| 23 May 2024
MTV India's GM and VP creative and content Ashish Patil - It would be myopic to say we compete only with channels

He insists he's the oldest person in the organisation, but MTV India's GM and VP creative and content, Ashish Patil bubbles over with energy, enthusiasm and ideas that would make his 'bull's eye' TG - youth, quite envious.

Three weeks into its repositioning, the revamped MTV wears its new look with a youthful vengeance - of a proposed seven new shows, three have already launched, three are poised to launch, and a reality show, iSuperstar waits in the wings. This time, the channel that constantly evolves, as Patil puts it, hasn't confined itself to an on air revamp. Apart from a new VJ, it sports some made-over veejays, has a revamped website and plans to extend its activities on the mobile front too. All in a bid to stay a step ahead of competition and keep pace with that fickle TG, youth. Patil, in a conversation with Aparna Joshi, discusses the 'repositioning' and the response it is generating.


What has been the initial response to the repositioning of MTV?

It's still early days, but some focus group studies, across consumers and customers indicates some very positive feedback. Even the graphics are something people haven't seen before - slick,young, fresh - that's the overall look. The other thing is the testingof new shows that we launched and the new VJ we launched (Mia) , and both have evoked very good responses. It's early days for the shows, for two weeks is not enough for a show to settle in. But this is just the start - it's a process that will continue for a year, with new shows launching every month.See, what has been happening is that even advertising was beginning to look like MTV advertising and promos...take chewing gum brands or even banks which are coming up with whacky ads. So, just when they were beginning to catch up, we moved ahead and redefined ourselves. MTV just changed the rules of the game all over again.

14 new shows, seven revamped shows....doesn't that bring back memories of another channel that tried a similar programming revamp that fell on its face?

Actually, if you ask me anytime when was the last time you wrought changes at the channel, I would say it was yesterday. But we have always done it in parts. A new show here, some new packaging there, a new promo in between. So, it's not been a drastic change. And we haven't really launched seven shows at a shot, we have launched three, we will be launching three more and then another.

Is Silky Kumar (an ongoing whacky promo series) part of the upcoming shows?

Actually, Silky Kumar is a promotion we are doing, with a big revelation planned soon. Every week we will be revealing something new, and there's a major twist scheduled. But I wouldn't want to spill the beans on that one yet!

What about iSuperstar?

We are planning that one soon. It's based on an international MTV format called Becoming that we have brought to India. It's a simple plot, zero to hero - that will be customised according to Indian sensibilities. It's like - become your favourite superstar!

It would have to be Bollyood centric?

Yes, very Bollywood centric. Hindi films are still a big reference point of stardom here. 70 per cent of music sold here is still Hindi films. I doubt if anyone wants to become just a singer icon here, rather than become an Abhishek Bachchan.

So, does the repositioning of MTV aim to re-connect the viewer that was lost or does it attempt to woo in the next generation?

Our demo has always been constant, we are not like a Rolling Stones that grows with its audience. So, every year a bunch of people grow out, and a bunch of people come in. Our focus, our bull's eye TG is always the 18 to 21 crowd, the 15 to 24 is the communication target and the 12 to 24 is the media deliveries target. But the bull's eye target is the consumer who's evolving every day. Tenets of what's fun and what's cool are changing fast - earlier they would hang out in malls, today they hang out at websites!

How would you describe a typical MTV viewer today?

That's very difficult to articulate. Very fickle, constantly evolving, whatever he was yesterday, he's not today. If I had to capture him in two words, I would say invincible and fragile. That's because this demo truly believes it is invincible. Their motto is - 'It's my life, it's my world.' That's how My MTV evolved, too. It's no longer like the past, when either your birth or your godfather or later, your education, that defined your future. Today's youth can get what they want, they are looking at alternative careers, and they are looking at shortcuts. They are wired, they are much more of global citizens than the earlier generation.

At the same time, there is a dark and serious underbelly to all this. They are very insecure, and this manifests itself at the slightest provocation. Take talent hunts on TV for instance. Young people out there are breaking down due to rejection or fear of rejection. Not many of them feign that, they are actually like that. If you take a tour of the 'blogosphere' you will realise that they are putting up their emotions up there for everyone to see!

How will you be leveraging user generated content on your shows during the repositioning exercise?

First, you have to seed user generated content, and then you begin showcasing it. We have begun seeding it, we have started inviting people to send in their feedback, and the initial response has been very good.

What about increased interactivity on the MTV website?

That's generated a huge response. We got 15,000 responses in the first five days to the 'design an MTV logo' contest we started online. And the best part is that the responses are not restricted to the big metros, they come from across the country.

So are you becoming more of a youth channel than a music channel?

Haven't we always been that? Chances are when you talk youth, you mention MTV in the same breath.

That's what drives advertisers to us too. But again, we are born of music, we are driven by music and inspired by music, but we are not limited by music. Today, young people are looking for more beyond music - they are looking for gaming, romance, dating, travel, adventure, food, relationships, the works! So we intend to cover all of that and more. But music will always be at the heart of what we do.

