Ferzad Palia, Senior Vice-President & General Manager – English Entertain-ment, Viacom18 talks about the group’s new venture comedy central

Expanding Viacom18’s English entertainment portfolio, the group is bringing popular foreign comedy channel Comedy Central to India, of course with a promise to spice it up with some local flavour. On this occasion Ferzad Palia shares some insides of Comedy Central with 4Ps B&M and explains how Viacom18 plans to maintain its leadership in the Indian entertainment industry.

A large part of Indian audience base still enjoy watching Hindi comedy shows. What prompted you to bring a full-fledged English comedy channel to this market?

We realised that there is a large chunk of urban audience who want to see more evolved comedy shows and were reaching out to various platforms to find it. With Comedy Central India we bring world’s biggest 24-hours comedy channel to India. We did an extensive research with an agency and found out that the urban audience who is under so much stress needs something that offers a genuine laugh and that is the philosophy of Comedy Central – Laugh it Off ! We want to offer them simple laugh, even if they do not know what the serial is all about, they are going to laugh. We tested the shows, the concepts and it turned out to be very positive for us. Our idea is to deliver clever and disruptive content to our viewers; titles that have been handpicked from across the globe, especially for India. We are showing mix of all genres ranging from sitcoms to sketch comedy, British comedy, stand-ups and gags, among others.

It is interesting to see these days that a lot of focus is given on promotional activities. How significant is this factor for a new channel like Comedy Central, or for other channels under Viacom 18?

We believe in creating brands and not just channels. If you talk about MTV or VH1, the channel and all its programmes today are brands that have a certain value attached to it. Yes, the first and foremost thing with Comedy Central is its channel, but we do not want to be bound in its limitations. Here, we would be doing a lot of merchandise activities, something to do with the characters and taking them everywhere, we would be exploring the whole gamut of comedy. There are a lot of LIVE events in the pipeline too. Through these we are providing a stage for Indian artists who want to groom their talent in English comedy. You can say we are leaving no stone unturned to establish Comedy Central as a ‘brand’.

What would you cite as the biggest USP of the channel? How are you going to differentiate your channel from others in the same block?
The fact that we bring some of the world’s best all time comedy shows to one channel is the biggest USP of Comedy Central. Shows like The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, South Park, Saturday Night Live, 30 Rock, The Office, Seinfeld, The Wonder Years and That 70s Show are shows people yearn to see. We have also added Indian colours to the channel with shows like Kumar’s at 44. The biggest difference that sets us apart from Hindi programmes is the language and both formats have their own share of viewers. Our 80-85% of the target audience lives in the metros who fondly watches English comedy. So I would say we already have a distinguished audience for the channel. And since, it is a 24-hour comedy channel, one doesn’t have to wait for a particular time slot; whenever you put on Comedy Central you know you are up for a laughing session.
A lot of media houses are feeling the brunt of an erratic global market. How has it influenced Viacom18’s business?
Not much. All all our channels have performed well and businesses in 2011 have been above expectation. I can say that we have not faced a bad time like many other channels. All our brands are in the leadership position, be it in the General entertainment or English segment. And we expect to maintain the supremacy in the coming years too. All Viacom18 channels in India are doing extremely well and we’re confident that Comedy Central too will carve out its own space within no time.

Beside the conventional platforms for marketing, what different strategies are you planning for Comedy Central? What are your plans with regards to distribution?

We are doing massive through-the-line marketing across TV, print, outdoor, radio and digital. Our plan will involve strategic partnerships with lifestyle touch points, the target audience frequents like coffee chains, theatres, clubs, gyms, salons, shopping destinations and other hangouts. A lot of focus will be given on Below-the-Line activities. You will get to see us at unusual places, where channels do not opt to reach out to their target groups. For example, one can see Comedy Central at a chemist store or on a doctor’s prescription pad. We are saying look at the funny side of life. There are so many upsetting and annoying things happening around, so we suggest switch on Comedy Central and laugh it off. Social media is another space we are widely exploring. A large number of our target audience is active social networking site users, so it is important for us to have presence on Facebook and Twitter.

The distribution side is very well taken care of. We are available in approximately 20 million households in seven metros – Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Pune and Ahmedabad through digital cable, analog and DTH. And this is an adequate number for a kind of channel Comedy Central is.

If we talk about television TRPs and the whole mechanism of it, what according to you are the weaknesses in TAM research?
Well, to answer this candidly, already there has been a lot of discussion where we talked about the relevancy of TAM ratings and its methodology. TAM’s criteria has often been questioned by television fraternity pertaining to where these sets are placed and how such a small number out of millions of households watching television can give us a fair picture of the number one GEC or news channel. But then I would say there is no point in taking digs at the mechanism of TAM because TAM’s weekly result is the only medium for us to know the trend. So, it does show an overall trend going on television across various genres and it definitely helps in gauging audiences’ mood and sentiment. Since, it is the only system available for us to know a broad trend and details of viewers’ likes and dislikes, talking about TAM’s mechanism often becomes redundant and we largely believe that the TAM’s result are credible.

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Source : IIPM Editorial, 2012

An Initiative of IIPMMalay Chaudhuri and Arindam chaudhuri (Renowned Management Guru and Economist).

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