When Viacom18 launched Pepsi-MTV Indies in 2014, it was a largely new concept, geared to target the subculture of independent (indie) music among the youth.
Even though Indian bands have been around for decades, independent music started getting commercial viability only in the last few years. Music festivals such as NH7 Weekenderand shows like Sound Trekking on Fox Traveller gave it further credence.
A year later, Indies seems to have done well for itself, going by Viacom18’s claims. The channel co-branded with another youth icon, Pepsi, has reached 25 million households (18 per cent of the 139 million paid C&S households) in a 2014. As a niche youth channel, it has averaged around 10 million viewers a week, comparable to niche English general entertainment channels (crime, comedy, etc).
Not just viewership, officials at the channel, say that it has turned in profits in the first year itself.
Of course, it has helped that independent music is cheaper to acquire than Hindi film music that carries hefty price tags as only a handful of players own most of the inventory.
Moreover, MTV had existing content and programmes to get started such as MTV Unplugged, Rootsand Sound Trippin that highlight new independent artistes and live performances.
Besides the coup of getting a brand like PepsiCo’s flagship cola as a platinum sponsor, to co-brand the channel, Viacom18 has ensured a steady flow of branded content to keep the cash register ringing. Indies has so far partnered with Ray-Ban (for Never Hide Sound) and Blue Frog (the pub-music venue). A very popular music collaboration show, The Dewarists, that was earlier on Star World, too, came on board, sponsored by Dewars (brand by Bacardi).
“While the channel is niche, it has found traction among a very targeted audience which has a prominent urban presence. This makes the channel attractive to advertisers with such needs. Also, they offer content like indie movies and stand-up comedy shows, which provide a variety that advertisers look for,” says a media planner.
Viacom18 is now ramping up Indies’ live-events quotient which will boost revenues and also create fresh content for the channel to show, as most of indie music is often in audio form, given the artistes’ limited resources.
Live performance being a veritable part of independent music, the channel along with Viacom18’s events subsidiary, INS, organised a four-day event spanning cinema, art, comedy besides music, called Spiro.
“The best way to enjoy the independent subculture is through live experiences. Through the emergence of Spiro, we are bringing the indie side of life closer to where our audiences are. We are looking forward to collaborating with the artists, celebrate new talent. Until now, we have supported events in the indie music space but this is the first time we are executing one from start to finish,” says Aditya Swamy, business head, MTV India and Pepsi MTV Indies.
Of course, Spiro would weave its way to other cities as well, with the plan of making the event sustainable through the year. Indies is also increasingly looking to tap non-music content in the indie scene through co-creation and revenue-share models.
In keeping with the profile of its audience, the channel has also used the mobile and social media platforms heavily. “While we have broadcast as one of the main pillars, we are heavily invested in the social platform and the mobile platform to keep the viewers engaged. From the start we have been aggressive with our mobile app, and we launched the revamped version to coincide with the first year anniversary,” says Swamy.
The recently-released Ficci-KPMG India media and entertainment industry, 2015 report says that the shift of ad money from TV to digital has been faster among advertisers targeting the youth than the industry average, which would help channels investing in their digital presence and across screens.
Indies would have to look at ways around the sectoral challenges for music channels. As the Ficci-KPMG report notes that while all the large players have apps and online channels, YouTube and other services like Gaana and Saavn are looming threats (more Indians consume music on YouTube than the three leading music channels that air Bollywood music, combined).
YouTube, says Swamy, has played an important role in generating content for Indies. “In this space, there is no scope for competition. It is a growing genre and everyone realises that there is need to collaborate in the eco-system. So, instead of ‘versus’, the attitude is about ‘and’. YouTube, instead of eating into our consumption, acts like a feeding pipe for content. There are many artistes who have had hits on the video-streaming platform, and Indies has helped them reach a wider audience through its app, broadcast and social presence,” says Swamy.