Anirban Roy Choudhury

"There is so much more to infotainment": Aditya Pittie, Epic TV

Entrepreneur, sole national distributor of Patanjali and now boss of Epic TV, Pittie wants to outperform Discovery. Will he succeed?

In September, 2016 Anand Mahindra - owned Television channel 'Epic' announced that it had roped in Aditya Pittie, CEO, Pittie Group, as its managing director. Economic Times claims Pittie has a stake in the company and co-owns it with Mahindra, though he declined to discuss the financial arrangements. Pittie Group, which was started in 1991, runs a real-estate business, distributes Baba Ramdev's 'Patanjali' products, operates spiritual channels under the 'Shubh' umbrella and has, in the past, run the popular spiritual channel 'Sanskar'.

Soon after joining Epic, Pittie moved the channel from the General Entertainment genre to Infotainment. Infotainment in India enjoys around 1.5 percent of the total viewership and takes around 2.4 percent of the total TV ad spend. Why did Pittie decide to move away from the GEC space which enjoys around 32 percent of total viewership and 27 percent of ad spends, to a much smaller pie? What is the road ahead?

In an interaction with afaqs!, King's College London alumnus Pittie answers all these questions...

Edited Excerpts

You are an industrialist yourself and have multiple businesses under your Pittie Group umbrella; what got you into this day-to-day role at 'Epic'?

We forayed into media with 'Sanskar', we owned the channel for about 7-8 years and that is when I met Mr Anand Mahindra and we had a discussion about the media business. Last year when Mahesh (Samat) decided to leave, Mr Mahindra offered me the leadership role and that is how I am here.

How do you describe your involvement; are you a stakeholder in the company?

(Smiles) I am not in a position to disclose our financial arrangements at this stage. Obviously, if I am the director of the company, there is some sort of compensation I will be getting in the long-term...

At what stage did you realise that Epic's positioning in GEC was incorrect and that it needed a shift?

I think to call Epic's earlier positioning incorrect would, in fact, be incorrect. Epic came in earlier than its time; the concept of niche GECs is something we are seeing others trying to develop only now. Epic was one of the first HD focused premium content channels concentrating on mythology, which is still the number one sub-genre in GECs, so in that sense, it was a good positioning. With TAM going away and BARC coming in, the transition and other things around it, somewhere, what Epic stands for was not clearly established. When I came in I wanted to make sure Epic has a clear positioning. People loved what we did back then and they love our content even now. The positioning was more important from the trade perspective, to sell the channel.

And how did infotainment came into the picture?

While Epic was a GEC, lots of its content was seen as knowledge-based. So, our earlier avatar was also an information-based product. When we decided to revisit our positioning, infotainment became an obvious choice. Considering that there are only foreign players in infotainment and there are no original Hindi channels in the genre, we thought there is a gap that we can capitalise on.

Why did you think infotainment is a better opportunity compared to general entertainment?

Lots of media planning today is genre based. Being fourth or fifth in the infotainment space is much better than 15th or 18th in the GEC space. Yes, infotainment pie is much smaller but it's better to have a bigger part of a smaller pie instead of a negligible part of a larger pie.

How do you see the infotainment space today? Who are the viewers?

The data shows that infotainment as a genre, is going to explode in India, but on the ground, that's not necessarily the case. The millennial, who makes up 70 percent of the TV universe, definitely enjoys non-fiction, informative content. For us, infotainment is what History and Discovery have been showing us but there is so much more to infotainment. So how do you define infotainment and who will watch it is not something we know and that is what we are trying to figure out.

How will you define your target audience; also what are the advantages of being a Hindi Infotainment channel in an English-dominated genre?

Like I said, we are creating a sub-genre within the infotainment space. Hindi infotainment did not exist when we entered, so this is a unique positioning situation. Apart from that infotainment, typically, has a male-dominated base, but we feel, Epic has a very reasonable balance between male and female viewership.

We are very strong in the NCCS A and top metro markets. We are an urban channel and we will continue to focus on HSM Urban markets. 15 + NCCS A, B and towns with over 10 lakh population is our core target audience.

How involved are you personally in programming decisions?

I am actively involved in all the decision making which includes programming. Having said so, we have a very competent programming team and I am extremely pleased with the kind of stuff they are coming up with.

The good thing about building a genre is you always have some room to play. We want to stick to Epic's core values which are high-quality premium HD, research-based, non-fiction content. Epic is a very India-centric channel, so we want to create stories that touch the lives of Indians, stories that make them feel proud to be Indians. We want Epic to be the medium which takes amazing stories about India to people in a very entertaining way.

Do you think revenue will cover the cost of the kind of content you want to create?

(Laughs) like I said, we are creating the genre, it will take some time for advertisers to accept the value proposition we are offering, but the good thing is that the market is responding positively. They do understand what we stand for, they do understand that there is a certain 'Epic' kind of viewer. We are trying to integrate the philosophy of the brand to the philosophy of Epic which essentially is the philosophy of India. So instead of going to large GRPs, we are trying to create programming which stands for something. It may take time but when it comes, it will be solid monetisation because brands will then understand the kind of integration opportunities Epic can offer.

Which are the categories or brands you think would be interested in a proposition like Epic?

Brands that are already advertising in the infotainment genre are the low hanging fruits; then we have the brands that are advertising in the Hindi news space, we believe because we are a Hindi infotainment channel we can attract those brands too. Having said that, we are currently exploring the entire market to see who is able to understand our brand positioning the best. But if I were to identify some sectors I would say 'auto', the 'banking and financial services', 'telecom' and 'ecommerce' are some of the categories we are getting good responses from.

What keeps the largest advertising category FMCG away from your list?

FMCG brands always buy on CPRP (Cost Per Ratings Point); most of them are rating based buyers. We do have FMCG advertisers, it's not like we don't, but they follow the concept of more eyeballs which is what the CPRP concept is all about.

Do you think OTT can pose a threat to channels like Epic?

Honestly, I don't think the OTT players have content like ours, so I don't see any direct competition, but OTT as a method of delivery is obviously competition. That is why in August we launched our own 'freemium' OTT platform 'Epic On' which is doing really well. Our installed base is growing by 80 percent month on month. The base is very small, but the growth is encouraging because it's organic growth as we have not done any marketing to promote the launch.

At the moment we are creating content for linear TV and OTT together, but going forward once we have lot more traction on Epic On we would like to create exclusive content for the platform.

What is the biggest challenge for Epic?

Convincing brands that there are values in Epic is where the bigger challenge lies. With the kind of conversations we are having at the moment, we are confident that there will be conversion. Since the time we have shifted our positioning to infotainment, our business has improved, so that's something I want to focus. The other thing is that we need to continue offering differentiated content and our recent announcement - 'Sharanam' - is a great example of that. Unlike other temple-visit travel shows, 'Sharanam' is more about the emotion of that location.

Where would you like see Epic, going forward?

Discovery is the market leader and it does around 8-10 GRPs, so, our first step will be to get there and compete with them in a year or two and then we will see if we can outperform everyone in the genre.

Have news to share? Write to us