Raj Nayak is described as the ‘the superman of television ad sales’. The fact is that the 48-year-old moved out of plain ad sales while at Star TV in its Kaun Banega Crorepati days. Earlier this year, Nayak joined Colors as the CEO. Colors is a general entertainment channel from Viacom18, a joint venture between the Rs 1,500-crore Network18 and the $9.4 billion American media major Viacom. The channel, with an estimated topline of close to Rs 1,000 crore, has within three years shaken the existing order Indian television landscape, upsetting both Star and Zee. Nayak takes over from Rajesh Kamat, the man who led Colors since its birth. More importantly, this is the first time that Nayak will be in charge of everything from programming to distribution and ad sales. Vanita Kohli-Khandekar spoke to Nayak about his first few months of managing the biggest broadcasting success in the last five years and how he plans to take it from here. Excerpts.
Why Colors and how is it different from NDTV Media or anything else you have done?
I didn’t go looking for Colors. When Haresh (Chawla, CEO, Network18) was talking to me, and we were discussing the entire role and vision, it looked exciting, challenging and scalable. I have been watching the group from the outside, I know most of the people. Colors is very successful and it seemed challenging to be able to take it to the next level.
What is the next level?
I have a three-line brief — sustain it, make it profitable and build brand Colors. We are a strong number two, if we become number one, great. But we want to be the number one GEC (general entertainment channel) and, more importantly, be extremely profitable.
How is this growth and profit going to happen?
We have to build our portfolio. We will be doing that with a Hindi movie channel to start with and we need to get that right. Then there is Colors. The difference between us and Star is 40-45 GRPs (gross rating points, a measure of viewership). In prime time, that is from 7-11 pm, we are consistently number one. And this is with 23.5 hours of original programming, Star does 36 hours (a week). They (Star) have an edge in the afternoon slot and over weekends. If I put in more than eight hours of additional programming, I can be number one. But that is very costly. I want to be number one and profitable, but not at the cost of profitability.
You have four very strong competitors — Star, Sony, Zee and Sun. They have been around for some time, they have a portfolio. You are still a one-channel wonder.
Well, that is both a strength and a weakness. Strength because there is only one thing to focus on. The weakness is that there is no portfolio. We never take competition non-seriously. And we have a strategy in place to build on Colors. In the last three months if you see our dependence on movies has decreased and fiction GRPs are up. There is a very strong line-up of news programming, starting with Veer Shivaji this week.
Movies make up 16 per cent of the total TV viewership. What would another movie channel do?
For Colors or any Hindi general entertainment channel (GEC), it makes tremendous sense to have a movie channel. Because for a GEC you are anyway acquiring a movie. So this is just another outlet to amortise the cost. A Hindi movie channel on its own is not viable. In the last three years Colors has built an extensive library of 400 films such as Dabangg, Tees Maar Khan, No One Killed Jessica and so on. When Colors launched, everybody said, ‘Is there room for another GEC?’ So the same question is being asked for films. The Colors brand equity is so strong that half the battle is already won. Then the challenge is how to keep people watching the channel.
Are costs an area of concern? Most broadcasters have been talking about them...
Talent costs have been increasing. Therefore, there is a need to start monetising better.
Why do Indian broadcasters not take syndication and overseas revenues more seriously? Star and Sony are international groups that have done well in India. Why doesn’t movement happen the other way?
In the international market only Hindi GEC and films are considered entertainment. News or other genres don’t work so well. Only entertainment does — so it may be Tamil in Malaysia and Singapore or Telugu in San Jose. However, the cost of entry is very high; it is very difficult to get onto a distribution platform. And the possibility of getting ad revenues is very low. If you are running a business then your focus should be on the larger chunk of the pie, which is India.
What about fragmentation? 652 channels, so many genres and each of them so competitive...
There is a lot of fragmentation. But the 80:20 rule applies. So the top five/six groups are making money. The tail is bleeding and bleeding badly. How is being the CEO of Colors different from being an ad sales man?
On ad sales, I have been there, done that. Here, the challenge is to manage everything. Am learning new things every day. The tough part is making decisions on programming. For example, Balika Vadhu was doing 8 on ratings and then fell gradually to 3.5. It is not a bad rating, but it was on a declining trend. What do you do? Should you put a new show there? Ashvini (Yardi, programming head for Colors) was confident that the show would pick up, so we stuck to it. It is now doing 5-6 on ratings.
Do you think we need a media regulator?
To be fair, I think India is one of the most liberal and least regulated countries in the world. Freedom of expression really exists if you watch news channels. But we could do with regulation in certain areas, like digitisation.