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Playing Cupid to viewers
[Image: 2009121750030101.jpg]
Atul Phadnis, CEO, What's On India

What's-On-India, India's premier TV guidance and EPG (Electronic Programme Guide) was set up in 2005 when the analogue Indian TV industry was at an inflection point. Promoted by Atul Phadnis, the channel was funded in 2008 by Sequoia Capital and Nexus VP. Positioned as India's first TV guidance channel, What's on India has gone on air this month and has a target of reaching 20 million homes by the first quarter of next year.

Atul Phadnis, CEO of What's On India Media, started his career in advertising at Rediffusion–DYR before moving on to be Media Director at Starcom Worldwide where he launched and headed Starcom Digital. His last assignment as Vice-President, TAM Media Research India, was a mix of TV ratings, audience research analytics and media monitoring, where he launched and headed the S-Group (strategic consulting arm for TAM India), offering counsel to TV broadcasters on channel promotions and audience monetisation.

He also headed ADEX India (a division of TAM since 2002 and the country's largest media revenue monitoring service.)

Today the clients for What's on India include all major TV networks and cable/DTH/IPTV operators in India such as Airtel Digital, Reliance BIG TV, Airtel IPTV, Hathway, Digicable and DEN. Says Phadnis: “When we started out in 2005, our vision was to guide TV viewers in their personalised search for TV content.

In this journey, we have experienced an overwhelming demand for a TV guidance channel. What's On India will enable discovery of new content to millions of viewers round the clock.”

“In our initial studies, viewers had consistently demanded that this channel recommend a wide variety of programme choices in a NOW and NEXT time frame. Internationally, viewers use the TV Guide channel to plan their forward appointments with their TV sets. The channel clearly plays Cupid between the ‘right' eyeballs and the ‘right' content.

In the last three months of previewing, we are pleased with consumer reactions to our channel confirming its influence in expanding and shaping their viewing choices,” he adds. Above Rs 50 crore is invested in the company.

Below are excerpts from Phadnis' interview to BrandLine on the channel and the challenges it is likely to present:

How was this channel conceived? Is the concept being tried in other countries as well? What has been the response in those markets?

In the last four years, the number of TV channels entering households has grown sharply. Better TV sets, more channel launches and the growth of DTH has contributed to an explosion of options. Add to that the availability of newer content in genres never seen in our market before! All this has a dramatic combined effect on the way viewers consume their daily dose of TV.

Our research in the last two years has found an increase in unplanned viewing and a decline in appointment viewing. As much as 70 per cent of TV sessions in India today are unplanned; viewers switch on their TV sets without having a fixed channel destination. In this situation, viewers get into a search-&-find mode in a bid to find something interesting to watch.

Internationally, the concept of TV guide channels has been around wherein a dedicated channel comes to the aid of viewers to locate and discover programmes on TV.

On what basis will you be making recommendations to viewers? Will you be channel-neutral in this case?

The What's On India channel will air programme recommendations as well as TV timings of other channels. We will highlight specials happening on various networks – whether they be in sports, news, reality shows, blockbuster films … The recommendations are completely viewer-friendly and our commitment will be to inform and surprise viewers about shows of which they did not know.

Besides these, we will also air broadcaster messages in the form of promos, sneak previews and contests.

You have already tied up with private equity players for funding the channel. Wouldn't there be a vested interest in the case of such players who might be funding other TV channels as well and thus trying to influence viewer's choice?

The entire TV industry including broadcast networks, cable and DTH platforms work with us due to our neutrality. To preserve that virtue we have chosen our partners very carefully among the world's best-known venture funds. And if we had to side with anybody in the industry, we would side with the consumers!

How challenging is it to set up aTV guidance channel today when India is fast expanding in the broadcasting space? What kind of research would be employed for aiding consumers about the wide variety of programmes?

This has been extremely challenging indeed! How do you present viewers with options to watch has been a hugely challenging question. The international format of yesteryear for TV guidance would be a host and hostess discussing what's in store on TV tonight. However, we found viewers rejecting that in our market. Instead, they seemed to want very quick information on what programmes to watch the moment they switched the TV set on.

This itself is a steep need! Every half hour in the day there are 350 different programmes competing on 350 different channels. And these are in different languages, in different genres! For this reason we had to constantly test our channel with viewers and confirm if the product offering was on the right track.

Would the channel be taking the data from TAM or other research-based TV audience measurement agencies considering you have worked with such agencies in the past?

Yes. Plus we do a lot of our own research.

What are the revenue streams for What's on India? Would you consider some non-traditional streams as well?

What's-On-India is a FTA (free to air) channel. It is ad-supported. One of the key differentiators of the channel is that content messages would be seen in greater proportion vis-à-vis regular advertising. It will also be possible for viewers to set mobile reminders for upcoming shows and programmes via our channel.

We have recently launched our channel's Web site that offers TV guidance to the online world – There are ad innovations being designed that would synergise our channel with the Web site and mobile.

Would you have any affiliations/ tie-ups with the leading networks such as Star and Zee, or would your channel operate independently.

Our channel is completely independent in the way our content is managed. Broadcasters and channel networks would be the customers buying inventory on our channel.

What kind of inputs would you expect the leading networks to contribute towards your channel?

Working with some of the TV networks during and after the channel launch has been an enriching experience! We have been hugely enthused by the contribution of ideas and views from these networks.

Already we have achieved two fantastic feats within the industry – one is a promo pipeline between us and some of the leading TV networks that ensures a quick transfer of their promos and messages to our teams. This helps in flashing key developments on shows that have constant developments – soaps, reality shows, sports and news-based programmes.

The second achievement has been certain networks creating special properties and messages for their shows that will play only on our channel.

It's great to see this kind of a warm welcome for a new initiative like ours.

Now you are available only on Hathway. How will you ramp up distribution, especially when channels are already clogging the space?

As our channel needs a special technology integration with all the operators, we are switching on signals on different cable and DTH operators one-by-one.

The bandwidth issue in India is clearly a battle between our analogue past and our bright digital future. In most mature markets a thousand channels today is a reality. The distribution clogging is an interim blip that all broadcasters have to wade through carefully.

What is the viewer profile being targeted? Is the channel meant for a specific set of viewers only? What about DTH penetration as well considering the top end of the viewership market in the metros comprises the DTH viewers?

In all our studies in the last three years we have found that unplanned viewing is a universal phenomenon cutting across diverse markets and target groups. While it is most expected in male viewers, we have found remarkably high and growing incidence of this in housewives too.

With them, unplanned viewing happens in a lot of cases, post bouts of appointment-viewing occasions, specifically after their having seen the regular daily serials. In lots of cases once her favourite serial is over is when the housewife tries to extend that TV session by searching for new content to watch.

In this time, she needs guidance in the search for TV options.

This is the reason why we believe that unplanned viewing is a universal issue faced by viewers.

That's precisely the reason why we are targeting unplanned viewing occasions more than specific target groups. Having said that, the channel has scored extremely well in the 15-40 age bracket.

We will be switching on our channel on multiple DTH players in a matter of days. Our initial tests showed very favourable responses to our channel in DTH homes which have more channels in comparison to analogue households.

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