Business Model for DD

Flipping channels an hour back, I happened to stop at this never-heard-before channel called “DD Bharati”. Usha Uthup was giving a concert that was  clearly recorded for television. Looking at her, and considering that the program had been recorded in black-and-white film, I would suppose that it was ancient indeed. Maybe from some time in the 70s.

The program itself was nice. The sets, for the time, were excellent. Usha was backed up by a bunch of men clad in suits – one on keyboard, a couple on guitars, one on trumpet, one drumming, one on the cymbals and another just swaying from side to side. The songs were all quite good, most of them Usha’s own compositions, and I didn’t think twice about giving up on ESPN Sportscenter Asia, Roland Garros and three not-so-bad Hindi movies in order to watch this program. And while I was watching I thought of this business model for Doordarshan.

The basic idea is that there is a whole lot of footage – all that was shown all through the 70s and 80s – that is quite popular among people and nostalgia-inducing, which is held by Doordarshan. I would be surprised if DD would have licensed out any of its old content to any other channel, if not for any other reason but because so much bureaucracy would have to move for that to happen. Stuff like 80s soaps and sitcoms, shows like the Usha Uthup performance I watched today, etc.

So I think DD can truly profitably run a “nostalgia” kind of channel. The market of people who grew up on these programs in the 70s and 80s is large, and most would prefer to watch re-runs of those ancient shows rather than watch the tripe that is dished out by most channels today. And then there is an opportunity for people to catch up on stuff they missed out on back then for various reasons – for example I missed out on so many cool programs back in the late 80s because our antenna didn’t catch DD2, and I wouldn’t really mind watching those today.

And then those ads – yeah they are available on youtube (and on dd’s own site) but then I’m sure it would be profitable to run those ads now as programs in themselves! The opportunities, I think, are endless. Unfortunately it is a sarkari company that is not interested in profits that is sitting on all these options. The loss, I think, is for us potential viewers.

Orators and Writers

Yesterday I was reading an op-ed in Mint when it struck me was that this particular columnist never argues – in the sense that he never constructs an argument using inductive or deductive logic. His method or argument is to say the same thing over and over again – in different ways, using different metaphors. He hopes to make his point by way of reinforcement, and considering his popularity and his ubiquity across the media, I’m sure it works for a lot of people (though not for me).

Then I started thinking about people who are known to be “great orators”, mostly from the Indian political space. I started thinking about Vajpayee, about Chandrashekhar and several other similar people. I discovered the same thing about them. That they seldom construct an argument using deductive or inductive logic. Their way of getting the point across is the same as the Mint columnist’s – to say the same thing forcefully and in several different ways.

And thinking about it, it seems quite logical. When you are addressing a large audience, you will need to take everyone along. You will need to ensure that everyone is clued in on what you are speaking on. And when you speak, there is no way for the listener to take a step or two back if he/she misses something you said. Unlike text, the speech has to be interpreted in one parse. So if you are to be a great orator, you need to make sure that you take the audience along; that you construct your speech in such a way that even if someone gets distracted for a few words they can join back and appreciate the rest of the speech. Hence you are better off indulging in rhetoric rather than argument.

A writer, on the other hand, has no such compulsions. It is easy for his reader to go back and forth and parse the essay in whatever order he deems fit. As long as he keeps the language simple, the reader is likely to go along with him. On the other hand, if the writer indulges in rhetoric, the reader is likely to get bored and that could be counterproductive. Hence, writers are more into argument than into rhetoric.

Which brings me back to the Mint columnist I was reading yesterday who, as far as I know, has been a prolific writer but not as much as an orator (or maybe he is but I wouldn’t know since he lives abroad). And I’m puzzled that he has settled on a rhetorical style rather than an argumentative style. I’ve happened to meet him and even then he was mostly using rhetoric rather than reasoning in his arguments.

So yeah, the essence is that there are two ways in which you can construct arguments – by logical reasoning which is mostly preferred by writers and by rhetoric which is preferred by orators. I’m not sure how successful you can be if you interchange styles.

The other side of the long tail

There are several people who talk about how the advent and the popularity of the internet has resulted in markets in many a long tail. Without loss of generality, let us just take the market for writing here. Several niches which were earlier not served since there wasn’t enough of a dedicated audience in a particular geographical area for a certain set of articles and so no one bothered to write and disseminate them.

For example, it is unlikely that there was enough of a “market” for a series of posts on the Studs and Fighters Theory in the days before the internet – a market big enough for a newspaper or a magazine or a journal to bother publishing. Now, the internet not only allows me to publish it without effort or cost, but also lets me know that there is enough of a market for this kind of a series for me to bother publishing it rather than just explain it to a few friends in a smoky bar or cafe.

