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Help Q&A: Tarun Katial, CEO, Reliance Broadcast Network Ltd
After its first venture in the FM radio space with BIG FM, Reliance Broadcast Network Ltd (RBNL) has diversified its business to step into television (BIG CBS), outdoor (BIG STREET), experiential marketing (BIG LIVE) and the digital platform (BIG DIGITAL). While radio continues to be the largest contributor to its revenue (70 per cent), the company expects its more recent ventures to make a bigger contribution to its total revenue in the short to medium term. Tarun Katial, chief executive officer, RBNL, speaks to Preeti Khicha on the way forward for the different business verticals. Edited excerpts.

You are a fairly new entrant in the television business in India. How do you plan to take on well-entrenched players like STAR World and AXN that lead the English general entertainment channel (GEC) space?
We are very young and don’t have tall claims to be the number one channel in the country. With television, our aim is to service under-served market segments, under-served target audiences and under-served entertainment options. One segment that we felt was under-served was the upper socioeconomic classification (SEC) segment. With a burgeoning HNI (high net worth individual) audience there is a huge potential for a channel like ours. The current crop of English GECs is not targeted at any particular audience, compared to Hindi GECs that have defined target audiences. The strategy for our channel is to segment the market with an offering for every audience segment. So we have BIG Love for women, BIG CBS Prime for men and BIG Spark for the youth. Each one is sharply defined.

The English GEC space is still fairly small. What would be the biggest driver for growth in this segment?
I think digitisation will be the key revenue driver in the English channel space. The upper SEC is a discerning audience and will be the first one to pay for the content that it is looking for. With direct-to-home (DTH) growing as rapidly as it is, subscription and pay per view will be a good revenue driver.

You recently announced a tie-up with the RTL Group of Germany to bring more thematic channels to India. Can you tell us more about your plans in this area?
We have two channels coming up. One will be a reality and entertainment channel, which will have both Indian and international reality. This is not youth reality but large-scale family entertainment reality. The other channel will focus on action entertainment and will air in both English and Hindi. It will compete with the likes of AXN but will be more extreme than that. Unlike the CBS channels, the RTL channels will have language feeds. For CBS, the content is not language agnostic; so it is tough to dub them and still be relevant.

You have announced plans to take your channels (BIG CBS Prime, BIG CBS Love, BIG CBS Spark) to international markets. Anything concrete?

We plan to take BIG Magic across the world and BIG CBS across South Asia. This should happen sometime in the next quarter.

How long before the television business is profitable?
It depends on how things pan out. We are hoping it pans out faster than we expect. The CBS channels are a 50:50 venture; so the impact on RTNL is limited. The big one for us is BIG Magic (Hindi), and we are hoping it will turn itself around very quickly. It is already the number one channel in the Hindi heartland and is an opportunity for us to get into uncharted territory. With BIG Magic, we compete with regional players like Sahara Samay and Mahuaa TV, in which people have not invested as much. BIG Magic has unique lexicons and socio-cultural threads that are relevant to that market. Unlike Hindi GECs we believe that when you have an offering which is from a particular geography, the take-off in that market is much better.

How do you plan to improve the distribution for your channels?
For CBS channels, it will essentially be on the digital platform, whether it is DTH or digital cable (smaller towns). In metros, the push phenomenon has worked. However, in tier 2, we want to depend on pull rather than a push strategy.

How about bringing local content to your channels? Currently, many English GECs have shied away from producing original local content for Indian viewers. What stops them from experimenting?
Yes, we are doing local content on both BIG CBS Prime and BIG Love. We have launched a new property called India’s Sexiest Bachelor on BIG CBS. Likewise, on BIG Spark, we will do a show called What’s Your Spark targeted at the youth, and on BIG Love, we are launching a show called KidNation which is more about mothers and kids.

I agree many channels in this space have not experimented with local content. The premise of our channel is that it is a global channel and gets you connected with the best entertainment in the world. Our research shows that the upper SEC metro audience wants content that is on par with what people in the US and UK are watching. They don’t want to download shows on Torrent, for example. Hence, if you do Indian content you are no different from a Hindi GEC. For our channels, local content will be spike content, which we will do only once in a while.

Do you believe HD (high definition) is the way forward for television channels in India?
I think HD and 3D will be the way forward. We are launching the BIG CBS mother channel in HD. We will not do HD for each channel separately. We will cross pollinate the content from the different channels and build one BIG CBS in high definition.

What are the plans for your radio business given that phase III of radio licences will be rolled out soon?
Phase III rollout will be an exciting time for us. We believe we have built a really good network for radio and once the regulation from the government comes through, we will have the opportunity to enter the hinterland of India. In our network, we have tier 2 and tier 3 towns and we can use the networking clause, which the government is evoking to build feeder radio stations across some of the smaller towns. It really depends on the number of licences the government opens, but we plan to go full scale.

Our second big initiative in the radio space will be a focus on news and sports. We have the ICC rights and we want to exploit them on radio. We believe there is an opportunity to do multiple frequencies in radio. We also want to enhance local content through ground properties that we do through BIG Live. Radio actually fronts these properties. It becomes a co-marketing initiative between BIG Live and BIG FM. On the digital side, we have launched Net Talk Radio. We have also launched a mobile radio service and we want to explore how to deploy more content on the mobile space.

With the advent of 3G, how do you see the game changing for radio channels?
Mobile radio will benefit a lot with 3G coming in. With the quality of reception and sound improving, more subscribers will take on mobile radio to get the experience they want. It is similar to what HD television has done. 3G audiences are discerning and you need to build relevant content around them.

What’s the way forward for BIG Street, the out-of-home (OOH) arm of RBNL? How has the dog-eat-dog OOH space evolved over the years?
BIG Street owns 40 per cent of Delhi now. Our focus has been innovative media. Delhi Metro is our key peg where we own 40 stations. We also have key properties like Delhi Metro Express. We have inventory in Bangalore as well as Hyderabad through a series of mobile vans. We are launching digital pods in malls across the country which is in partnership with the UK-based VMG. These are typically used by advertisers to direct point of purchase traffic.

Technology will be the biggest driver in the outdoor space. Digital technology and design will change the way outdoor looks. We have done some design work in the Delhi Metro area and the environment that we provide is different from traditional billboards. Also, the ability to do audio visual in outdoor is growing. One of the cities that we think is interesting to enter is Chennai as it is highly regulated on the OOH front. We wish to work with the local bodies to offer the city smart inventory options which blend with the city landscape.

Will the digital business end up as an extension of your other platforms? Is the content a mere reflection/modification of the content deployed via television and radio?
Some of it is dependent on re-purposing content from radio to TV onto the digital platforms. It is not just a mere extension as we do independent work as well like creating digital properties and digital solutions for consumers. We are conscious about how we deploy content as it needs to have an effective route to monetisation. We want to monetise opportunities both with 3G and the online space maturing. We are exploring putting our channels on mobile television in the next two quarters.


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