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Part 2: Star TV’s Gurtej Sandhu On Video Advertising, Partnerships, His Role

gurtejsandhu1The ongoing restructuring at Star Group, the subsidiary of Murdoch’s NewsCorp, has extended Star India into the financial services domain and heightened its importance as it becomes directly under the control of the London headquarters.

“We are looking at significant expansion now and will be much more aggressive and focused on the digital front,” Gurtej Sandhu, SVP (Digital & IT), STAR India told Medianama. In Part 2 of this interview, he discusses operational strategy, commercials going online, his changing role at Star India and lessons learnt. Part 1 is here.

What is your role at Star?

I handle both IT and the digital and wireless teams. The digital and wireless division is about 30-people strong. I am most passionate about the digital stuff and that’s where I will always be in relation to my job. Our challenge is that we have so much to do, you can’t really give attention to all of them. I will now work at a level that does not allow me to be so deeply involved in every single area of operations. I will play a wider role at Star once I am back from Hong Kong.

I am putting a structure in place which will allow the team to grow and expand. The structure has not been finalised, my responsibilities will be fundamentally changed from what I am currently doing. The digital level responsibility that I am going to take with Star will be more to do with how Star deals with News Corp, and News Corp relationships.


How are you monetising Star Player online?

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It’s a combination of things. One is a very simple model for advertising: take Shah Rukh Khan – any video around him could be up for advertisers. Second type is a CPM rate. At this stage we are not in the CPC game. I am not saying we are not going to do it but from the campaigns that we run, we have got such a high percentage of click-throughs, we do not need to get into a discussion about CPCs.

We had a “Capture a smile” contest with Sony Ericsson where we superimposed a camera on the video, you could take a picture and if you capture a smile, you could post it up and the user who caught the best smile received a prize. We also have deals with Reliance, Airtel, Nokia and Tata Teleservices’ broadband service. We have partnered with a multi-brand large FMCG company to take 5-7 brands onto Star Player. We are tying it into a TV deal at the same time.


How would the FMCG’s products be advertised? An ad before the video begins?

There would be a pre-roll before the video and a tag that would go in between the video. So in a 5 minute video, within 2.5 minutes there would be a superimposed piece which would come in for 5-10 seconds. Then there is a post-roll, when the video has ended and the second video is about to start there would be a smaller piece.

Will this become like commercials between shows? Won’t this affect the experience?

I think just like television to a certain extent, if the experience and content is good enough, then people will take on the ads. In the end what it comes down to is, we have to commercialise to make this viable – either through subscription or advertising. From an ad perspective, we know exactly what works, we’ve monitored enough to know when advertising is too much. So we are very strong on the user experience so even in terms of the ad content, we are not saturating by a long stretch.

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We are limiting the ads that we run for the reason being that we dont want to reduce the user experience. So it’ll be 2 ads in 5-7 minutes of content. The ad will last 20 seconds as a banner and the one at the end of the video will be another 30 seconds. We are limiting the ad inventory we are giving out and we know we can increase it once scalability is gained.

We know that if there is a 20 min video which is split into 7 minute videos, people will consume the second and third videos. So, in a sense, we are careful but we know the audience is still accepting it.


You’ve told us about the launches, can you give us the bigger picture of Star TV’s digital strategy?

Across News Corp, there is no part of our media empire that does not have a strong digital media strategy and India is no different. We are now looking to push very strongly on the mobile side, predominantly based on the fact that so much of the access in India comes from the medium. India is now positioned to have access to the internet from the mobile, probably much more than other countries, so it could teach some lessons to the world as opposed to learning them.

But on the online side, we can learn at lot from News Corp companies such as Hulu of having our content live online very quickly after broadcast and giving an opportunity for it to be consumed both in India and outside. We are in a position where Star India’s content is, within 3-4 hrs after transmission on air, available on our video products.

Why not get Hulu here instead? hulu

Hulu has such as large task and opportunity in the area they are in. Their business focus is on English content, they are looking to expand into Europe first and then Asia. It’s more around timing and, from a Star perspective, wanting to move a lot quicker.

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What is the traction seen on Star Player?

For the Koffee with Karan show, it went up to 150,000 views within 2 days. Star Player showcased Mariah Carey‘s album 2 days before it was premiered. We are planning to get other artists on the same lines as well. (Mariah Carey’s Obsessed is here)


So you are focussing on content building and partnerships?

We have so much left to do, that is the challenge. We have a lot of our own archived content that we have to build out. Second is content from outside Star’s circle such as Mariah Carey’s.

We already have partnerships with the likes of OneIndia and Bharatstudent and are embedding our players into different places. In addition we already have bits on Facebook.

Also we are always engineering and developing on top of this. We have added the feature to record shows on Star Player and are building up the experience so it is the closest to TV that you can get. You can watch all you want, quickly. You can comment and build a community around it. We experimented with shows and approach. If you take the youth programs such as Star One shows, we have tremendous communities around them.

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Note: Star Player has been upgraded to Star Player Plus which allows users to record the videos streamed on it and save them online.


Part 1: Star TV’s Gurtej Sandhu On Video Apps For Facebook, Orkut, Desktop; Mobile, GetPlus, WAP

STAR Player Puts Content On Webdunia; The Independent Video Aggregator?
STAR Plus Premiers Two Shows Online Before TV
STAR India VP (Mobile) Anand Raman To Join Mobile Payment Startup Eko

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