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‘If infotainment genre has to expand, it has to look at localisation’

Sangeetha inside2016 was significant for the A+E Networks TV18 JV in that its strategy pivoted towards a far greater focus on localisation. For its VP and marketing head Sangeetha Aiyer, this is the next logical step if one is to grow viewership for the infotainment genre.

In an interview with TelevisionPost.com’s Ashwin pinto, Aiyer talks about the strategies the company adopted in 2016.

Q. The infotainment genre saw a lot more localisation this year. What prompted this?

I think that localisation is the next logical progression in the evolution of any global product. This is more so in a country like India, which is very inward-looking and has potential for great content. The infotainment genre occupies only about one per cent of total TV consumption. So, if a channel has to expand, it has to look beyond global content.

All our local productions have universal themes but with a local lens. History TV18 has been a frontrunner initiating local franchisees. We’re also one of the pioneers when it comes to experimentation and varied formats. Once we started going full throttle on localisation, the industry stood up and took notice, and now you have an entire ecosystem coming up with factual content and great production values.

Q. There has been a change in strategy for the different infotainment players this year. Could you talk about the changing environment that is forcing players to keep pace? How did you fine-tune the content strategy as the year went on?

As I was explaining above, localisation is one of the biggest strategies for factual viewing, and we have been at the forefront of this change. Digital is another booming platform in this space, and again we are path-breakers at this with our OMG! videos going viral breaking all records on social media, creating half a billion impressions and generating 22 years of viewing! We have more than a million people talking about us.

Our strategy for 2016 was to launch a tent pole every quarter where you have the entire 360-degree approach of marketing and content driving to push these tent-pole initiatives. We believe these can be local as well as acquired initiatives that we do as part of our global strategy. For example, we had a series last quarter called ‘The Roots’. It’s a brand-defining series and a multi-million-dollar production, aired across 33 countries almost as a simulcast. That continues to be one of our key strategies.

The channel focuses on four sub-genres that are performing well and resonate with audience rather than opting for the trial-and-error approach. Genre in general has gone through so many changes. With sizeable audience and rural coming into the mix, one of our key areas is to focus on three or four more sub-genres and have more hits under each of them. Core history is one of them. Then there will be action, adventure and thrill, which define our factual entertainment space. Formats are far more entertaining. We are also premiering topical stories based on current affairs such as ‘The Making of Donald Trump’.

Sangeetha Aiyer 01‘I think that localisation is the next logical progression in the evolution of any global product. This is more so in a country like India, which is very inward-looking and has potential for great content. The infotainment genre occupies only about one per cent of total TV consumption. So, if a channel has to expand, it has to look beyond global content’

Q. How did you approach content differently?

The big difference between us and the competition is looking at building franchises of this show. We are also looking at going mainstream with this move, so you will see OMG seasons 3 and 4. Whenever we develop local content, the idea is to have returning franchises. You have franchises that build audiences, time slots over a period of time.

The more relevant you are, more local themes you have, more recognisable hosts you have, the more relatable content you will have. The English entertainment genre is not just a metro play or a large-town play. It is as much as a general entertainment is a rural and small-town play.

Q. To what extent did investments grow with local content and a new channel?

The gestation period is long for any newly launched channel. Growth is also influenced by many external factors, primarily stability, which in our industry is a scarce resource at the moment with digitisation, regular changes in measurement, changing consumer behaviour, etc.

Q. Could you talk about the time and effort it took to transform History TV18 to a channel that speaks local languages? What is the difference in the channel’s personality now compared to before the push towards localisation?

I think great brands don’t change overnight. Their core values remain intact with new facets being added to their persona based on changes in the environment. Our core values are of being deeply human, always challenging conventions and the status quo. These values stand the test of time, space and cultures, and do not change with localisation.

Sangeetha Aiyer 02‘Our strategy for 2016 was to launch a tent pole every quarter where you have the entire 360-degree approach of marketing and content driving to push these tent-pole initiatives. We believe these can be local as well as acquired initiatives that we do as part of our global strategy’

Q. What have been the learning from localisation? To what extent did the number of original local hours go up for you including the new channel?

Localisation has brought us great success. Brand OMG! is one of the most powerful digital content brands in India today. When I look at numbers, I still find it hard to believe that we have touched half a billion impressions and generated 22 years of viewing! It’s possible that if you are logging in to Facebook from India, it is more likely than not that you have seen our OMG! news feed videos. We have definitely increased the number of original local hours content with the launch of ‘OMG! Yeah Mera India’, ‘Man vs Job’ and ‘IRT: India’s Deadliest Roads’.

Q. Is BARC satisfactory?

It is difficult to keep the entire ecosystem happy, i.e. agencies, broadcasters, clients and marketers, but BARC has done a good job of it.

Q. What value is FYI TV18 adding to the bouquet?

We launched our second infotainment channel FYI TV18, which is looking to fill a need gap in the market. The aim is to broaden the horizons of lifestyle vis-à-vis what is already being seen.

With FYI TV18, we are entering a new zone of contemporary factual and lifestyle entertainment with a wide spectrum of shows across genres. We are targeting the progressive young Indians who are looking forward to entertaining yet cerebral content. We’re bridging the gap in content keeping in mind what our audiences want and what’s currently missing on Indian television.

The shows will appeal to our audiences, and there is something for everyone. It is not preachy, and we strive to provide a personal viewing experience, avoiding the conventional top-down approach. It probably belongs to a genre of its own within the factual umbrella but embracing lifestyle. While other brands in the space have a more individualistic approach, FYI TV18 is convivial and appeals to dual viewing. There is a clear gap in terms of content that is factual entertainment and yet inclusive in nature.

Q. Creating local, relatable personalities is important. The factual genre needs more of them. Have you succeeded in doing that with the two channels?

I would like to go back to my earlier point on building key franchises. On this front, we have been leading the bandwagon with a new show ‘OMG! Yeh Mera India’, the first in the string of local productions with stand-up comedian Krushna Abhishek.

We also leveraged Rithvik’s huge fan following on social media for the promotions of ‘Man vs Job’. The Indian chapter of ‘IRT’ saw actress and television presenter Mandira Bedi all pumped up to drive BharatBenz trucks across the rugged terrain of Leh, Ladakh.

In this mind-boggling expedition, she was joined by wrestler-turned-actor Sangram Singh and actor Varun Sharma of ‘Fukrey’ fame. Our fearless celebrities fought harsh weather conditions to embark on a life-altering journey.

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