Ashok Namboodiri, the new Business Head of Star India’s Kannada GEC Star Suvarna is on a mission to re-build the channel’s fortune with various exercises such as re-branding the channel from Suvarna to Star Suvarna in order to add freshness to the channel. He is also in the process of revamping the Programming line-up of Star Suvarna with various new launches that started with the launch Mega fiction show “Hara Hara Mahadeva” that was created with richness and grandeur with a never before quality standards and budget spending in the history of a regional television. The Programme has created a new bench mark TVRs for the channel and it is also helping the new launches like “Just Math Mathalli” to open with better numbers.
On an exclusive chat with tvnews4u.com, Ashok Namboodiri, the man who is regarded as the ‘Wave Maker’, speaks on his new assignment of exploring his touch in Broadcast Business after a two decades of success ride in FMCG sector that witnessed his path breaking ideas:
Tvnews4u: How was your Journey from FMCG to Broadcast Business…?
Ashok Namboodiri: I kind of think about what I have done in the past couple of decades as a very fascinating journey, I don’t wanted to categorise it as FMCG, Media or Broadcasting, at the end of the day it is your ability to understand the person whom you want to communicate to, Look at what are the emotions and what the drivers for those people are, and the quality of the insight you pick-up, then drives how you position your brand and start communicating.
To me it’s all a game of communication, and the communication is only as good as how deep your understanding of the consumer.
All I have done in FMCG world is basically, a lot of time spend in the Food and Beverages sector, starting out with Unilever in Karnataka, where my first market visit was in Mandya District. So, for me it’s like a home coming. We went deep in to Rural Market and set-up a Rural Distribution Infrastructure. I travelled almost all the districts in this state, understanding what their needs are and translating that into Product Ideas, then creating Brands, Propositions and then the back end. that’s how I started off with Unilever.
And after that I have spent more than a decade with Coca Cola, again working across locations and functions like Sales, Distribution, Marketing etc. When you move across various locations your Market Insights actually broaden manifold. I ran the second biggest plant in Andhra based at Vijayawada and later on I ran the Chennai operations.
All these Challenges enriched me as a person who look at a perspective, which is far more deeper so that you become category agnostic.
Then, I spent five years with Tata Tea setting up their Beverage business and also did a JV between them and PepsiCo based over Delhi and then spent the last three years with Britannia here in Bangalore running their Dairy Business. So, that’s the combination of work that I have done.
Now, When I Look at all these together, I bring to the table three things…. One is Developing the Insight, Building a Proposition and Taking it to the Market….. Two, in Some way the FMCG world taught me to communicate through the stories. For example take Brand…, you have to be very sharp in terms of what your Insight is…. what your TG looking for…, therefore what’s the Message you want to communicate…., to me its simplistic to say that it is also a form of storytelling.
The third one is the Principles of working with People and harnessing their talents. Those again remain similar in these sector as well any sector. Here (Media & Broadcasting Sector) the Challenge though is the ideas can come from anywhere and therefore you need to be far more receptive to the Ideas. You have to depend on your gut feel, Need to keep your Eyes and Ears open… Because, Somebody saying something in one corner could be your next big idea and even in the last three months, that was the most fascinating thing.
Tvnews4u: Could you share the experience of your association with some of the brands and their Campaigns that are very close to your heart…?
Ashok: Sure, there are lots of examples, let me start with my experience with the unique brand Sprite in the beverage world. I was part of the team that was working on that in the initial stage and launched in the Southern markets. At that time I was in Kerala and we were the first to launch it and it was a classic case study in terms of how a brand can get on the position and evolved and grow up strength to strength in all aspects and it was always close to my heart.
When it comes to Specific Brands that I worked on and However, the one closest to my heart was the brand I launched in Chennai under the Tata Tea umbrella, the Brand called TION (t!ON), It was something that I conceptualized from zero and brought it to the market. It is a very fascinating story because Tata is very strong in Tea Powder,… So they know Tea… and I know Beverages… and it was decided to find something in between like Ice Tea. I went back to the market and did a lot of research and one big insight was that India is a hot tea drinking country despite being a tropical country. So, even if they drink a Cold tea, after half-an-hour they will still say “I’m thirsty… “
So that Insight let me to go back to the team and say “if you want to do Ice Tea, we can build a 100 crore business, But, if you want to build a 1000 crore business, then we may have to think beyond that….” and that’s when from the research caters the idea to combine the Green tea, Fruit Juice and Ginseng and developed an Idea that in India the beverage consumption is not planned and its impulsive, so we create a beverage with a very attractive and smart looking package called tiON. And then the entire manufacturing and marketing plan was charted and I finally rolled it out. It is a very customised product for the market.
