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Ratings for English entertainment genre are not accurate: Ferzad Palia, Viacom18

As Colors Infinity gears up for the premiere of its maiden home-grown show ‘The Stage’ on October 10, the Head of English Cluster at Viacom18 explains why there is a problem in measuring this kind of audience 

Mayur Lookhar | Mumbai | October 8, 2015

Ferzad Palia Ferzad Palia

Colors Infinity is all geared for the premiere of its maiden home-grown show ‘The Stage’ on October 10 at 9.00 pm.

The jury for the English singing talent show comprises singer-composer Vishal Dadlani, singer-actor Monica Dogra, and Ehsaan Noorani of Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy fame. ‘The Stage’ marks Noorani’s debut on television. Shibani Dandekar has been roped in as the show’s host. The jury will pick the best English singing talent from the chosen 20, and the winner will get a record deal with Universal Music, plus a 10-city tour along with a mentorship programme and a Renault Duster as prize.

BestMediaInfo.com spoke with Ferzad Palia, EVP and Head of English Cluster, Viacom18, on the eve of the show’s launch. Palia also commented on the growth of the English entertainment space in India, performance of Colors Infinity, ratings and more. Excerpts:

Apart from the novelty factor, what else does ‘The Stage’ have to offer?

For the first time, a general entertainment channel is providing a credible platform to this kind of talent. When you see the level of input that comes from the panel, you’ll be really shocked to see the progress of the contestants from episode 1 to episode 20. That’s when we realised that a simple, small input given to original talent can do wonders for them. We also have a music label associated with us, which you usually don’t get to see on Indian shows. Don’t look at ‘The Stage’ as just a TV show, it is a platform for English music talent across the country. And I’m quite sure that success of the first year will ensure that Season 2 will be far better, where you will have a wider section of talent who can audition for this show.

So, you have already planned a second season?

We’re hoping it goes into Season 2 and I don’t see why it wouldn’t happen.

Could you tell us about the sponsors for the show?

We went to Renault (title sponsor) with this idea before the channel launch was announced. Truly Madly (powered by sponsor) is a new dating app, while Integriti has come in as the style partner. There’ll be associate sponsors, too, who we expect to join us soon.

What kind of marketing activities have you planned for this show?

It will be a multi-media marketing campaign; we broke our promo about a month back, which ran across our entire network. We aren’t advertising on other networks. As you saw today (October 8, 2015), we were on the second page of The Times of India, and there’s more print advertising lined up. There’ll also be activities on radio and we’ll also be conducting live events. We’ve also done outdoors, which you don’t usually see from English channels.

In a country where the television space is dominated by Hindi GECs, perhaps to an extent where English has been reduced to a vernacular language, do you think this perception has changed ever since you entered the English entertainment space?

Do you think we have made a mark?

The ratings are there for all to see. In less than three months, you have managed to be in the top 3 on more than one occasion...

Rating is one metric that we don’t look at actually. That’s because it is not accurate for the English entertainment genre. We don’t talk about ratings when we are doing good nor do we talk about it when we are doing bad. If you try and find a trend over a sustained period of time, you will never find a trend. There’s a very clear indicator that there is a problem where measuring this kind of audience is concerned. It wasn’t a BARC problem, it wasn’t a TAM problem. It’s a question of whether this audience wants to be measured or not.

As for our performance, we’ve surpassed our own expectations in multiples. It’s always tricky when you are launching a channel, because it is a whole new brand, we’re taking a big risk, doing different things, we keep innovating all the time. So, it was extremely risky. There was a lot of pressure, but I don’t think anyone could have asked for a better launch for the first 60-70 days. We’ve come in and we’ve shaken up the space. The best form of tracking is to see what’s happening with the competition. If we weren’t the successful channel in the short time that we’ve been around, you wouldn’t have had the competition suddenly sit up and start taking notice and revamp themselves, launch new content. But the biggest beneficiary has been the consumer and the advertisers too, who are now getting more space.

So, has the augment of Colors Infinity led to the growth of the genre or cannibalisation of the existing viewership?

It definitely has led to growth. When we track our social media, we see a whole different set of viewers coming on board, who have never sampled the genre before. So, if they’ve sampled the genre, then they really didn’t get hooked on to it. The variety of programmes that we have; the freshness and recency of the programming, where we’re airing shows within 12 hours of the US telecast and in some cases we’re airing simultaneously – that has made a huge impact, effectively giving the genre the much-required life. The genre was just plateauing and we’ve infused a new life into it.

Perhaps it might be a bit premature, but has the strong start impacted your ad rates?

We always knew that we were never going to be cheap to buy. We’re still at the beginning stage of our advertising journey. When you make a kind of investment, you are making it with a good reason, and the investment is now seeing traction in terms of consumers and similarly it’s coming with the advertisement as well. We’re not a channel running the same show over and over again on the prime time and so the advertisers respect us and give us the rate that we deserve. On day one, we launched with four lead advertisers and today we have over 25 brands.

You’ve already caused a disruption by having a home-grown reality show, so can we expect something similar in fiction as well?

It is possible. We’re experimenting with different formats. However, you also need to be careful because what you are airing is a series that has been made on multi-million-dollar budgets. So, if you put something which isn’t quite of that calibre, it is likely to be shot down by the consumer. One ought to be careful doing local programming and only do what can give the consumer the same level of experience, if not better. With ‘The Stage’, it’s an honest attempt. While it may not have a multi-million-dollar budget, we have not shot it in a small auditorium or indoors. We will keep pushing the envelope, keep making the desired investments, and we are here for the long run.

Please tell us about the new shows on Colors Infinity. You had put up a new offering on the front page of a daily on Thursday (October 8).

What you saw on the front page was Instant Premieres, which is a huge property for us, where we are airing shows within 12 hours of the US telecast. We have brand new seasons of ‘Flash’, ‘Arrow’, and ‘Fargo’. Besides, we recently launched ‘The Blind Spot’, which had the biggest opening in the US this year. We have got ‘The Player’ starring Wesley Snipes and we’ll also be coming up with the second season of ‘IZombie’.

The recent BARC Roadshow’s findings for rural India suggested that the 53 per cent of rural India watches English content. How do you view that report?

I wouldn’t go with the percentage and comment on that, but the fact of the matter is that it reinforces our belief; the reason we launched Colors Infinity is that we saw the success of Vh1, and then we saw the viewership of Comedy Central go outside the metros. So, I’m not at all surprised that there is viewership that comes from rural India, because today we have 250 million Indians who speak English and want to consume this content, but they just don’t have an avenue.

Speaking of Comedy Central, it ended Zee Café’s long reign at the top in Week 38 of BARC ratings (282 TVT), however, this week the ratings have tumbled to 96 TVT. How would you explain this drop?

Do you see that level of fluctuation in any other genre? This question answers your question.

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