Now, the funda is that sometimes the long tail can exist in geographically coherent markets and not online! For example, all of yesterday, while at work i was frantically searching for sources to follow the BBMP election results. Everyone led me to this TV9 video streaming but it didn’t open on my office network and I couldn’t find any other live sources that were constantly updating the results. I had had similar problems following the results of the Karnataka Assembly elections two years back.

It was then I realized that the “traditional market” can itself be the long tail! For example, the amount of information I found about the elections in this morning’s papers was really impressive – in fact, the much ridiculed ToI had pretty good coverage of the polls, as did the Deccan Herald or the New Indian Express. Earlier in the morning, yesterday, too there were the Kannada channels which focused exclusively on the election results.

What I’m saying here may be fairly obvious, but just wanted to point out that long tail need not refer exclusively to the new media, or new channels. When you look at it in certain ways, several of the traditional media are also catering esssentially to a long tail, though when there was only the traditional media, no one really used the term.

Talking of BBMP elections, take a look at this graphic that was presented in the Deccan Herald today. Don’t you see a pattern in this?

Bangalore Map

Randomizing advertisements

This 7.5 minute break in the middle of an IPL innings is a bad idea. The biggest problem is that everyone knows the exact length of the break, and can use it to do stuff – like cook, or clean, or crap, or fag, or maybe watch the Everton-Man U shootout. 7.5 minutes is a lot of ad time, but the problem is that absolutely no one will be watching them. So if you were a smart advertiser, you wouldn’t want to put your ad in that slot – you are better off taking an over break slot.

Now what I propose here is not applicable to cricket – at least I hope it’s not since conventionally you can’t slot ads whenever you want to (Lalit Modi thinks he can change that, though). I don’t know if this concept has already been implemented, and I’d be rather surprised if it hasn’t been. The basic idea is to randomize the length of advertising slots.

So you are watching your favourite soap and there’s a commercial break. And you go off into the kitchen to make a cup of tea. But you don’t really want to miss even a minute of the action, so you’ll go only if you know that the advertisements will go on for two minutes. Historical data tells you that the ads will last for two and a half minutes, and off you go. Now what if suddenly tomorrow there is only twenty seconds of advertisements and you end up missing a bit of the action? You curse yourself, and the soap, and the TV channel, and the TV, and Tata Sky, but you make a mental note not to go make tea during this break the next day.

Now, by randomizing the length of advertising breaks, channels can ensure that people actually watch the ads. If you don’t know if the break will last twenty seconds or two minutes, you are likely to sit glued to the TV, watching the same channel dishing out the ads. You are unlikely to go off to make tea, or to crap, or to channel surf, if you don’t know when programming might start next. You occasionally get pained – when the breaks are too long – but on the whole you end up watching most of the ads.

Yes, there is the chance that the viewer gets pained when the random length for ads that gets picked turns out to be really large. Also, if we shorten a few ad breaks, we should also lengthen a few others? Or increase the number of ad slots? Not really – is my argument.

The clincher here is that by randomizing length of ad breaks, you are increasing the TRPs for the ads! Yes your program may have high TRP but does that normally translate to ads? With this randomization procedure it does. And when this gets established, you can start charging higher for these slots. And if on an average you can charge a higher rate per second of advertisement, you can sure continue to run the program with a smaller number of ads?

It’s win all around. Customer wins because he gets more programming time than ad time. Advertiser wins because he gets more eyeballs for his ad. TV channel doesn’t lose since the loss of revenue from lesser number of ads is more than made up by the higher rate charged on the ads. In fact, by “holding” the customer, the channel ensures he continues watching this program rather than go off on a tangent while channel surfing.

Normally, I try to show situations where everyone can win by reducing the randomness in the system. This case is opposite. By introducing randomness in the system, everyone wins! I wonder if there is a fallacy here. Or maybe what I’ve written here is so obvious that everyone is implementing it and I’ve failed to notice since the only TV I see is sport (not american sport) which has fixed ad breaks.

Why is Ten Sports sitting on so many rights?

I wanted to stay up last night. I wanted to stay up and watch the WI-Eng match till the very end. Waking up this morning and checking the scorecard, it seems like it was a really good match. And Fidel Edwards seems to have become a last-day-shutdown specialist. This is the second time this series he’s hung on. And he’d done so once before against India at ARG.

There was another reason I wanted to stay up last night. I wanted to watch Liverpool play Real Madrid. I woke up this morning and saw that it was an amazing game, too. Looking through the Guardian Football site (btw, Advani seems to be advertising heavily on that site; it’s a pity he never advertises here on my site) I noticed that Chelski-Juve was also a strong game, despite the result. Another reason I would’ve wanted to stay up last night. For the record, I slept at 12:10. Tea-time in the Test match, and before either of the football games had started.