I look at brands from CavinKare that always inspires me, not just because CKR started the shampoo revolution with packaging it in sachets. It needs to do with the Insights they picked up and that would have been possible only with a deep understanding and Insights derived from the attitude and usage study, turning around the market with packaging and price point combinations. Similarly, they have expand in to lot of other category, some are successful and some are not. But to me the inspiration is an entrepreneurial journey is to get in to what you feel irrespective of success and failure.
Off late, when I was in Britannia, they have just got in to the dairy business sector and launched milk based beverages. To me the brand has got in to category after category, and done fairly well and that’s been a very instructing thing as well. I launched the first cheese Campaign for Britannia with “Too Cheese Badi hai mast mast” Campaign.
What is the Strategy behind re-branding of Suvarna in to Star Suvarna and what are the changes that your looking to incorporate through this exercise…?
Ashok: Suvarna as a brand is already having a very unique positioning in this market. If we look at what has happened in the brand’s 9 years journey. The DNA is about exclusive content. In fact we went and met lot of consumers and did an extensive research. We understood that they always associated the brand Suvarna with exclusive content. In simple terms, they feel that “If I tune in to this channel, I will see something, which can’t be seen in other channels”.
If that is the DNA of Suvarna, then we need to go back to that, if you have to be successful… Because that is where the consumer has put us in her point space… So, that was a starting point stating that “if that is the unique position the channel enjoys. Then, we thought there must be something in it and we started thinking how to make it strong”.
And then, it’s not just about Programming, the positioning that we take. The positioning of the Channel, the kind of stories that we tell and everything around it. We felt that we need to therefore do whatever it takes to take the channel back to that position.
Then, Our research also revealed that this might be the most appropriate time, if we can have disruptive properties to re-brand it as Star Suvarna. The appropriate property we identified as Hara Hara Mahadev, which is very relevant to Karnataka Market and we felt that we need to get the production values which the market has never seen, then this could be the disruptive. Using Mahadev launch as a starting point, using that as tempered property, we wanted to go back and attack their DNA. In order to move forward in this direction we wanted to do two things, One is define the positing of the brand very strongly…. It has been about relationships and we decided to look at the positive side of the relationships, so the stories we are doing will be put against that filter to see we adhering to it. The other is the technical bit of it, which comprises the look feel, packaging, the expertise, wherein Star India as a parent, there is always somebody to fallback and leverage its might.
So the way we look at is, Mahadev as a starting point, we will now look at a pipeline of programs, which will help us to reclaim the position of exclusive content and therefore a unique viewing experience to our consumers.
Across our research, we got to know that consumers regard Suvarna as their favourite brand that is very close to their heart and it is a very household name. People look at Suvarna with lot of fondness and I think that is something that we must leverage. Suvarna has been built in a systematic manner over the period of 9 years and how we are going to capitalise and leverage it and take it to the next level is the task before us.
Is there any change in Primary TG of Suvarna…?
Ashok: There is no change is Target segment. According to me Television actually plays the roles of a family unifier in Indian homes and also plays to an Individual’s emotional senses catering to various parts of your sensibilities. So the same person could be youthful, could be Kiddies and elderly and be the part of spectrum according to the state of mind.
Yes, we did attract younger people through the shows that we brought and then we added main stay stories like Amruthavarshini. But, what it did for us is to emerged as a storyteller with a difference and make a difference in the market at that point of time. The market evolved, new players started coming-in and new stories started emerging. But, the TG still remains the same.
The macro trends are changing due to factors such as globalisation, Information dissemination and the ability to get to know about different aspects of happenings around the world as all sections of society are having access towards the same. Similarly, at the Socio cultural level also people are changing with changes in their attitude towards society and life. Our stories and storytelling need to keep phase with the time and their changing expectations as they want to experience different kind of characters. So, It is the TG’s outlook or expectations that change and TG remains the same.
Remaining true to our DNA by keeping phase with the expectation of the audience by providing them unseen stories and characters is an opportunity for us.
You are setting a new unimaginable trend in Kannada GEC market with Hara Hara Mahadev… in terms of Quality standards, presentation and cost of production. What made you to bet so much on this project and what is the Idea behind it..?
