RadioandMusic
| 14 Dec 2019
Vh1 Ferzad Palia: ''We run an extremely profitable business''

Viacom18 Media Pvt Ltd English Entertainment SVP and GM Ferzad Palia has been the strength of Vh1for seven long years.With six years of experience at JWT and a year as the marketing manager at CNBC, Palia was approached when Viacom 18 decided to launch the only international music and lifestyle channel Vh1 in 2005.

Under his leadership, the channel has initiated various new properties including live concerts to international award shows. Being the first international channel, Vh1 escalated to new heights with the broadcast of Grammy’s for the first time in India.

Speaking with Radioandmusic.com’s Swagata S Panjari about his journey, Palia reveals challenges and obstacles faced throughout the course. He also sheds light on the current live scene and its impact on business as well the influence of global economic crisis on Viacom18’s business.

 

Excerpts:

1. You have been associated with Viacom 18 since the launch of Vh1 in India. Tell us about your journey.

Ans. 2005 saw the surge of GEC channels with the second season of KBC and Indian Idol, news channels continuing to sprout and rise, rate corrections in regional channels and Hindi film shows and channels… the need of the hour was an international music channel – and that spelt the launch of Vh1 by the Viacom18 group. Initially, my role was to look into marketing but it evolved over a couple of years. I was handed over additional responsibilities and I was wearing many hats at the same time. So I started looking into sales, followed by content and eventually looking over the entire business. With Vh1 firmly stable, we took a decision to enter the English Entertainment space with the launch of Comedy Central.

Summing it up… it has been a fantastic journey till date and I couldn’t have asked for more. Everyday has been a new learning experience.

2. How did the idea of introducing an international music channel (Vh1) originate?

Ans. During the mid 90s, MTV had built a certain generation in the country. We as a group (Viacom18) identified the need gap of an international music channel and therefore decided to bring down our very own Vh1 to India.  We always knew that it wasn’t an easy task since we catered to a niche audience segment, but looking back.. today I’m happy to say that we’ve won loyal audiences and extremely trustworthy advertisers who have been our strength and a part of our effervescent journey.

3. Vh1 started as a music channel and later shifted its focus to entertainment and now once again it’s turning into a music channel. Why this transition?

Ans. Vh1 launched in India to fill the need gap for differentiated, fresh and current international entertainment, both in terms of programming concepts and recentcy. Hence the channel aimed at offering music, lifestyle and long-form entertainment as a mixed bag to its discerning audiences. The channel has been synonymous with international music since its launch in the country and will always focus on strengthening its music franchise. Urban India has been crying out for differentiated and current international entertainment, trends and concepts and hence we at Vh1 are constantly innovating and catering to audience needs and demands. Vh1, therefore, takes its viewers into the world of music, Hollywood, fashion, reality, sport and celeb lifestyle at near real-time!

4. Which show has attracted the highest number of eye balls on Vh1?

Ans. Earlier we had shows like Pimp My Ride, The Fabulous Life and Yo Momma which did extremely well with our audience. Currently there’s Jersey shore which is a big hit and has also done well in the US. The animated show Beavis and Butt Head is also getting a great response due to its caricatures.

5. What is the brand philosophy of Vh1?

Ans. The brand philosophy of Vh1 is to Get with it! which is also the tagline of the channel. It simply means if you are interested in what’s cool then come to us! As a channel, our philosophy is quite clear; we are not competing with any other channel. Viewers will never see a repeated series on the channel; we introduce new shows which no one knows… like Pimp My Ride, Yo Momma and Jersey show etc…Cutting edge urban entertainment is how we look at ourselves. Our aim was to become the youth’s window to anything international. Vh1 has been a trend setter in its category and we continue on the same promise with exciting line up of reality and entertainment.

6. From last year, Vh1 has started airing international awards and concerts. How did the idea to air live awards originate?

Ans. Initially, Vh1 aired only network awards like O Music Awards, Europe Music Awards, MTV Music Awards; but by 2011 we acquired the rights to telecast the biggest and the most iconic music award property – The Grammy Awards. We had an entire marketing plan in place to create the hype and buzz around the awards night. In 2012, we took a step further by not only telecasting the International music awards but also airing the most coveted and the third most awaited awards show – The Golden Globe Awards. By broadcasting both the awards LIVE in India, we have managed to engage our audiences by showcasing all the drama from the red carpet to behind-the-scenes to performances at the award functions.

