We haven’t experienced much change in our ad revenue vertical: Vynsley Fernandes

In conversation with Adgully, Vynsley Fernandes, CEO, IMCL, media vertical of the Hinduja Group, speaks about how the COVID-19 pandemic and the nation-wide lockdown has impacted the overall entertainment industry and how IMCL has been adapting to the changing situation.

With the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown, entertainment business has seen a spike. How has that helped IMCL in terms of business? Have you added new subscribers?

As an organisation, we strongly believe that innovation is the only mantra that can keep us ahead of the curve. We gauged the situation before lockdown was announced and introduced specially curated packs like our Vishesh Manoranjan Pack, Super Entertainment Dhamaka Pack and the basic-level Infopack to ensure that our subscribers had enough and more options – both price-wise and content-wise – to stay connected and safe at home. In fact, our Vishesh Manoranjan Pack was offered with a credit period to help subscribers who couldn’t renew their subscriptions for several reasons. These proactive initiatives, along with 24X7 services on ground, have helped us significantly hold our fort.

Another effective approach has been taking the initiative to build a stack of useful products like layering Cable TV with Broadband and Value Added Services – which facilitated a self-contained “Work from Home” solution for our customers. Whilst we did see addition of subscribers during the early days, we also experienced temporary disconnections – mainly from hotels that needed to hunker down during the lockdown period.

A lot of people have also graduated to the OTT platforms as these are more convenient and they are able to provide more fresh content. Have you noticed people shifting from your cable service to these platforms?

While there has expectedly been increased traction, especially amongst urban subscribers, towards OTT, a recent report published by Times Internet clearly shows that over 60 per cent Indian users are not keen to spend money on OTT subscriptions. Hence, there is enough and more opportunity in the CATV and HITS segment, where we have a significant presence in semi-urban and rural India, provided we are able to present relevant content in terms of movies, serial, shows, music, etc., to our subscribers with commensurate service level. Our VAS offerings, which extend to 31 channels of different genres in INDIGITAL and 25 channels in NXTDIGITAL (HITS), address our subscribers’ requirements, helping us to keep them engaged and satisfied.

Moreover, we are also in the process of exploring partnership with relevant OTT players to extend a holistic experience to our subscribers.

How has the advertiser response been during the lockdown period?

Our business – both cable TV and HITS – is driven largely by subscription. Our advertising revenues are nominal, by virtue of the nature of the business and haven’t seen any significant change either way.

What kind of programs are people watching during these times on your cable network? How are you providing new or fresh content to break the monotony?

It is always our constant endeavour to bring to our subscribers relevant content which is not only entertaining but also informative and useful. During the lockdown period, we have been working round the clock to extend a wide range of genres of content right from education to entertainment serials to “live” darshan of temples in addition to wide variety of movies and music. Besides our broadcaster partners, we also have deep relationships with India’s leading content production companies like Shemaroo and One take Media – who’ve provided differentiated content.

Collecting subscription fees would have been a challenge for the last 2 months. How have you managed to ensure that the subscription charges are coming on time?

As I mentioned, innovation and customer centricity are the key pivots around which our strategies revolve. As in the past, we had pioneered the transition into “prepaid” mode, which helped us get ahead of the curve in the industry; similarly, we had started migrating into digital modes of subscription collection before the pandemic set in. We partnered with Easebuzz, a digital payment platform, for our LCO partners and trained them adequately through innovative mediums, which enabled us to manage our online collection during this lockdown period. So, our LCOs can collect their subscription amounts in a contactless manner – through net banking, credit and debit cards, Google Pay, UPI, Paytm and the like. I’m also happy to share that we have recently tied up with LazyPay, another leading payment platform in the country, for our direct subscribers.

How have you been addressing customer grievances during the lockdown period? How are you managing your field staff to attend to customer complaints as social distancing norms have to be followed? 

Clearly, this business is driven by technology and technology can only be as successful as its reliability in terms of system and processes. So, one of the key focus areas for us has been to proactively put in place a Business Continuity Plan (BCP), which could ensure that the business goes on seamlessly even amidst this COVID-19 pandemic. Hence, we had put in place a very well planned BCP much before the pandemic set in. The plan was implemented in 3 levels – namely, L1, L2 and L3 with low, moderate and high degree of restrictions, in line with government guidelines, depending on prevailing pandemic situation.

For us, the well-being of all our stakeholders is of utmost importance. Hence, we had circulated precautionary measures about COVID-19 in 12 different vernacular languages so as to create awareness about this pandemic right at the initial phase. Moreover, we had laid down very specific set of guidelines for our employees, business partners and cable operators and trained them through different online mode to percolate it to the last mile. We carry out regular audit of each of these guidelines in order to ensure highest level of compliance. This approach has helped us tremendously to carry on business and yet being safe and healthy. My compliments to all the team members – employees as well as our LCOs and their teams for doing a wonderful job during these challenging times. They are the true heroes!

With not much print advertising happening, brands are moving towards digital to reach their audiences. Has that affected the flow of brands advertising in your cable network?

Our business – both cable TV and HITS – is driven largely by subscription and we haven’t experienced much change in our ad revenue vertical.

Content creation has been the biggest challenge as no production work has been happening. The government has invited production houses to submit proposals to start shooting work with strict guidelines. What is your take on this and how will this work?

This COVID-19 pandemic has really changed the outlook in every segment of life globally. Content creation/ film shoot is no exception. A “New Normal” has emerged post this pandemic and we all must embrace this new normal so as to steer our way forward while being safe and healthy.

I think concepts like working with smaller crews, harnessing digital technology to take care of work remotely, maintaining social distancing while being in production, monitoring health of all crew & cast, sanitizing the unit, etc., are absolute need of the hour. Whilst it may sound a bit too much at the beginning, I am sure that with the passage of time all these practices will become the new normal and our way of life, since nothing is more valuable than human lives.


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