Anirban Roy ChoudhuryPublished: 6 Aug 2019, 12:00 AM

MTV stopped being a "TV channel" in 2010: Ferzad Palia

Viacom18's Head of Youth, Music and English Entertainment says Digital is now a big revenue generator even as TV ad sales continue to grow.

Seldom do we see heads of television channels making presentations that offer cumulative views of digital and television watch time. But times are changing. While addressing a media gathering recently, Ferzad Palia, head - Youth, Music and English Entertainment, Viacom18 announced that MTV's content was watched by 700 million viewers in the first half of 2019 (week 1 to 26) while the watch time happened to be 3.67 billion minutes (Voot + TV channels).

A third of television viewership (32 per cent) is contributed by the 15 - 30-year-olds which BARC India defines as the youth. Advertisers are expected to dish out close to Rs 900 crore in the Music and Youth genre on television this year. Yet in India, there is hardly any television content targeted at that audience pool. In fact, after Star India decided to pull down the shutters on Channel V and Disney merged its youth channel Bindass with music offering Bindass Play last year, many said it was the end of youth television in India. Sailing against the tide, Viacom18's MTV continued to hold fort and kept commissioning new seasons of its hits like 'Roadies', 'Splitsvilla' and 'Unplugged'. It went a mile ahead by bringing in new concepts in the form of 'Love School' (where couples test their connection) or the upcoming rap talent hunt show 'Hustle'.

MTV does not have much competition from rival broadcasters, being the only pay channel in the youth category. However, the 15 to 30 age group is what video and audio streaming platforms like Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Spotify and Gaana consider 'low hanging fruit'. It is no longer a one-horse race. How does Ferzad Palia plan to stay ahead of the rivals? Here's his take.

Edited Excerpts

The OTT platforms targeting the same audience are not bound by the stringent rules on violence and nudity as broadcast is. Do you think that gives them an advantage as edgy content has the capacity to woo youth?

You don't get sticky content just by showing violence or nudity or by using abusive language. Otherwise we would have seen these ingredients in all of them. If you look at the digital platforms which do not have the S&P (Standard and Practices) that TV does, there are many shows that are very well made and do not rely on any of these ingredients. I think a piece of content is as good as it is and it does not matter if it is on television or any digital platform.

How are you competing with the rising growth of these streaming platforms?

MTV stopped being a "TV channel" in 2010. The honest truth is we are a content creator and television today is the bread and butter of our youth business. The consumption is happening on both television and digital, but television is still in a very strong position. We measure it by the consumption rate per hour of content created, irrespective of where it is coming from. Digital is now a big revenue generator for us. What has been great for us is that both TV ad sales and digital revenue are growing together. It is not that one is growing at the cost of the other.

You said MTV content is viewed by 700 million viewers (Voot + TV). How much does digital contribute to that?

It is very hard to define because the way we calculate views on TV is very different from digital. On television, it is only considered a view once it is viewed for at least 60 seconds, while digital is measured very differently. If you consider the digital parameters, it would be way more than 700 million views.

What's the skew in terms of watch time, which you said is 3.67 billion minutes in the first 6 months of 2019?

If we consider watch time instead of views, 65 per cent of it comes from television while digital contributes to 35 per cent of the total viewership.

You mentioned the examples of branded content that you have created in association with brands like Airbnb and Jockey. What makes you happier - a successful show or engaging branded content?

You need money to run a business. Without it, you won't be able to make shows or put up any content. It is very important for the brand to grow first. When you are dealing with an audience which is as disruptive, adaptive and innovative like the youth, you have got to be on your toes all the time. Once you have an iconic brand, you can start thinking about what you can do for them. So once you have content, you have branded content, on-ground touch points, licensing and merchandising and so on. What gives us a high is when we put all this together and the audience has a genuine takeaway from it, whether it is a reality show, a talent hunt or a fiction show.

But there are agencies offering solutions to brands. Why would they trust a broadcaster?

By virtue of having the first-mover advantage in this space, we have had a huge amount of success with talking to the audience. What we call branded content is actually content marketing, the brand using content to market itself. Now the format that is largely being used is video and we have been at the forefront of creating very engaging short and long-form content for our audiences. The biggest advantage that we have today and I dare say that we will have for a long time, is our deep understanding of the youth because that is what we live and breathe. Another advantage that we have is that we know how to interact with that audience. From 'Bakra' to 'Roadies', 'Splitsvilla' to the upcoming 'Hustle', we have been creating youth-based content for decades now. Expertise coupled with the massive platforms that we have (MTV and Voot) is our biggest advantage.

You have pushed the envelope by featuring gay couples in your shows. How are advertisers responding to this progressive decision?

There are some advertisers who have said they would rather stay clear of it. However, there is a good chunk of advertisers who are happy to associate with something that is progressive, whether it's associating with content which features transgenders, LGBTQ or any such subject which most people consider to be taboo. Frankly, this staying away is quite ridiculous because a particular kind of thinking or sexual preference does not change the fact that they are your audience. You would rather be with the audience and move with the times instead of staying behind. While some brands have realised that and are keen on associating, there are others who are taking a conservative approach and staying away. But things are changing...

Your next show 'Hustle' is a rap/hip hop talent hunt. While the Hindi film 'Gully Boy' grossed Rs 236 crore worldwide, do you think TV is ready for this genre as well?

We thought about this show three years ago. Actually, we could not put it up because there were no takers (advertisers). Then came 'Gully Boy' which became a success, but this show was not conceptualised after that. Yes, we got sponsors now (JBL, Breezer, Philips). The show comes with a genuine intent, which is to give the talent in this genre a big-enough audience to consume it. After that, the audience decides if they like it or not and if they do not, then we will have to figure out why they did not. I believe the youth will like it because it is fresh and very much a part of their own DNA. The youth surprise us every now and then. If we do not succeed, yes, we will feel terrible but we will try again. Also, the ratings are not the only measure of success for us, although we would love it to deliver high ratings. We track buzz very closely across social media platforms.