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HomeInterviewsParticipatory Program Redefining Prime - time TV viewing

Participatory Program Redefining Prime - time TV viewing

Jul 15, 2010
Pankaj Thakar, CEO, Cellcast India Pankaj Thakar, CEO, Cellcast India
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1. Please brief us about Cellcast India. 

Ans. Cellcast operates in the cross-section two large and fast growing markets, television with over 400 million viewers  and mobile with over 500 million subscribers. The content we produce is proprietary and caters to a large mass of people across multiple languages. Our focus has been on television programming, but we’re now looking towards other mediums like the Web and print publications to expand the playing field. Our technology stands on a robust SMS and IVR platform that is operator agnostic and is capable of handling over 8000 calls from multiple mobile operators every second! Cellcast’s business model is different from other Mobile VAS companies, in that we maintain a direct relationship with our customers. We produce original content and products and use different media to reach out to, acquire and retain these customers.

Cellcast is in the business of providing premium content and services to customers. We create our own interactive formats, programming and participative content and reach out directly to customers via television, print, web and the mobile. The interactive medium and the billing mechanism in all cases is the mobile phone.


2. What are the opportunities and challenges in this business?

Ans. The challenge is always to create innovative content and formats that can engage viewers/ readers of this content. Getting passive viewers of a television show to sit up and react and make them active participants in the show requires a great level of skill and ingenuity. That’s exciting and a constant challenge. The other challenge is to get a decent revenue share from the mobile operators as they still keep the largest share thus limiting the other value chain partner’s growth by not incentivizing their effort enough. The operators in India will have to accept the international revenue share best practices and give away a large chunk of the revenue generated to the content providers.


3. Give us an idea of the popular interactive shows and what kind of money would have got generated. 

Ans. Our trivia-based TV game shows and astrology shows are pretty popular. The engagement levels in these shows are pretty high with high repeat users. We generated over Rs.100 crore for our partners.


4. What are the popular ‘User Generated Content’ genres in India? How do you authenticate content? 

Ans. Viewers participating in a live show are UGC for us. Astrology is one such genre. For example, when a viewer calls in to a live show and asks a question to an astrologer, that question may be relevant to thousands of others watching the show and that’s a great form of UGC. The other good example is what we did with our participative music show called SaReGana. Here, people called in and sang on live television. The best singers amongst them were invited to our studios and we helped them create their own music albums along with a music video. That’s the best form of user generated content; one that is rewarding not only for us but also for the creators of that content.


5. How has been the evolution of participatory content industry in India? What are the current trends? 

Ans. Simply defined, participatory television content prompts a viewer to participate in a TV show using some form of interactivity and in the process turning a passive viewer in to an active user of content. In India, the predominant interactive medium enabling this participation is the mobile phone. Cellcast has been creating participatory content in India since 2004. Since the early days, where Cellcast produced the award winning interactive TV show Bid2Win, participation television now covers various genres programming from gaming, contests and trivia based to astrology and relationship-based shows. One major impact that participatory television programming has had is that it’s made late night television viewing interesting. Instead of being forced to watch repeat telecasts of TV shows, viewers now have the chance to watch and participate in a plethora of interactive participation television shows.


6. What is the market for interactive programming and participative media content in India?

Ans. The market is huge! Television channels are now warming up to the fact that interactive television programming actually retains their viewers and are now looking at new genres of participatory content.


7. How have the growth of DTH and Cable TV in India helped Cellcast?

Ans. DTH and Cable TV have helped expand the television market in the country and television viewership is integral to our business. On the viewership front DTH and Cable viewers have been avid participants on our shows. Due to the penetration of the DTH the overall quality of content has gone up and this means that the Indian TV viewer is being treated as a discerning one and Programming teams at all channels will be gearing up for better content and a leading provider of participative content like Cellcast will be partner of choice for all channels.


8. The Telecom Authority of India (TRAI) is mulling to increase the FDI limit in broadcasting sector from 51% to 74%. What impact this could make in the growth of interactive programming show in India?

Ans .This would be a welcome move though I think the TRAI is only going to recommend this, but yes if the GOVT takes a decision on these bigger players will be encouraged tocome in to India.


9. How cost effective is it to acquire airtime?

Ans. Although buying airtime is expensive, it works well for us as we have complete creative freedom and it works well for the channels too. As a result, we’ve grown from 1 show to around 8 hours of live programming every day on different channels.


10. Which are the TV channels where Cellcast’s shows are telecast? Please name few of the popular shows?

Ans. Cellcast’s shows are telecast on channels such as E 24, Imagine TV, Imagine Showbiz, India TV, UTV Bindass, News 24, etc.


11. What are the different platforms where your services can be utilized? Tell us how Sumo TV platform has been doing in India?

Ans. Currently, Cellcast enables participation via SMS, IVR, WAP & Internet and the content is distributed on TV, Radio, Print & Internet. Cellcast Sumo TV has been withdrawn as UGC did not really take off due to lack of Internet, Broadband & 3G infrastructure, which is essential for any video-based platform like Sumo TV.


12. What are the technical challenges you face today? 

Ans. Our technical challenges arise from our need to bring in innovation in our formats. There is no one constant technical challenge as such. It always stems from what we want to create. And most often than not, we’re able to use technology effectively to overcome the challenge. The other technical challenge is to build, operate and manage an ever-increasing large telecom infrastructure to enable pan India cross-operator participation. It is a Herculean task and currently we are managing it very creatively.


13. With the advent of 3G technology, how do you think the entertainment landscape will change in India

Ans. The jury on what the drivers for growth for 3G in India will be is still open. As we see it, the content and original formats are what will drive the growth of 3G. To that extent, Cellcast is well positioned to push adoption of 3G services.


14. What are the various revenue streams for Cellcast India? 

Ans. We are very much focused on ABC of content that is Astrology, Bollywood & Cricket along with additional genres like Relationship, Social Networking, Auctions & Interactive Group Shopping. Currently, our revenue comes from Astrology, Auctions, and Trivia-based TV Game Shows around Bollywood & Cricket.

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