And most of the music you continue to play is still Bollywood. We reflect what's popular. If a large part of the music sold in the country is Bollywood music, we showcase that. We do play international, but the kind of international music we play differs significantly from what we play on VH1. We basically play mainstream international pop music like Shakira and Black Eyed Peas. We do have a property called MTV imported, for which we have introduced fresh packaging recently. We also do Indipop, but we do it interestingly and differently. For instance, we made our own video for Abhijeet Sawant's new album, Junoon, we did it with Kailash Kher and Agni too. So, in the case of pop, it's how we showcase music that makes it different. We are actually making our own videos for them.

So, has the content of music gone down on the channel or is it just being packaged differently now?

Music content is still at around 70 per cent, but I see that potentially reducing a little. Given the amount of fresh content we are creating, the quantum of music will definitely shrink. It will be a much sharper focus henceforth on what kind of music we are playing, quality versus quantity. There will be a bunch of music that all will have, the difference will be in how we package it and present it.

Will the increased interactivity open up fresh streams of revenue in the coming year?

Digital will definitely be a big focus area for us this year. Young people spend a lot of time on their mobiles, seven lakh consumers get added to the mobile subscribers database every month. And the largest revenue streams, offering of the mobile service operators is music. Naturally, all of them want to partner with us, be it a handset
manufacturer or a mobile service operator. Airtel has locked on with us for a year for one of our largest music based shows, Saturday Shuffle. We would also be doing something very innovative with Hutch in the coming days, including making videos for
them. We are making a lot of content for mobile.That's always been the MTV philosophy, making short form content, which is now derived for mobile.

Practically, the entire channel is available for download. Apart from the MTV callertunes and ringtones available for download, each song that plays on air can be downloaded as a ringtone. All our stuff is interactive - so yes, the digital platform is a large part of our plan. We are still in a nascent stage of monetising it, but we will be monetising it, both directly and indirectly. To give an example, we will be launching our online music store soon, which will have a catalog of 15,000 songs. These will all be the building blocks to adding to the digital revenue stream.

Apart from VJ Mia, aren't the others just old VJs in a new packaging?

Not really, they are all doing new shows too. Take Cyrus Broacha for instance. People would have said he's getting older and stale. But he re-invented himself with Bakra. Cyrus Sahukar was always the shy one, known in fact as the Other Cyrus. But with Semi Girebaal, he suddenly came into his own, Piddhu followed. Nikhil, when one thought that Super Select was all he could do, launched with other facets of his
personality - when he did the gadgets show and turned a judge on Roadies, in Hindi! Anusha also extended her brand franchise by becoming a style fashion diva.

You tried your hand at soaps. Didn't they work?

Yes and no. We started out with the noble intent that MTV too should create appointment viewing, a reason to return regularly to the channel. Logically, then, we decided to go to the queen of soaps, Ekta Kapoor. It was a really unlikely combination - MTV and Ekta Kapoor! The idea was to create young fiction that had not been seen on TV, the story of a young girl from a small town who comes to the city to become
a radio jockey...the tone was supposed to be fun and cool. In the first eight weeks, we had a 50 per cent increase in our TVRs. The night slot too, which was a dead slot, opened up 200 per cent.

Unfortunately, we lost creative control eight weeks into the show; from the girl's story, it became the mother's story. It became a Ekta soap. The viewers tuned out, and once that happens, it becomes very difficult to get them back again. But it had given us incredible results, so we made a second attempt with Pyar Vyar and all that. We did it ourselves so we would have creative control. Unfortunately, the production quality didn't match. It was much too expensive to make, the quality suffered, hence it didn't take off.

But if we can find young, relevant fiction that we can execute in an MTV way, we would still do it. We have tried it with Fully Faltoo films, Ghoom, for instance, as also a genre like Semi Girebaal second season that was fiction. There's potential for a whole host of shows that can find a home on MTV, given the right talent and the right execution.

Music channels are not growing at a fast clip. Plus, you have to contend with new entrants like Music India. Is that the reason for repositioning the channel?

MTV has always taken pride in not just keeping up with the competition but keeping one step ahead. Today, general entertainment channels have 15 per cent music content on them. Indian Idol is something that should ideally have been on a music channel. Plus, there is a bunch of me-toos and clones out there. Then again, young people are looking for add ons to music, that includes gaming, adventure etc.MTV can offer it all to them. And then, it also sounded like a lot of fun to do. Hence, the repositioning!

How much of a market share do you currently command?

40 per cent.

How much do you fear losing out to competiton that's also sprucing up, not to mention the new entrants?

Frankly, though competition does keep one on one's toes, it would be myopic to say we compete only with music channels, or with TV channels, for that matter. Today, anyone gunning for youth mind space, not even eyeballs, is competition. Be it Barista, Cafe Coffee Day, Orkut, Atria, anything.

How has the Viacom18 JV benefitted MTV India?

It's early days to comment yet, but to state an instance - Studio 18 is making 40 films, including the likes of Halla Bol and Bhootnath. That's straight content, that we can leverage across the network. That's just the start. With the JV, we will be scaling up operations, substantially, to become a much bigger youth entertainment offering. We can easily dig into their library, use their resources, they will become our auto default news channel partner, we could tap them for editorial content...

What kind of a revenue jump, percentage wise, do you look at in the coming year?

We are already around 40 per cent ahead of last year's figures. Our ad yield rates have grown 30 per cent, and our topline has grown 40 per cent. We have been through a smarter inventory management, and are trying a whole lot of non inventory led solutions as well. We hope to end the year 40 per cent over last year's figures.