episodes on weekends to present the whole story in a concise manner.
Second, unlike films, where you may not enjoy the movie if you walk in late, TV viewing is very different. Here if you sample an episode and you like it, you tend to stick, whatever may be the duration of the show before that. This is a peculiar syndrome on TV. Many shows start on low ratings and reach their peak over a period of 3–4 months.
Q. Coming to SAB, it has always shuffled between the 4th and 6th spot despite its strong and focused positioning. What changes are needed to get this up?
There is nothing I want to change at SAB. The reason is very simple, we have a very clear-cut brand philosophy which is ‘Asli Maza Sabke Saath Aata Hai’. We try to attract family audiences and provide light entertainment by keeping our shows clean and wholesome; they instill family and social values. This has always been the DNA of SAB.
Apart from seeing the consistency in ratings over the last one year, if we were to compare it to other channels, there is far more flip-flopping of ratings on other channels than on SAB and that’s got to do with the strength of a brand.
Q. Is it because of the positioning that we see frequent changes in programming?
We are the only channel that does daily comedy. Why the rest of the world does not do daily comedy is because a fatigue sets in earlier than it does in soaps. That is why it is necessary for us to keep refreshing our line-up more often than is the case with soaps.
Doing comedy is very tough. In the US, TV started in the late ’60s and so did sitcoms. Till about ’95, there was 25 years of creation of pool of talent. Here SAB started the whole thing, so I am still battling with a very few producers and very limited talent, and still growing and sustaining the channel. It is very difficult.
‘There is nothing left in terms of comic sub-genres that we haven’t touched. I think we have done everything, and we have done far more than people have done not only in India but abroad.’
Q. Still you have experimented with multiple genres within comedy. Which all genres are left that you would like to experiment with?
If you were to really look at our last three years, I dare say there is nothing left in terms of the sub-genres of comedy that we haven’t touched. I think we have done everything, and we have done far more than people have done not only in India but abroad.
For example, we have done 150 episodes of ‘Gutur Gu’, which is a silent comedy. The only other show in the world which was a silent comedy was ‘Mr Bean’, which did 14 episodes.
So we keep finding new stories within the umbrella of the various sub-genres.
Q. How do you manage to get a higher time spent despite a lower reach?
While our reach is at 39, time spent is around 105 minutes per viewer and we should be number three or four in terms of time spent even today.
Now time spent is directly proportional to stickiness, so it means that we have good shows and people like to watch them.
When it comes to reach, it can be attributed to two things. First, our placement doesn’t compare with that of the top three. Second, there is a very strong GEC viewing audience today, which are very loyal to watching GECs. They are not that enthused by comedy.
Therefore, since they are not coming in those many numbers to us, our reach by that logic also tends to become a little low.
Q. What are your plans for weekends and the weaker primetime slots during the weekdays?
Last year we had only one hour of programming for Saturdays and Sundays. This year we have two hours. Currently, we have one hour of ‘Antakshari’, and one hour of the silent comedies.
We also have a line-up of new shows coming up soon, which will take care of some of the weaker primetime slots like 10 pm and 10:30 pm. We will see how the weekend shows perform and work on that.