Ashok: The First point I wanted to make is, first of all you need to cut your cloth depending on whether you have the capability or not. So, we took a hard look at what we are as Suvarna and what is our channel positioning and what is the clout that we are enjoying in the market and what do our consumers think about it and we have spent enough time in soul searching and the kind of homework the team has done to understand whether we can pull this or not. Once, we were sure that we can do it. we evaluated and said that this is the story that is timeless, it has been heard about in some or other way. But, the difference is the way in which it is going to be visualised and brought up. Then, we thought of raising the bar and set a new standard in mythology so that in future anyone must refer this as the new standard for this genre. So, after doing our home work, realised that we can really pull this up.
Secondly, If we can bet on this kind of story… and the relevance of the story…… In this market the relevance of this story is very high as people wanted to watch this kind of content.
So, thus if we can pass through the entry barriers and pull it off with confidence, after that it becomes a commercial call to understand what would be the risk and what would be the return. Then, we analyse about the alternate options such as ‘slow and steady approach’ or ‘one shot risky approach’.
But then, you drive thought leadership when you do this kind of things. to make your mind whether you want to be a thought leader or you want to be another rand player. we were very clear that we have the capability and we have done it before, provided we get the right kind of product with right kind of execution. Once we are confident behind it, then we assumed that we must do it as we doesn’t wanted to be look at as a channel which also does other things, instead we want to be seen as a pioneer and this is the opportunity. So that gave us the confidence to go ahead and do it.
Would you be able to reveal the spending figures of Hara Hara Mahadeva and How are you going to Monetize this mammoth spend that is manifold higher than that of an average cost of content being created in Kannada Market..?
Ashok: We would not be able to reveal the numbers as such, but it is definitely manifold higher than the average market spend is this market.
In terms of Monetization, I would say that it is not just the tangible returns that we quantify, whereas the intangible benefits that can’t be quantified are really huge.
Mahadev not only has set a standard for itself but also for all our future products as well. And to my mind it is the shows like this that raises the entire playing field and therefore our own internal thought process gets calibrated against new standards and I think that is very important to compete.
So, for me Mahadev is not only a world-class product for the market to see, but also internally, when we sit for discussion next time, there will be at different level of thinking and morale.
Apart from that, the platform becomes a runway to anchor many things around it. Hence, the future programs of Star Suvarna can be leveraged based on the performance of this time band. Thus, helping other programs an easy take-off and helps me to orchestrate an upraise across the stretch of entire time band.
Moreover, I don’t want to look at it on a cold ROI perspective alone, rather it is my engine that drives the channel across to scale up to new heights.
What about your plans for Non- fiction line-up, Do you have any big ticket shows other than the regular Singing and Dancing stuff…. any new International formats in the pipeline…?
Ashok: Some of our non-fiction properties like Halli Hyda…. and Payte Mandi…. did extremely well at a point of time and defined the way Suvarna was…. to me the question is how to take it to next level to meet the new criteria and raise its standards.
We are evaluating all kinds of shows, whether formats or international shows. In fact there is a team that is working on it exclusively and studying all aspects that includes the market conditions and expectation of the audience. In next three weeks time, we will be able to arrive at a conclusion on the same, while as of now we are not biased towards any shows or formats.
I think one filter that we will be applying to all our future shows will be, How are we raising the bar in terms of execution of the concept. I wouldn’t say enough of Singing and Dancing, Instead, even if I take singing and dancing, Can I take it to altogether a new level….then only I will succeed… !!!
Somebody told me in the early days, there is nothing like fiction or non-fiction as long as the viewer likes to watch what we are offering, Irrespective of formats. If you can get a person stay tuned to your channel, then you are done.
So, we don’t have any boundary in what to carry and what not to…. we are evaluating it and one that is close to us will definitely be taken to next level that nobody has done,
Next year is your decade year…. and What’s your plans…?
Ashok: Definitely, there will be a celebration and lot of things will be happening. The things is that we are really excited at the way we are seeing, actually in terms of pipelining and the way we are setting through.
At the end of the day whether it is tenth year or fiftieth year, it matter how we are able to bringing some of this to life.
But, really exiting days ahead…
Do you welcome Production Houses and New Age Content Creators to come forward and work with Star Suvarna… If So, How to approach…?
Ashok: As I said earlier, I always believe that the next big idea can come from anywhere and that might be the biggest game changer. So, any Producers, Production Houses and Content Creators can approach us.
In fact, I spend certain amount of time every week meeting People…. listening and discussing new stories, ideas with them to understand and explore new options. If not formally, we are catching-up in Coffee shops to exchange views and trends.
So, we are receptive and completely open to new stories and new inspirations that are in-line of our expectations and partner with us to move up in the ladder.