Sep 20, 2008

Entertainment - Q&A MTV India VP - Creative & Content

At 35, Ashish Patil, general manager, MTV is the oldest employee in his organisation. Yet Patil, who is also senior VP -creative and content, is as animated as ever, reflecting the youthful, exuberant energy of the MTV’s colourful office in Parel, Mumbai. He’s seen MTV evolve in India from a music channel to a youth destination, also growing in revenues and tapping the pulse of the Generation Next.

Last year, MTV underwent a major repositioning — both in branding, channel packaging and organisational culture — all of which is now bearing fruit in the form of successful programming such as Roadies, Splitsvilla. He shared his views on the channel’s strategy, targeting young audiences, survival in the music channel space in a candid conversation with DNA Money’s Arcopol Chaudhuri. Excerpts:

In India, MTV has become synonymous with spoofs. Are you making a concerted effort at moving beyond Music Television?
Some trivia first — the most successful film-making genre is the spoof. Take the Scary Movie series, Hot Shots, Naked Gun series. The investments are really low but the returns are great.

Humour is something that comes very naturally to MTV. Bakra, Semi Girebaal, Fully Faltoo are results of that. Two years back we did a theatrical release of Ghoom — a spoof on Dhoom. Even with limited shows, it was a box-office success. Every ticket you bought came along with a Saridon pill.

After watching the film, you were awarded certificates telling you that you’d achieved the impossible. These antics helped. Sahara Filmy even bought the rights of Ghoom. That’s when we realised we’re upto something. And we released it on home video.

So you’re no longer a music channel now. Your major properties like Splitsvilla, Roadies, On the Job are also non-music based…
We moved beyond music many moons ago. Now suddenly you see it, because we’ve been in overdrive promoting it, scaling up our production. If you ask people, what comes to mind when we say MTV, they’ll say Bakra, Fully Faltoo or even Malaika Arora. So it’s always been about ‘more than music’. Alternative careers, unlicensed thrills, adventure, twisted romance — we’ve now identified the hot buttons for young people. It doesn’t, however, mean that music has taken a backseat. In a way, music has become a commodity. I don’t necessarily need to watch a music channel to get my dose of music. I can tune in to the iPod or an FM station.

INX Media’s music channel 9XM claims to have the number one slot in its genre. How do you react to that?
I don’t. We’re simply more than the music, man! They (music channels) are not even a reference point for us. MTV’s competition is anything that competes with MTV for attention, eyeballs and wallets of young people. It could be Facebook, Barista, Cafe Coffee Day, a movie they want to see on a weekend, or even a show on a general entertainment channel.

Now we’ve adopted what I call ‘multiplatformication’. The criteria is that any content we make, has to gel well not only on TV screens, but also the two additional screens — mobile phone and the PC. And it’s working. One-and-half-lakh people are playing the Roadies game on Orkut, on a daily basis. Roadies, Fully Faltoo Film Festival will spin out on home video. Roadies itself will spill out into more than 15 product categories. The show is the first MTV format to be exported from India to other countries. It will soon be adapted on ARY Pakistan.

How much has MTV’s target group (TG) evolved over the years?
Some things have remained the same. The TG is still obnoxious, doesn’t respect parents, curses professors, and still doesn’t know what it wants. But they still want everything!

One fundamental change is this TG now wants instant gratification. That has influenced the way MTV cut its content, and presents stuff. Secondly, there is the option overload — career, girlfiend, entertainment. And thirdly —and I say this because Bollywood is a great barometer of social change — ‘the angry young man’ is no more. Look at the heroes of today — Rahuls, Prems, Karans — they are all born rich, successful. That’s similar with our TG today. They’re born with cable TV in their homes, mobile phones, internet connectivity and they’re obsessed with having a good time.

And very interestingly, music consumption has gone through the roof. Everyone needs a background score to their lives. So, the reference points today are not rickshaws, Rangoli, Shetty and his samosas. It is Facebook, YouTube and that we decided to reflect when we repositioned ourselves a year back.

Unlike other channels, most of your programming is produced in-house?
Yes, almost 80%. One instance where we outsourced a show (Balaji Telefilms’ production Kitni Mast Hai Zindagi) we had a fantastic experience. But eight weeks after the show went on air, we lost creative control.

Our intent was good though. In 2004, when the show happened, there was nothing called appointment viewing. People just stumbled onto a nice song, sampled some programmes and switched channels. So, we needed to build appointment viewing. I handed Splitsvilla to Colosseum, because apart from getting a good director Rajeev Lakshman, my MTV shoot crew was available.

How do you think will the existing music channels survive?
I think that both revenue pie and viewership on music is fairly small. And there’s a ceiling to it. Also a lot of other genres are getting into the music space like general entertainment channels (GECs) — most reality / talent hunt shows today are music based. So they’re already eating into your programming pie and revenue pie.

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