7. Did the broadcast help Vh1 to attain more award shows and concerts?

Ans. Definitely! After the success of telecasting the Grammy Awards in 2011, Vh1 managed to air the biggest music awards from American Music Awards to Billboard Music Awards to Brit Awards and the most recently the Video Music Awards. This has expanded Vh1’s offering by engaging its fans across social media through contests and offering the winners a chance to watch the awards show live and much more. The marketing promotions also generated a lot of buzz. The ‘Ticket to Ride’ contest for the awards took the engagement level with viewers to new heights.

8. Have the ad-rates increased?

Ans. Yes ad rates have increased significantly given our increase in market share. In addition we believe in customizations and solutions for clients hence going beyond the 30-second TV commercials.

9. Do you think Big CBS Spark and 9XO has increased competition?

Ans. Vh1 was the first of its kind channel that was launched in India and brought International music and reality shows. With every trend-setter comes followers and today we see this niche space filled with new channels like BIG CBS Spark and 9XO creating a healthy competition which is exciting in any space.

We hope that the introduction of other channels in this space will benefit consumers and aid the genre to grow. This is an indicator that the space is growing and we are happy that others are following and helping to grow the genre.

10. Has the launch of ‘Comedy Central’ affected the viewership of Vh1?

Ans. Comedy Central has completely shaken up the English entertainment genre, far from it impacting negatively the viewership of Vh1. Since the time Comedy Central launched in January 2012, Vh1 market shares have increased further.

The duplication between the audiences of Vh1 and Comedy Central are miniscule and hence the audience doesn’t overlap the other too much. Between the two channels we have an approximate 35% viewership share of the English Entertainment category.

11. What synergies do you enjoy with Viacom and Viacom 18 in India?

Ans. Viacom internationally supports us heavily on Comedy Central and the synergies that we have with our Indian counterpart of business is to build and drive both the channels Vh1 and Comedy Central. As we are heavily supported by our Indian business, we hope to expand and grow the English market space by already having Vh1 and now launching Comedy Central.

12. A lot of media houses are feeling the brunt of global economic crisis. How has it influenced Viacom18’s business?

Ans. If you consider the overall economic scenario, then it does not look bright and the sentiment is fairly low amongst the trade and advertisers. People are not able to forecast exactly how much they are going to spend in a year or even six months. Having said that, thankfully our existing businesses have not been negatively impacted. We expect the recovery in sentiment and increasing ad sales in the very near future.

13. The channel has frequently been associated with various concerts and events. Do you think the brand tie-up business is becoming a significant source of revenue?

Ans. It’s great to see that the LIVE entertainment space is growing. It indeed has become a significant source of revenue.  

14. The core target audience is youth so what are your plans in the digital space?

Ans. Currently, we are focusing on social media as we are very strong on Facebook and Twitter. Vh1 has also launched an IVR property called Radio GaGa wherein consumers can call in and listen to Vh1 music. The property has beaten all our expectations. Apart from Airtel, we soon plan to roll out the property to other operators as well and you will see some more exciting announcements from us very soon.

15. With artistes utilizing online streaming sites like YouTube for the launch of their music videos and singles, do you think online streaming has become a challenge for Vh1?

Ans. Not at all! The same question had been raised when radio came in but worldwide radio hasn’t hampered music sales in anyway. On the contrary, it has fuelled music sales because now people know what is popular and trending. Radio listeners don’t wait for the replay of their favorite songs as they want everything instantly and hence, they just buy music. We as a channel are educating audiences by providing them with the best and latest in music, shows and concerts from varied genres. Honestly, I feel the two are complimentary and not competing. The challenge is to be available where the audience is.

16. What are the challenges faced by the live music scene in India?

Ans. If we consider the number of live music events being organized in pubs, night clubs, large format concerts and festivals right now, then the live music scene has never be better. The challenge is to monetize live music. Internationally, there are concert arenas but in India we are largely dependent on advertising sponsorships. The main problem is that we don’t have the kind of infrastructure (arenas) which can accommodate large audiences. When one does outdoor concerts, costs are bound to sky rocket.

Also, audiences look forward to basic facilities at the venue such as car parking space, eateries, drinking water, toilet facilities. When an organizer fails to provide these, the experience is a poor one and people then stop turning up for future events.

17. What are the growth targets for the fiscal? What percent revenue growth are you expecting?

Ans. We are definitely aiming to grow, our estimates and plans are always for growth but a lot depends on how the market plays out.