Ten Sports seems to have bitten off more than it can chew. It seems to own the rights to telecast too many different things. I think I have raised this point once earlier, but it pzzles me as to what Ten Sports is trying to achieve by getting rights to telecast so many things, most of which are happening at the same time. For example, over the last couple of weeks I’ve been unable to watch the first hour of WI-Eng even if I’d wanted to, because it was overlapping with the last hour of SA-Aus, which was being telecast at the same time.

The reason I slept off early last night was because I didn’t have the option to watch what I wanted. All the three games that I’d’ve been reasonably interested in were supposed to be on Ten Sports (Zee Sports doesn’t count since Tata Sky doesn’t offer that), and I  realized that I’d be forced to watch what the guys at the Taj Entertainment Network would want me to watch. Denied the option to choose what I wanted to watch, I went to bed.

It puzzles me that Ten Sports isn’t subletting its contracts. Devoid of anything decent to show, I suppose that ESPN or NEO would’ve only been too happy to acquire the rights to telecast last night’s Liv-Real game by paying a fee to Ten Sports. And it would’ve unlocked value at the hands of the remote-holder. Ten Sports need not let go of the rights to show all the games. All they need to do is to sell the “out of money options” – the rights to the game which they won’t be able to telecast anyway.

Now, the problem will be if accounting for all costs, no options are out of money. For example, you know you won’t be able to show Liv-Real. But you think that the loss of brand equity of your channel would exceed the money you’d gain by selling this option to another willing channel. The viewers are the only losers at this game, but I don’t know what can be done. After all, viewers  are way too dispersed in order for them to take any kind of action.

Extending this question, what can a sports body do to prevent a bidder from acquiring rights to telecast and then mess up the telecast (or not telecast it at all) ? After all, the sports body is out there to make as much money as possible from the TV rights, and they need to ensure significant investment into broadcasting by the broadcasters, so the “i’ll give rights to only those channels that are in the interest of the people” model won’t work.

One option would be to sell the rights to two channels in each market. But given that broadcast is a natural monopoly, the sports body will not be able to make as much by selling to two bidders as it can by selling to one bidder. Is there any other solution that you can think of? If yes, unleash.

A new paradigm for selling advertising slots

There are fundamentally two kinds of videos – videos for which willing to pay to see, and videos which you are paid to see. It is intuitive that advertisements fall in the latter model – for watching an advertisement, you are being “paid” a certain sum of virtual money which gets encashed when you watch the program along with with the advertisement appears.

You might also notice that despite all the hue and cry about copyrights and people getting videos pulled off youtube, it is unlikely to find a case where an advertisement has been pulled off youtube. An advertiser will only be too happy to have more people watching the advertisement, and by pulling it off youtube, the advertisor will be shooting himself in the foot.

When you are watching TV, and a painful ad comes along, you are likely to switch channels. Or get up and take a break. And turn your eyeball to the screen only when all the advertisements for that particular session are over. So, in effect, by showing a bad advertisement, a channel is reducing the number of eyeballs for the other advertisement in the same session (a session is defined as a consecutive set of advertisements, uninterrupted by the main program. it can run from approximately thirty seconds to five minutes)

On the other hand, a good, popular and well-made advertisement is unlikely to make the viewer switch channels, or get up. It is more likely to generate higher eyeballs for the other advertisements in the session – without any additional effort by the other advertisements in the slot. And thus pushes up the value added for all advertisers in that particular slot.

So the idea is simple – advertising slot providers (i.e. TV channels, etc.) should incentivise advertisers to make better advertisements. Or use the better advertisements more. And the simplest incentive you can give is monetary. So offer a discount for the better and more popular ads. So far, the model has been to make viewers view ads that come along with a programme. The new paradigm is to make viewers view ads because they are placed next to ads that viewers want to see.

I’m sure that once this kind of pricing gets implemented, it will be more profitable both for the TV Channel and for the viewers. TV Channels will be able to sell the “network value” of placing ads on their medium, and use that to more than compensate for the lost revenue in terms of discount. Viewers will like it because the bad ads will be gone, and they will be saved the trouble of switching channels each time there is an ad break.

There remains the small matter of implementation. We need a way for rating advertisements. Online/SMS polling will be no good as they can be rigged. Neither will youtube help. We will need to find a better way to gauge how much people in general find ads. If there is some way in which TRPs for ads can be measured, that would be helpful, too. I’ll think about this problem, and maybe publish a solution to it in due course. I urge you also to think about this kind model, and let me know if you can come up with any bright ideas.

