Prachi Srivastava

"In an absolute sense, we are happily dissatisfied with Big Magic's performance...": Tarun Katial

Reliance Broadcast Network, with interest vested in television, radio and television production, runs Big FM, one of the most popular radio channels, Big Magic, a Hindi GEC, along with Big Magic Ganga, a regional channel.

Big Magic, its erstwhile regional Hindi entertainment channel, turned national in April 2014. The channel garnered 41 GVMs (gross viewership in millions) in the period of February and March, last year. The numbers remained the same post the change, in May and June. During this period, Big Magic was strengthening its distribution, and marketing was just kicking in. However, the viewership of the channel picked up during the festive season - a 50 per cent increase in viewership was witnessed between October and December 2014 (clocking 61 GVMs), as against the lull during April- June 2014.

The channel, today, leases titles on a regular basis. And, at any given point of time, has around 60 films in the library which gets refreshed each quarter. Some of the popular movies aired on the channel include 'Bade Miya Chote Miya', 'Jodi No. 1', 'Malamaal Weekly' and 'Aunty No. 1'.

Big FM too has seen a substantial growth since it turned retro. The station is a strong player in Mumbai with a market of share of 18.5 per cent and in Delhi with 13 per cent share. The number has grown from nine per cent and six per cent for the Mumbai and Delhi markets, respectively.

afaqs! caught up with the CEO of Reliance Broadcast Network to know more about the television and radio businesses of the company.


Edited Excerpts

Phase III in FM has got the cabinet nod. What are your plans for expansion now? Which are the key markets you are looking at targeting in this phase?

We are the largest player in the market today, and we will stay vested in the radio business. We have great faith in the medium, and we have done well as a brand. Our hope will be to migrate all our current stations well and to be able to fill some of the gaps of our network.

Gaps like?

This is a very confidential bidding strategy.

Big Magic launched as a regional Hindi GEC that had a clear positioning - fight with the national GECs within the Hindi speaking market. Then, few months back, you turned national. Why? What kind of investments was pumped into launching it at a national scale?

About nine months ago, we decided to go national. Digitisation happened well, and we thought it was a great opportunity. It was truly a great democratisation of content and its ability to deliver when you are on a digital platform, versus analog platform where it depends on whether you are early enough or not, because only then people can view your channel. Those are the issues that exist in analog.

For us, investments are in great storytelling rather than investments purely in terms of money. We made exquisite amount of investment in building a good brand. We were fortunate that the investments have been made in content and largely in good storytelling, great characters and working with good creative people. That has paid off really well. I think we have created some iconic brands like 'Akbar Birbal', 'Uff Yeh Nadaaniyan', and we are very proud of the kind of work we have been able to do.

Vis-à-vis our launch, a lot of the other newer players have not performed as well. In an absolute sense, we are happily dissatisfied in what we've been able to create. In a relative sense, we are happy with what we have been able to achieve.

Why dissatisfied?

I think we could/should have been able to fix some of the distribution issues slightly earlier, especially with DTH platforms like Tata Sky. Having said that, some of these things are not entirely in our control and happen with bandwidth and some of the other issues. Nine months down the line, I think we have been able to fix most of those gaps and have been able to market those products (the shows) in some of the key metros which needed to be done. I think it's a quarter late, but whatever happens, happens for the best.

What, according to you, differentiates Big Magic from other channels?

It's a comedy offering which in itself separates it from all the GECs. Within that, our comedy line-up has far more sense of purpose, has characters which are iconic, like - Akbar Birbal which are historic characters, Bal Gopal - a character that has a sense of purpose of bringing Geeta in today's life. It is a channel with far more depth and characters which have far more enriching roles.

How has been the response, both from viewers and advertisers?

Very good response. A big number in terms of viewership. If you look at average numbers, some of our shows like 'Akbar Birbal' fetch better numbers in a week, than our competitor channels like Sony Pal do in total. This, I think, is reasonable to come from a channel which does not come from a large network or didn't have full national distribution.

All the big advertisers came on board when we turned national and at very healthy prices. We have also received large amount of sponsorships, lot of innovations. So, lot of different way of generating revenues. We increased our ad rates thrice.

You may require a lot of international content that would help you grow, since you have gone national now. Would you be looking at it, going forward?

Yes, we have signed up a comedy series from Turner (a Time Warner company) called 'The Middle', which we are re-creating in India. We are also doing a format, light entertainment show with Freemantle called 'Family Fortunes'. The two shows will launch in a quarter or two.

We saw RBNL getting into a JV with CBS, but it didn't survive. What went wrong? Would you be venturing into similar partnerships with any other international company, going forward?

We are not doing any tie-ups now. We are buying rights to re-create shows in India. They are just format rights. When we let go of our partnership with CBS, our entire focus was on creating proprietary content in India.We are happy to partner with anybody who matches the same vision as what we are doing, but we are not looking to create international content channels in India.

What do you think of the comedy genre in the Hindi GEC space? 'Taarak Mehta Ka Ooltah Chashma' and 'Comedy Nights with Kapil' are two shows which are working. Beyond that, it's not very impressive. What is the future of comedy?

I think it is under-produced, under-served and it has great headroom for growth. If you look at any mature television market, comedy is the No.1 genre. In India, unfortunately, we haven't invested enough behind characters, writing and production.

We will do light, entertainment comedy genre kind of shows, but we will never do staged reality shows.

You have Reliance Productions, movies of which you can leverage to gain more eyeballs. Would you be showing movies on the channel?

If there are movies which are relevant to the comedy genre, we will play them.

What are your expectations from BARC?

We are very hopeful of BARC. It is a good industry initiative and we want to support it hugely.

Big Productions has produced good non-fiction properties for the Hindi GEC space, but not many successful fiction shows. Is it very difficult to produce fiction content in the market or that was never the focus?

Big Productions produced the No.1 show on Star Pravah, in Marathi, for 1500 episodes. 'Swapnachya Palikadle' was the No.1 show on the channel for three years in fiction. We are not focussed on Hindi entertainment, but great content. We are not in the rat race. We produce what we think is good content.

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