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How MTV India Is Changing Its Content Strategy With Digital – Ekalavya Bhattacharya, Head of Digital, MTV India

MTV India and Tata Nano have launched the second season of their digital travel show, Drive with MTV; The first season of the show showing four teams of contestants on road trip across the country over a period of 21 days, was telecast entirely on the web and had 1,41,000 tweets and other social media content generated around it, it claims. The team with the highest social media response, team Nano North won Nanos at the end of the show. We spoke with Ekalavya Bhattacharya, Head of Digital, MTV India to understand their digital strategy. In this first part of our interaction with him, he spoke about how digital is changing their content strategy, the relationship between TV & digital and the challenges with doing shows that are digital only:

Digital Strategy & Programming

MediaNama: How is MTV changing as a TV channel? How important is social media to its core strategy?
Bhattacharya: We are now pretty much catering to a segment called screenagers, who are teenagers but are people who move from one screen to another consuming lot of content across devices like mobile, web, tv, tablet and iPad. As a media channel, we can’t ignore platforms where the youth is. Social media is not just a marketing strategy for us but it is also changing our content strategy. When a guy is glued to Facebook all the time, it doesn’t make sense to ask him to switch to TV to just watch a show. It wont work. Digital strategy brings in changes even in our content strategy.

MediaNama: Is the social media component seen as a key part of planning programming, or does that come in more as a marketing tool?
Bhattacharya: For a show like Roadies that won Mashable.com’s award for most social TV show in the world, we actually made it into a daily show even on the web with content that doesn’t go to the main show. We then track sentiment analysis like the contestant who people are liking or talking about. We give this data to the programming and editing team, who in turn give the contestant driving maximum social conversations more air time in the next episode. So we don’t use social media only for promoting the TV show but also for programming.

How much of a push is there from advertisers and agencies to incorporate social?

Bhattacharya: Most marketing managers today have digital as a KRA because digital and social media have been recognised as powerful media. During the first wave of social media, marketing managers tried to get fans on Facebook. In the second wave, engagement has become key with questions like what are you doing with these fans, how are they helping you, how do you engage with your audience through content. You can’t just engage your audience with ads. It is not content and also not a strategy. Chances of engagement with ad is minuscule. Instead, if you use a branded show like Drive with MTV, from “Buy my product”, the message becomes “My product is so cool”. For instance seeing a Nano passing through deserts of Rajasthan or drive through a pass in the Himalayas over the course of the show, the perception changes. When you have fans, this piece of content can be used to engage with your fans. Branded shows are becoming more important.

We are also doing a style show and another travel show as well. More and more, brands are realising that TV, radio & outdoor are not the only ways of reaching out to audience. Now they are thinking 360 like a live show where teams use a Nano to go from city to city. And instead of 4 members in one team, there will be only three members in each team this season. The teams will do a tweetup to select a fourth member who joins them for that particular trip. Each team is going to do this for each trip that they go on. That’s the live nature that web allows you. This year, we will also air 6 edited episodes of the show on air. We are also escalating it on television for more exposure.

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MediaNama: Is social being seen more as an advertising agency function, or do you see this being a part of a TV Channels approach?
Bhattacharya: When I talk to my television set, it does not talk back to me. But we are trying to talk back to you. Social is getting into the DNA of our channel. We have an entire digital team and don’t outsource the work to agencies. We have a fan base and followers on Facebook and Twitter. Last season, we even crowd sourced the destinations that the Drive teams should travel to. When we are in Rann of Kuchh, we would ask our fans to suggest the next destination. When a destination is chosen, we give credit to the fan who had suggested the destination on social media. We also did an entire ticker Jockey hunt on Twitter. Our tweets are shown directly on TV through a ticker during shows. So we use both Twitter to TV and TV to Twitter.

TV & Digital

MediaNama: How was the response to last season’s Drive With MTV?
Bhattacharya: I loved the response to the last season. The response was a little esoteric considering that it was the first web based reality show in India. Of course, it was not as well as Roadies but we had 141,000 tweets during the show. You can’t compare it with IPL but otherwise it is pretty cool. Primarily, there was lot of content generated because of social media so every tweet with the hash tag, videos, content on your Facebook post – likes and comments, among others got contestants points. We built a Facebook app to track the likes and response that your post, say a photo got from your friends and give you points based on that. So content was being created by users for other users.

MediaNama: What kind of challenges do you have when incorporating social with TV shows?
Bhattacharya: At the end of the day, it comes down to the amount of money that digital business is bringing in especially when you don’t invest outside of social media. The challenge is to monetise the digital space and convince more brands like Nano to brand the digital content.

MediaNama: Why did you decide to do an entire show online?
Bhattacharya: We wanted to twist it around a little, otherwise it would become another travel show. You are talking about shows where you shoot today, edit, colour correct it and then post it tomorrow. The challenge is in getting a simple idea that engages millions. If we did Drive with MTV on TV then people would watch it only for visuals. We wanted a show that was fully social where people are a part of it, something different that would also tap into the audience we had and engage them. We wanted to show a brand and let other brands know that the return on investment (ROI) of doing a web show is pretty high.

MediaNama: What are the challenges that you face with a digital only show?
Bhattacharya: It is the one thing that I love and hate about digital – ROI. Everything is ROI centric. To convince a brand to do a digital only show is difficult. They want to know how many people are viewing the show, asking about the brand/product, drop-out rate, bounce rate, buying the product, using it etc. The advantage of web is also that you have this data so you estimate your judgement based on this data. This is good and bad because people stop from doing cool stuff  just based on data. I ask people to look at digital like a hoarding or TV ad where you can’t measure the returns. But since you can measure it on the web, they are looking at the data as the deciding factor. Brands have to look at web as another medium for engagement. It might not translate to product usage or sale but people talk about your product on the web. Managers and agencies should start looking at this. However, the way to show that you are doing your job now is through clicks, views, etc and convince a brand guy to go digital.

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