One option would be for the channel to pick what it calls a “winner advertisement” and fix the various slots in which it is going to be played. Maybe the winner might be given the choice of picking which slots it wants to go in. Then, the channel can make the placement of these winner ads public to the other advertisers and encourage them to bid for the surrounding slots. This bidding can help gauge the popularity of the initial winner ad, and then the channel should share some part of the proceeds of the auction with the winner advertiser. And when the premium that other advertisers are willing to pay in order to get a slot close to the winner drops, the channel will know that it is not a winner anymore and replace it.

So what I have described here is some sort of effective peer-review process for advertisements. Different channels can choose different strategies for the order in which to let channels pick their slots, about what kind of auctions to hold, etc. The most important thing about this peer-review process is that here people are voting with their chequebooks – and when people do that, they are very likely to know what they are doing.

So think about this. I think it is a good idea, and it seems like one of those things that if one channel implements it, it will become some sort of an industry-wide standard. And if you are not doing this because you think you don’t have quantitatively inclines people,  the fired investment bankers are still around.

Of Pepsi and Perk

Can be best described by looking at the “objects” that defined our bets at different points in time. Most of those  phases seem to have faded away, but I clearly remember two of them – the Pepsi phase and the Perk phase.

The Pepsi era started with their “nothing official about it” campaign during the 1996 World Cup. It was a brilliant campaign, and had all of us 13yearolds hooked. This became our excuse for any little crimes we would commit (like i would hit someone and say “nothing official about it”). I’m not sure if we used it as an excuse for larger crimes, but I suppose we would’ve used it quite regularly as an apology.

Pepsi seemed to have done a good job of identifying itself with this slogan, as soon Pepsi too became our “weapon of choice” when it came to settling bets, and suchlike. This was the period of time when a tiny bottle of Pepsi had just become affordable by saving up on pocket money, and it was put to good use. The unofficial inter-class cricket tournament became “the pepsi cup” – the losing team was supposed to sponsor a bottle of pepsi for each member of the winning team. If my memory serves me right (it usually does), the tournament never got completed.

This phase lasted for almost all of my 9th standard, if I remember right. Maybe it was briefly replaced by other phases, but this was the defining brand of that academic year. All bets were settled with pepsi. Whenever we went out, usually to play cricket, we would refresh ourselves with pepsi. It was the time of life when people had just started courting. Budding couples would go out to have – a Pepsi.

I don’t remember the exact date, but by the time we had moved to 10th, Preity Zinta had struck. With her “thodi si pet pooja”. Perk was the thing now. Considering that a chocolate bar is a much better device for putting blade compared to aerated cola, the number of “couples” also increased. Also, in 10th standard, the number of people going for tuitions increased, and this seemed to cause an increase in the general levels of pocket money.

There were people in my class who would stay in class for lunch break (when everyone else went out to the field) because knew they knew that raiding a certain classmate’s bag would yield them a rich haul of perks (the guy was simultaneously blading some four females, so his stocks always remained high). Then, unlike pepsi, perk could be consumed discreetly. Copious quantities of it were consumed while sitting in class (i used to sit in the first bench so that I could have unhindered view to a certain junior classroom, but  that didn’t stop me from eating perk in class).

I remember that on a certain day in August that year, the shop near the school ran out of Perk stocks. It was the day after rakshabandhan, and given the quantity of unsolicited blade that was happening then, the number of rakhis tied had seen a sudden increase. And that had to be reciprocated – with Perk of course. Some rakhis weren’t acknowledged, which meant that this was probably the only day in more than a month when certain people DIDN’T give Perks to certain other people.

The first four of my five “pursuits” were low-cost (three of those were in school; and even the fourth was before I had drawn my first salary, so you can’t blame me). All four of them put together, I don’t think I spent more than a hundred rupees on blade. This included ten rupees that I had spent on a perk for #1. She had dodged me all day, and by the time I gave it to her at the end of the day, it had melted in my pocket.

I think I should incorporate this scene in one of the movies I’m going to make. Boy chases girl all day, trying to give her a Perk. She skilfully dodges him all day, and evades his offer of Perk. And each time she evades him, he is shown putting the perk back in his pocket. Finally at the end of the day, they meet. It’s time to go – in the distance you can see her father on the bike, waiting to pick her up. And he gives her the perk. She opens it. The perk has melted. And then her heart melts. Ok I must stop now.

Footage

has been kind enough to write about the first Bangalore Photowalk on Citizen Matters. In other similar news, Priya Jain, who was with us on the first walk has done a piece in the latest issue of The Bengalooru Pages. Unfortunately I don’t think it is availabe online.

Hopefully this footage will result in a better turnout a the next walk which – as I mentioned a couple of days back – will happen on June 1.