When Niret and Nikhil Alva — the men behind Indian Idol — announced their entry into the broadcasting space, they made a big splash. Not only did their production house Miditech ink a joint venture with Turner International, they also managed to rope in Sunil Lulla, the director and group CEO of Alva Brothers Entertainment, to steer the company’s foray into the general entertainment channel (GEC) space.
Lulla’s leadership has acted as a catalyst for TV channels such as MTV, Sony and Times Now earlier. So his new role at Real Global Broadcasting — the name of the JV with Turner — is being keenly watched by the industry. Lulla spoke to DNA Money’s Arcopol Chaudhuri about the current TV channel scenario and did what he does best — kept him guessing about his next move. Excerpts:
A bearish market, strikes by workers federations and possibilities of a television blackout. Hard times ahead for the television business?
As a broadcasting business, we are at the onset of something very new. We continue to remain optimistic. We as a company and as a channel have a distinctive positioning. Up and downs in the market are alright. It’s part of the game.
Does Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi’s going off air on the back of poor ratings signal the end of Indian television’s love affair with saas-bahu serials?
Kyunki… has run its course. It should have gone off air much earlier. And the reason why Star’s ratings softened was because many of their shows had run their course. It’s a normal evolution in the television business. It was an iconic show, it had certain value systems at its peak, and now those value systems have changed.
What have the value systems changed to?
Attention spans have gone down. People want more focused content. Choices have gone up multi-fold and choice exists. Not in terms of the number of channels, but in terms of genuine alternatives at different time-bands of the day. And today, broadcasters, producers or the general body of decision-makers in a TV channel don’t worry about ‘whether my show is being watched universally’. Today if it’s got an audience, if there’s value in terms of shares, if it’s consistent… great!
The fact that you’re coming into the GEC space after so many players have already come in, does that deter you?
No. It allows us not to make the same mistakes.
Have the new entrants — 9X, NDTV Imagine, Colors — made mistakes?
Of course they have. Every business makes mistakes, but I don’t think it would be appropriate for me to comment on that. If you don’t enter a category, you will not enter any category. First-mover advantage is true, but first-movers also pay the highest price.
How difficult will it be for these general entertainment channels to make profits considering that demand for advertising revenue — still their primary source — clearly seems to be more than the supply?
See, everybody worries about this. The new channels have added broadly about 200 GRPs (gross rating points) in the entertainment space, which is not bad! And sadly, what we never report in this industry is the growth in the number of television homes.
Nobody gives a damn that we’ve grown from a 30 million base to an 80 million base in about 5 years. The expansion of digitisation is a big step expected to happen. There are six direct-to-home (DTH) operators, so let’s give them some time to build their presence in the market. So I’m not foolishly bullish, but I’m optimistic for the simple reason that if you have a distinctive proposition, then you do get your business objectives addressed. We’re here to fulfill a certain business objective and a certain return on investment. Our business objectives are being carefully drafted; the market may have different expectations, but we’re not here to play the market game. We’re not here to be the No 1 or king of the category. Let’s get to a certain base and we’ll see where it goes.
What are the strengths that Turner has brought to the table?
It’s a sign of changing times, that Turner, which already has existing businesses in broadcasting and distribution in India, has aligned with an entrepreneurial-oriented mindset (Miditech) to enter the general entertainment space. To me, Turner is better prepared to look at the future, because it is not treating it (this GEC business) in the stereotypical fashion of “this is my kitchen and I’ll cook every dish”. They’ve already realised that the television business requires different thinking, gumption, experimentation — so let’s create a palette where we align with people with the same kind of vision or identity.
Where is your content supply coming from?
Miditech is doing some of the shows. The rest is outsourced. We’ve already identified the positioning and nature of the shows. The shoots haven’t begun, since we’re waiting for the federation and worker issues to cool down.
7 months ago