Anirban Roy Choudhury
Interviews

"IPL, T20 World Cup won't impact our mainstream entertainment shows Bigg Boss, Big Picture": Mahesh Shetty, Colors

Colors bets big on Ranveer, Salman to overcome 3 Cs - Cricket, Covid, and Caution of advertisers

'Bigg Boss' is one of the most expensive television propositions in India. The show is hosted by Bollywood star Salman Khan, and costs the general entertainment channel (GEC) Colors around Rs 150 crore. It is a marquee property for Colors, and what rides on it is more than just ratings.

The Hindi avatar of the British reality series 'Big Brother' is produced by Endemol Shine. The show locks celebrities in a house for 107 days. A new episode is aired every day.

As it is a tentpole property, Viacom18 sells inventory during the show at a high price. 'Bigg Boss' is currently on air, and Colors is also gearing up to launch 'The Big Picture', an entertainment quiz show starring actor Ranveer Singh, in mid-October.

It is clear that the network has set its eyes on the festive season, when brands tend to spend the most amount of money on advertising. However, owing to the second COVID wave and the disruption in the economy, brands are cautious about their ad spends.

Things have only become trickier for the entertainment channel because of cricket. The second half of the Indian Premier League (IPL) is currently on air and soon after it ends, the Men's T20 World Cup will start, taking most of the prime time slot.

Despite the odds, Viacom18 is upbeat that it will get high value out of its marquee properties. Mahesh Shetty, head – network sales, Viacom18, tells afaqs! that 18 brands have associated themselves with 'Bigg Boss'. The network has already signed six brands for 'The Big Picture'.

So, despite COVID and cricket, Shetty seems cautiously optimistic, and talks about the challenges and opportunities.

Edited Excerpts:

Last year, when 'Bigg Boss' went on air, the industry was on the road to recovery. Do you find yourself in a similar situation now?

Last year, we were clueless and caught off guard, whereas this year, we were far more equipped (prepared). Also, unlike last year, we don't have a nationwide lockdown now. Yes, the number of ad insertions dropped, but the brands didn't stop advertising this year, as things were partially open. Overall, we have recovered one quarter earlier this year.

"We have launched 'Bigg Boss' with 18 brands across categories, and 13 of them are only on television."

But has it recovered enough to have two big-ticket properties ('Bigg Boss' and 'The Big Picture') on air?

Our strategy is to go with two big properties every quarter. We aired 'Khatron Ke Khiladi' and 'Dance Deewane' in the same (last) quarter. Now, we have 'Bigg Boss', which has just gone on air. We will launch 'The Big Picture', featuring Singh, on October 16.

We have launched 'Bigg Boss' with 18 brands across categories, and 13 of them are only on television. 'Bigg Boss' is a unique proposition, where the celebrity contestants use the products as a part of the show. It also offers a wider reach to the brands.

'The Big Picture' is two weeks away and we already have six brands on board. So, the brands are not only advertising on regular fiction shows, but also investing in big-ticket properties that come at a high cost. To stand out from the clutter, the brands have realised that they need to spend on tentpole, or marquee properties.

Mahesh Shetty
Mahesh Shetty

If we compare things to 'Bigg Boss' 2019, by what percentage have your sales gone up, this year? Or, are you still catching up?

I have not calculated it that way. However, my guess would be that we are in mid-single digits, which is higher than what we had got during 'Big Boss' 2019. 'The Big Picture' is a new benchmark altogether. The kind of pricing that we are getting for the show from the market, is very good.

It is a 26-episode series and marks Singh's television debut. The format is new and there is a curiosity about how Singh will host the show. The curiosity is among not only the viewers, but also the brands that want to be a part of it.

You are confident that the upcoming shows will rake in premium ad rates…

Businesses start and end with the consumer. A lot of 'revenge spending' is happening and it is having a positive impact on most brands, in terms of their numbers. When you look at quarterly results, most brands are doing well. It is because the consumer sentiment is positive.

Simply put, we (Colors) are in a pretty good position now, as compared to the same quarter in 2019. We are witnessing steady growth in not just the GEC segment, but also other genres. So, this confidence actually stems from the consumer sentiment and the fact that the brands know that if they don't lap it (consumer sentiment) up, they will lose out.

"FMCG is the backbone of the GEC business. Spends from the FMCG brands used to account for about 73 per cent of the business. Now, it has dropped to 70 per cent, but it is still huge."

The margins of most large advertisers are still under pressure. Are there categories that have reduced spends?

FMCG is the backbone of the GEC business. Spends from the FMCG brands used to account for about 73 per cent of the business. Now, it has dropped to 70 per cent, but it is still huge. The remaining 30 per cent is seeing some change, and spends from some categories of advertisers, like telecom, handsets, retail, etc., have come down.

However, at the same time, digital brands – like OTT, edtech, fintech, and e-commerce players, have increased their spending on advertising. In fact, Byju's is the title sponsor of 'The Big Picture'. Google, and social media platforms like Facebook and WhatsApp, are also advertising more. This is giving us a boost.

"IPL, T20 World Cup won't impact our mainstream entertainment shows Bigg Boss, Big Picture": Mahesh Shetty, Colors

The spends from edtech brands had gone up last year. Are they increasing their spends now, or have things plateaued?

 Their spends are only increasing as they are investing to change consumer behaviour. There is an untapped market that they are trying to capitalise on, and to do so, they are expanding their portfolio. Byju's is also one of the sponsors of 'Kaun Banega Crorepati' on Sony.

We have launched a very interesting property on MTV, in association with Unacademy. There is a huge market out there and I see their spends only going up.

IPL is currently on air and the T20 World Cup will follow, taking most of the prime time slot. How is it going to impact the GECs?

Last year, we were in a similar situation. 'Bigg Boss' was launched when the IPL was on air. As far as the T20 World Cup is concerned, I feel the impact will be lower as it is a shorter tournament (compared to IPL). IPL, T20 World Cup won't impact our mainstream entertainment shows like Bigg Boss, Big Picture.

What is keeping you awake in 2021?

2020 was a year of uncertainty. We were clueless, more often than not. This year, there is cautious optimism. The brands are cautious, but then optimism is very important and that's why they are going out and spending.

We have gone through two tough years and what keeps me awake is: how do I ensure that our yields go up. We are also approaching it with cautious optimism. But the feedback from the brands has been good and that is helping me sleep well. However, I do get some sleepless nights.