Exclusive | Comedy need not be a niche, its a subset: Comedy Central's Palia

It was about two years ago that television media giant Viacom18 opened another door of entry to its viewers homes via Comedy Central; a channel that promised to keep the laughter going 24x7. While regular English GEC’s have a dose of comedy in their content platter, Comedy Central, when launched, was believed to be the channel that would surpass the genre notions and norms, with dedicated focus on, as the channel name suggest, comedy. As the channel enters its second year of operations, it still believes in minimal yet effective publicity. In lieu of completion of two years, Comedy Central India in inviting fans to wish the channel, Happy 

Birthday, Comedy Central style and express their humorous side through pictures, videos and poems. The most innovative birthday greeting will win a chance of a lifetime, sky diving in Dubai or Scuba Diving in the exotic Andaman.

Adgully caught up with Ferzad Palia, SVP and GM, English Entertainment, Viacom18 on the second anniversary of Comedy Central to know how the two years have been, the lessons learnt and more.

When the channel launched, the market sense was that it might be a challenge for the channel custodians to get the audience who were not exposed to these kind of content. Commenting on this, Palia said, “Actually no, the audience were exposed to these kinds of  shows (content), they liked that and that was one of the insights which made us launch 24 hours service for this content. The genre is working because it has a very different set of audience, we can't catch them every day but we want to be realistic”.

As a 24 hour comedy centric offering, the channel has somewhere managed to make space for itself, in the already cluttered English general entertainment space. Sharing some of the milestones and achievements gained by Comedy Central, Palia said, “The good part was we knew what we were offering, since one was to clearly make a mark in the English entertainment space, which is not easy! Having said that, we don't fix time-specific milestones; so we knew what we are getting into, what is needed to be done, the challenges and obstacles etc. We knew where we eventually need to get, now whether it was going to happen in two months, six months, 1 year or 3 years, it has to happen! When we say comedy, it's a largest genre in the English entertainment, it's 24 hours of entertainment for mass and it's not niche at all. We are competing with the likes of Star World and Zee Cafe. It has similar kind of audience, the pattern of few shows are also the same, so there is competition. However, we managed to differentiate ourselves!”

Over the two years, the channel, like others, has had its share of statistical studies and lessons. Speaking about the time spent the channel is currently working on, Palia stated that, it almost the same currency - it may be 5 minutes for one week, while 25-30 minutes the next week. “There are channels, that have been registering 100 minutes, there are evident flaws in the system which comes back to play you. The day advertisers will start buying English channels with ratings as benchmark , they'll be doing biggest disservice, and we do not have bad of ratings!  Even Golden Globe Awards received great ratings but I am not going to say that it's bigger than the Oscars. At the end of the day, what matters is the audience who just watch the shows and let it be bigger shows or smaller shows”.

According to Palia, while Suits draws maximum engagement for the channel, the other shows which work well are Anger Management and Saturday Night Live. “We are planning to start a new season of Saturday Night Live close to US. Ugly Betty is also doing well; however, many people in the circuit say ‘what's wrong, Ugly Betty was aired long back’ etc. But that's the beauty of comedy, understandably, people love watching Friends again and again”, added Palia.

Palia strongly believes that comedy is the only genre that has repeat value compared  to drama shows as its light hearted and beautiful. According to him, it's a lifestyle!

Speaking about Comedy Central’s TG and whether or not it is a male-skewed channel, Palia said, “We have different TG's watching shows at different time, and comedy is a genre which appeals to everyone from 15 year old collegian to 60 year old retired person. There are audiences who want me to do more with the channel and I think there are no skews to be honest,. There is no strategy in the world to prove that male enjoys humour more than the women, I don't think so as comedy is universal”.

Market senses also stimulate a thought of the channel being an urban-focused one. Palia however stated that response for Comedy Central in the other markets is picking up. “We haven't focused too much on the other markets but we are available. I think it will take about 12 years for all English channels to start focusing on the market”, he added.

Palia also spoke about the channel’s advertising being priced viz a viz the competition. He said, “We are 25% higher than others, marketers are happy to pay us because it's a differentiated offering and that's what we as a network believe that differentiation is the key! It's not a niche, why should comedy be a niche, but I believe it's a subset”.

Comedy central has been involved in numerous marketing initiatives from time-to-time as need be. “We are doing a very unusual concept called Destruct-O-Matic, where we created a robot which you can really go and hit for Anger Management where people can take out their frustration online by hitting it, an App which we created. We also got involved with funny shows, funny big launches, ice creams, donuts for the channel. Along with LIVE Viacom18 (a subdivision under Integrated Network Solutions), the channel did Chuckle Festival last year that was about touring stand-up comedians in the country. It took comedians like Gabriel Iglesias, Eddie Ifft, Paul Varghese to do shows in Mumbai, Delhi and Bengaluru. The whole idea is to build love and respect for the brand.” he said. Comedy Central also rolled out its first consumer product line / merchandising stint - South Park T-shirts - last year and are looking at the idea very aggressively with plans to build on that as it continues to contribute to the on-ground events in various forms. The channel boasts of having over 2 million fans on Facebook and around 50,000 followers on Twitter.
On the content front, in the second year, is the channel looking up developing Indian content? Responding to that, Palia said, “We are trying, but not succeed yet. However, we not going to put up anything till the time we feel it matches up with the international content”. He also states that as far as getting into AFP’s is concerned; monetization will be the decision maker. Palia also mentioned that getting into movies is not on their priority list. “Going forward, one is to upscale our ‘live’ business and hence we are planning to do much in that direction instead. We want to create our own assets on platforms like online (websites) and mobiles”, he added.

Speaking about what he thinks needs to be done in order to improve the audience – connect, Palia said, “We clearly want to make a mark in our consumer’s mind, that's simple and hard and that's why our effort is there for building brand, doing things differently, having fun at ourselves. The audiences love us and we know our audience! We are not scared of putting up the shows which were there in 80's, neither are we scared of shows which aired yesterday in US and reviews were not great. It's not necessary that the show which didn't work well in US will not work here in India. The show Outsource got cancelled in US after one season but is doing well in India, simply because it’s a great show! We don't work only on shows which were big, a show like Awkward, which very few people knew about, is doing well today”.

Palia states that they work for similar audience like other English GEC's but we differentiate themselves. “When we talk about ratings, one week we are like the King in the jungle and the next week we are last on the ladder. So, this happens to everyone, there is no trend in ratings. I am happy to challenge everyone who can show me a sustained trend of 3-4 weeks. It's not easy business to be in, as you are not looking just at one set of audience but you are competing with every channel, a consumers time (as they have thousand options) and not just the television box (other mediums as well)”, he added.

Concluding our conversation, Palia wished that in 2014, the channel makes huge amount of profits, a genuine robust monitoring system comes in place , which can actually manage English channels and  going forward media buyers  buy effectively . Amen...


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