Saturday, June 16, 2012

MTV India perhaps thinks IPOD has no future !

The brand marketplace is flooded with examples of brands losing focus on their core strengths and diversifying into known or unknown territories in the rationale of killing brand fatigue and expanding the brand reach and therefore loyalty.

So, it is not embarrassing for MTV to think on similar lines. It is anyway pretty obvious to think of reality programming to be the natural progression from music.

What surprises me however is that MTV is (or has become) deaf and blind to consumer speak and programming quality. More so, when MTV is known to drive deep into the culture of its consumers.

A quick search can give us consumer speak on websites such as MouthShut and Yahoo Answers. They all shout 'Where is the Music?', 'Where is the M of MTV?' Click on the links to get a sample of consumer speak.

About the programming quality and conscience, the lesser said is the better. Crunch for instance, is the most sleazy show that is made for youth in the name of reality. It has obscenities, cleavages and everything that a 15 year old should not perhaps watch. Above all, where is the music element in MTV Crunch, for that matter in Splitsvilla, Roadies and StuntMania.

MTV used to quite admirable around a decade back till the whole "Kyonki Saas...etc" wave hit them real hard on their conscience. That was the soap opera TRP revolution.

They had overtaken [V] in the early 2000 (correct me if I am wrong!) to become India's top rated music channel. It was admirable how MTV localised content completely tailored to the Indian youth. The channel embraced Bollywood and launched a nationwide hunt for new Indian veejays. One winner was a former Miss India. It tapped into young people's passions for cricket and fashion. It came up with a few hits, notably MTV Bakra - in which the host, Cyrus Broacha, played gags on unsuspecting people. So popular was Bakra that friends of Bollywood stars or famous cricket players often contacted MTV to ask Broacha to play a bakra on the celebrity. Broacha had become so famous that he interviewed Bill Gates when the Microsoft chairman wanted to speak to India's young people about AIDS.

It was quite amazing that one country's MTV looked (still does) very little like the another's. Bill Roedy - President of MTV Networks International, once said, "MTV India is very colorful, self-effacing, full of humor, a lot of street culture. China's is about family values, nurturing, a lot of love songs. In Indonesia, with our largest Islamic population, there's a call to prayer five times a day on the channel. Brazil is very sexy. Italy is stylish, elegant, with food shows because of the love of food there. Japan's very techie, a lot of wireless product."

The problem started when being the No. 1 music channel wasn't a big enough business for MTV. With so many general interest channels, MTV could not command premium prices for advertising, even on its popular shows. Moreover, television viewership in India is extremely fragmented. MTV had to compete with regional music channels aimed at viewers who speak Tamil, Telegu, and Punjabi. A prime-time 30-second spot on MTV typically sold for roughly 8,000 to 11,500 rupees, whereas the rate was multiple times for a similar spot on a General Interest Channel like Star TV.

The popularity of Star and Sony made it hard for MTV to attract viewers, because India is still the kind of place where families tend to gather around the TV set. Because most young viewers watched soaps such as Kyonki or Jassi, media buyers didn't need to advertise on MTV to reach them. Alex Kuruvilla - Ex MTV India Managing Director once said, "How do you beat the story of the mass players who can deliver a high number of eyeballs? That is actually the single biggest challenge we face as a niche channel"

Initially, MTV responded quite creatively, I would say. To go beyond the selling of 30 second spots, MTV started inviting advertisers to help it develop new programs. For example, MTV and Honda came up with a show called Roadies that follows a set of boys and girls who drive motorbikes across India.

When Unilever wanted to launch a deodorant called Axe, with the theme of "long-lasting freshness", MTV staged what it called the world's longest dance party (55 hours) in a suburb of Delhi, attended by 15,000 people and certified by the Guinness Book of World Records.

Lycra introduced its brand to India by sponsoring the MTV Style Awards. For Microsoft, the channel designed a show called Web Watch to promote its MSN online network.

But then I guess MTV got carried away. It seemed that revenues could only come through fiction based episodic content. Kuruvilla had said, "Right now the media consumption model for us is snacking. We want to migrate that audience to more regular appointment viewing every week."

Kuruvilla and his team didn't understand that biscuits cannot become meal and fight for brand loyalty during lunch and dinner time of consumers. It will always remain a snack, and be extremely profitable at that.

In 2004, MTV India, in collaboration with Balaji Telefilms, launched its first fiction serial ‘Kitni Mast Hain Zindagi’. The show turned out to be immensely popular. The number of episodes were extended from the initial 39 to 107.

I have my reservations if it was the content that made the show a success. I have three reasons for the show's success. Firstly, it was produced by Balaji which was producing the hugely successful Star TV show "Kyonki Saas...". So there was a huge media hype around it. Everybody in India knew that MTV is coming up with fiction serial much like Star and Sony. Secondly, MTV did a great job by doing a nation wide casting to build anticipation for the new soap. MTV had held open tryouts for the show in more than 100 cities, big and small, across India. About 7,000 people showed up for a Delhi casting call. That was one of the biggest audition ever. Lastly, it was a novelty that the great MTV is doing a fiction serial. It must be good.

The obsession and the short-sightedness continued with renewed vigour after the success of the initial fiction and reality content. When it comes to bottom line, revenues and profitability, it is quite easy to stagger and take the most obvious strategy in short term view. For instance, who can doubt the statement, "Sex Sells".

Today MTV is more famous for Roadies, Spiltsvilla and Crunch. I call them sexy fiction. The creative programming content includes slangs like BC and MC, lot of legs with mini skirts being the compulsory dress code, close-up of cleavages, slutty behaviour, hugging, kissing and (would you believe) massaging. Obscenities are beeped in the television episodes, as there are regulations. So MTV has come up with an innovative way of making the youth listen to the obscenities. These programmes are broad casted live on YouTube. One of the MTV executives tells me that there are no regulations on the Internet. Wah!

Can someone take MTV to jail!!! Where is their moral and social responsibility towards the youth of the country? The majority of the MTV viewers are between the age of 15 to 25 years.

Of course, it would be unfair to say the MTV has completely stopped doing good music. We still have shows like Coke Studio, Roots and Sound Trippin. Although Coke Studio Season 1 was dissappointing, yet overall they are good content. You may want to listen to this great track by Papon.

There is a strategic and a communication question that we need to ask ourselves (communication / marketing professionals). Has Music lost its charm among the youth? Of course not, I would assume. If music still sells and would always sell, why MTV could not sustain itself with music alone? Is this about a dearth of creativity among us that MTV fell prey to sexy programming? We tend to miss the point that sexy content gives superficial and flirty TRPs, which actually spread negative brand perception. The same eyes ogling at MTV Crunch would, at one breath, condemn MTV for doing such shows.

The question is: "Would IPOD lose its market share and profitability if it could only play music?"

MTV as a brand needs to be more resilient, not to succumb to easy TRP tactics. There are enough creative opportunities present in the field of promoting good music, and music transcends all age groups, social strata, caste, creed and religion.

If regular appointment viewing is what brings in the ad revenues, it can come in with music as well. Indian Idol is a great example!