afaqs!

The evolution of MTV India

By Sapna Nair , afaqs!, Mumbai | In Media Publishing | April 22, 2009
The music channel has come a long way, from being rejected by viewers for its international flavour to almost entering the league of general entertainment channels

It's a channel that has taken the term 'reinvention' seriously. MTV, which has been on the airwaves since 1996, has donned many avatars, the latest being that of a 'youth entertainment channel'. It is riding high on the popularity of its flagship show, Roadies. The show garnered a TVR of 1.44, which is on the higher side in this genre. (TAM Media Research, C&S, 15+, HSM).

afaqs! caught up with Ashish Patil, general manager and senior vice-president, Creative and Content, MTV - who says that he is as old as, if not older than, the furniture in their office -- and traced the journey of the channel.

& #BANNER1 & #Patil remembers in the mid-90s, when the channel was launched, the tagline was 'Do you get it?', which was very distribution-driven. And funnily, he says, nobody got it. The need to move out of the completely western look of the channel was felt, when MTV failed to attract viewers.

In 1997, therefore, the channel went 'desi', as MTV realized that consumers weren't able to relate to the western image of the channel.

Desi-'K'ool

MTV became Indian with its 'desi cool' plot. Changes were brought about in the look, tone and feel of the channel. Indian faces were brought in, and the playlist featured 70 per cent local and 30 per cent international music. The tagline, 'MTV Enjoy' was born. That's when the channel also added short-form content, such as Bakra, Loveline and Style Check.

The channel started investing in bigger tent pole properties in 2003, such as Roadies, Style Awards, Youth Icons and the Music Awards.

In 2004, MTV did something that no music channel at the time could have imagined -- launching a daily fiction show, Kitni Mast Hai Zindagi, produced by soap queen, Ekta Kapoor.

This initiative was an effort to create appointment viewing on a daily basis, since the music channel always witnessed 'snack in snack out' viewership. Plus, the team at MTV gauged that there were almost no fiction shows for the youth, although STAR One had just been launched.

The channel claims that initially for weeks, the show did well in increasing appointment viewing for the channel. "After that, we lost creative control and the show became a saas-bahu show. From the girl's story, it became the mother's story. Neither we nor the viewers saw that kind of content fitting on MTV," states Patil. People even started commenting that MTV has become 'K' TV.

Besides, it was getting expensive to have a fiction show, especially when there wasn't any strong follow-up programme to retain the viewership. While Patil calls it an interesting experiment, "My scars are still fresh from that," he quips.

Though the fiction experiment on the channel went wrong, MTV is not averse to trying out more. In the fiction/non-music department, the channel launched Semi Girebaal and Kickass Mornings, which is a 'mockumentary' series.

From roti-sabzi to frankie

A time came when MTV realized that the target audience - 15-24 year olds - didn't want just music; they wanted romance, style, games, gadgets, celebrities, sports and a lot more that MTV wasn't offering. This was when Orkut, Facebook and YouTube were becoming buzzwords.

MTV, was, therefore, repositioned yet again - from desi cool to 'unpredictably cool'. The channel's packaging became more stylish, slick and international. MTV wanted to be the 'Universe of the young'. "We were serving dal-roti in the packaging of pasta. But while changing graphics and packaging is the easy bit, changing mindsets of the teams was an imperative task," Patil observes.

To tackle this, he pulled in people from various departments, such as content, marketing and communication and digital; split them into teams; and handed them handy cams, flight tickets and questionnaires. Their task was to visit selected contact points and find out what MTV's consumers think about life in general, and the channel and its competition in particular. This exercise led to important content changes on the channel.

"We moved from 'MTV Enjoy' to 'My MTV' and launched a spanking new offering, by doing away with names such as Bolti Bandh and House Full and moving to cooler names, such as Roadies 5.0 and Saturday Shuffle," he explains. MTV upped its non-music programming, reiterating its positioning as a youth hangout. Splitsvilla, On the Job, new seasons of Roadies, Kickass Mornings, iSuperstars and Fully Faltoo Films were introduced.

Raring to change

Patil says that the one thing that can easily happen to a category leader is complacency. And to avoid that, MTV shakes things up often. "Most channels change their look, tone and feel after six years; we change it every six months," says a proud Patil. Everything -- from the stationery and visiting cards, to the office environment and even the paint on the wall -- changes very often. "That's an investment we like to make to breathe life into the brand," he says.

A slew of new shows were introduced after December 2008, again with a new look and graphics. These include Fabulous Lives, Loveline Reloaded, Discover n Download, Fantastic 5, GTalk, MTV Dance Crew and Star Scraps.

Results

Post the repositioning, the perception of the channel changed dramatically in 2008, as tracked by IMRB. The likeability increased from 44 per cent to 93 per cent. The intent to watch increased to 84 per cent from 43 per cent. And the preference to watch MTV over other channels went up to 48 per cent. Patil now wants to propel the preference quotient.

As per TAM data on C&S, 15+, HSM Week 15, MTV has got a 30 per cent channel share, ahead of 9XM. (Click here for chart). In this week, MTV garnered around 36 GRPs which can be compared with many lower rung GECs.

Roadies, which is now in its sixth season and enjoys a cult following among the youth, has grown by 100 per cent over the last season, in terms of viewership. "This is the first time for any show in the history of MTV and in the music and youth channel genre," Patil exclaims about the new high the show has attained.

Roadies enjoys a fan-following outside television too. In fact, it has been extended to 20 categories under MTV consumer products, spanning accessories, CDs, bags and more. The online community boasts of 3 lakh members. An ad spot on Roadies is sold at 10 times the price of ad spots in other MTV programmes.

MTV's revenue has doubled since 2007; and yield has gone up 30 per cent. Alternate revenue streams, through consumer products and digital, which were used merely as marketing tools, have also been explored.

The channel has admirers from the industry as well, who believe that the transition from pure music to youth entertainment channel has worked well. "Though MTV hasn't shed its music image completely, it is considered as a channel for youth and is in competition with other youth oriented content, be it from music or other entertainment," says Shubha George, managing director, mediaedge:cia.

Basabdutta Chowdhuri, chief executive officer, Platinum Media believes that MTV is a channel that is segment-driven, more than genre-driven. "MTV employs a segment strategy, whereby the content and communication is directed to and driven by a specific audience, which is the 15-24 year olds. It has been a differentiator among any other youth or music channel," she observes.

Looking ahead

MTV will further reduce its music content and bring in more non-music shows. As of now, there is a 50:50 balance between the two, but the music content will shrink to at least to 30- 40 per cent in the next few months.

"Music Television is my title. I am not limited by it; I am only driven by it. While music will be at the heart of our programming, entertainment for the youth will be the focus," Patil explains.

The original programming on the channel will be doubled or tripled this year, with new shows and new seasons of the existing shows. Fast and the Gorgeous (Formula 1 racing), Roadies Battleground, Teen Diva, more Fully Faltoo Films, On the Job Season 3, Connected and Roadies 7 are in the pipeline, apart from a lot of shows in the genres of dance, music, sports and stunts.

Patil has huge plans for Roadies and hopes it will go on for a long time. "I want to see a Roadies 214, not just Roadies 7. We get in new elements each time, change the format as well as the location, to retain the excitement around it," he explains.