Govind Shahi: “Viewer ‘stickiness’ is a challenge & channel loyalty is fading”

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Govind Shahi
Govind Shahi

You’ve been overlooking UK operations of Indiacast for over five years and international operations for over a year, how would you describe the journey so far?
In one word – Awesome – the company has seen good growth in the last five years, be in in terms of revenue / number of channels or plain viewership. It has been an exciting journey with many milestones like changing the market landscape, launching a sister channel with content from the original channel/ syndicated from other networks, getting into the news space, etc. All of these were new challenges for me as well as new to the media market so I think it has been a really meaningful journey.

You’re quite a legend in your own right after a successful stint at ZEE Network UK and then following it with Indiacast, what would you say about this tag?
(Laughing) I can say I have been lucky. ZEE was a leader in revenue terms when I moved on and Indiacast channels currently rule the FTA (Free To Air) space (viewership) in terms of a Network. I think the journey has taught me a lot and it makes me happy. I continue to believe there is additional share of revenues that can be garnered from this market which is potentially untapped currently. Needless to say, at Indiacast we have big plans in the new year and we will work to improve the viewing experience for all our viewers.

[quote]So while the content may be the same both the markets are hugely different in terms of revenue drivers for the business. There is no OFCOM in US![end_quote]

Indiacast has grown its presence in the UK and USA with four channels – Colors, Rishtey, Rishtey Cineplex and News18, how would you compare the two markets?
Chalk and cheese, the US has 22 channels compared to 4 here however, US is a Pay market and UK I has evolved into a FTA market now which relies mainly on advertising revenues. Talking of ad revenues, in UK, a larger share is derived from Mainstream while ethnic takes a larger share of the pie in US. So while the content may be the same both the markets are hugely different in terms of revenue drivers for the business. There is no Ofcom in US!

After a slow start, Colors has rapidly picked up in UK ratings on the back of new fictions and hit show ‘Bigg Boss 10’ – why do you think a channel like Colors, which airs premium original content had a sluggish start, over Rishtey, which is dependent on re-run Colors content?
It’s the UK market place, and old habits die hard. Historically viewers have loved Rishtey and they continue to do so. Having said that, Rishtey does air original content from Colors as well as other network channels in India. Colors has had a fluctuating journey and does very well however the vagaries of the BARB panel do kick in at times. There have been peaks and troughs e.g. Colors was delivering high ratings when it initially went FTA however, the early months of this fiscal were low for Colors. Times change and once again, Colors is on a high.

[quote]I feel extremely proud that even today Rishtey continues to deliver huge ratings when channels with original dramas are finding it touch to connect with the audiences[end_quote]

Rishtey set a new trend in UK, by becoming a channel broadcasting old popular Colors shows, now every UK Asian broadcaster is attempting the same philosophy – what’s your take on this?
It is just a feather in my cap and there is no better pat on the back as I believe that imitation is indeed the sincerest form of flattery. We did however get the first mover advantage, be it Pakistani dramas which performed superbly on Rishtey but could not live up to the ratings later when aired on other channels or, as you say, the normal repeat programmes. I think however, that this market is crowded and channels will struggle for viewership as the number of similar content channels increases. I feel extremely proud that even today Rishtey continues to deliver huge ratings when channels with original dramas are finding it touch to connect with the audiences.

As well as re-run Colors shows, Rishtey is broadcasting content from third parties – but with more Asian channels launching in international territories, syndication deals will become a thing of the past. How will you keep Rishtey fresh?
We have our own network channels where we source programming from and this will continue. One trend that will definitely emerge in the near future across networks will be more local programming and we will hopefully lead the trend on this too and keep the channel fresh.

[quote]News as a genre is struggling in the Indian news viewership space – the Pakistani news channels do extremely well here as news consumption is quite high.[end_quote]

Rishtey Cineplex launched with much fanfare in UK but has not been able to match the kind of ratings as UMP Movies, which it replaced on Sky – why do you think this is?
On the contrary if we compare recent ratings, Cineplex is doing extremely well when comparing apples to apples – bear in mind that we are on Sky only whereas UMP was on Sky and Virgin here is a ratings review. As you can see from the ratings below on Sky, only Rishtey Cineplex is ahead of UMP Movies.

News18 is known for its high quality news programming, however, ratings remain low ever since it launched in the UK, why do you think this is?
News as a genre is struggling in the Indian news viewership space – the Pakistani news channels do extremely well here as news consumption is quite high. In fact Pakistani news channels regularly beat their own GEC channels which is an unique trend hardly seen anywhere in the world. Globally, GEC tends to out perform news channels.

How reliable do you think the BARB measuring system in the UK is for Asian TV channels?
It’s the only one we have – there is no doubt that the number of people meters should be more and the ratings fluctuate. I had done some overlaying with the Sky data and noted most of the ratings seem to match, so whether it is good, bad or ugly that is what we have to work with. However, its time all Asian broadcasters make a representation to BARB and talk about increasing the number of people meters to reduce the fluctuations on a daily basis.

[quote]Viewer ‘stickiness’ is a challenge and channel loyalty is fading. It’s a similar situation on the ad sales front where competition is driving networks to lower the bar on pricing…[end_quote]

There have been rumours of you launching a music led channel, MTV Beats, which recently was introduced in India, will this be happening in the UK this year?
Good things come to those who wait…we shall share any new channel launch news when it is finalised.

What kind of challenges do you face in the saturated UK Asian TV market?
Viewership as well as ad sales challenges mainly. As the market fragments with more launches or, if there are changes in the way channels are sold, the viewership gets more scattered since the viewership pie does not grow proportionately. Viewer ‘stickiness’ is a challenge and channel loyalty is fading. It’s a similar situation on the ad sales front where competition is driving networks to lower the bar on pricing in a market where ethnic advertisers are already cutting the ad spend.

With more channels going free-to-air this year, there’s only so much of the advertising pie broadcasters will be able to share, do you think this will lead to causalities?
I think smaller networks/ single channel owners will struggle. The cost of advertising is set to come down so it’s going get much cheaper for clients however, other media may also get effected i.e. if TV becomes cheap then radio and print will struggle as they will have to drop prices even further.

Recently, you’ve changed marketing agencies for the first time in five years – will the pitch of appointing new marketing agencies be a regular for Indiacast henceforth?
Change is the only constant. We are trying different and new things and exploring new avenues just like we have done historically e.g Rishtey launch, Freeview or taking Colors out of the Pay bouquet. We are simply continuing the same trend.

What are your immediate plans for Indiacast in 2017?
To be the number one network in terms of profitability and viewership.

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