Archive for May, 1999

The big sellout ahead

Wednesday, May 19th, 1999

May 19, 1999

How advertisers’ money and TV channels will create Cricket 2.0. And very soon.

The World Cup is looming, and advertisers are spending a zillion rupees on anything to do with it. Cricket, as we all know, at least in India, has been completely taken over by advertisers and television. Sponsors and TV channels organise tournaments, dictate schedules, and are the sole reason why Indian cricketers have played themselves to exhaustion over the last six months, drastically lowering their chances of being in peak condition for the Cup. But, this is how things will be from now on. To me, the future looks like this:In the very near future, sponsors and advertisers will be selecting the Indian team. In fact, given the current form of at least one senior player, maybe they are already. Players endorsing the largest number of brands, and players with the largest amount of corporate money riding on them (the two are not necessarily the same) will be the first preferences. If this list does not have at least one player who appears in the tournament sponsor’s ads, the sponsor will have the right to have his candidate included. Similarly, for the two soft drink companies (although it is highly unlikely that their celebrity endorsers will not have been selected in the first stage). If the tournament sponsor does not have a cricketer appearing in his ads currently, he can have any person of his choice included in the list of 16 players. For example, if Manisha Koirala endorses the sponsor’s product, he can have her included in the team.

After this first stage of selection, which should take care of about 12 of the 16, the selectors will announce a list of 10 players who could get into the team, but are currently not appearing in any ads. A week’s time will be given to corporates to get in touch with the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) for advertising contracts with any of these players. Corporates will also have the right to nominate players to the list if they are willing to put their money behind someone who is not in the announced 10. Four out of these 10 probables will be selected based on advertisers’ bids. The BCCI will negotiate on the players’ behalf and will keep the first year’s advertising fees.

This will be a better selection process than the one traditionally followed in India. For instance, advertisers will have no regional biases; they will simply opt for better players. Except that they will be more likely to choose more “presentable” players. Good young players who have hair in their ears or have a bad stammer will stand a lower chance of getting in than handsome mediocrities. But India hopefuls, once they understand the system, will take care of this problem on their own.

The only other reason this process may not end up selecting the best possible team is if the tournament sponsor nominates Ms Koirala or the old man in the MTV elevator ads to the 16. Now TV logic suggests that they have to be in the final 11 too: this will increase viewership by lakhs of households. But, what about the team’s performance? Not to worry. Technology is already available that will allow a regular player to open the batting, but the telecast will show the MTV elevator man batting, mapping his face and body on to the regular batsman. The data-crunching required will cause a slight time lag between the square cut and the image of the square cut, but the audience won’t know. Similarly, the TV scoreboard will show MTV Elevator Man”, while the actual scoreboard at the stadium will show “Amay Khurasia”

The next step, with advances in digital technology, will be that whenever India and Pakistan play each other, viewers in India will see India winning and vice versa. This will allow corporates in India to show Sachin scoring a century every time he comes out to bat, and in Pakistan, they will have Akram take hat-tricks in every innings. The effects on business fortunes will be dramatic. And, no one will ever know what the real match was like, since advertisers will agree to release ads in newspapers only if they report on the relevant TV version.

And then, after a while, advertisers will dispense with real players — there will be no game actually played — and only telecast the proceedings according to advertising strategy. Matches will be clustered around the festival seasons, or whenever corporates need an ad burst. And, Sachin will never have any back problems, Dravid will never retire.

Knowledge without tears

Wednesday, May 5th, 1999

May 05, 1999

How to sound clever about the latest business books, and read your ragmags too.

Every time I take a flight, I buy a film magazine. After experimenting extensively with news and business magazines, both Indian and foreign, novels and non-fiction, I have decided that it’s Stardust & Co that best satisfy my intellectual needs on the Mumbai-Delhi flight. Initially, it was a bit embarrassing — the man next to me is poring over this fat hardcover book about millennial management practices, and I’m reading Mamta Kulkarni on casual sex and Rajkumar Santoshi. But, over time, I have shed my inhibitions and in fact may be developing a bit of a superior attitude about my in-flight reading habits.

What follows is a practical guide for people who can’t get time to read film magazines on flights because they have to read fat management books to become more efficient and make more money. It’s true: you can read one fat management book plus one film magazine on a two-hour flight and have a healthy and prosperous career!

Firstly, all management books are written by people used to a certain form of business writing, which is that every report must start with an executive summary. So Chapter 1 in the normal business tome summarises everything that the next 500 pages are going to be about. Read the first chapter, and you know the book. In some cases, you may not even need to read the full chapter. Chances are it has a diagram or a flowchart tucked away somewhere which tells it all. Mega-guru Michael Porter is a classic example. Each of his Chapter 1s contains a simple diagram which gives in clear graphic form all that he is going to say in the next 56 chapters. Memorise that diagram. This should take you between five to 15 minutes, depending on whether you have to mug up a diagram or read the full chapter.

Now, to appear truly knowledgeable before your boss or peers, you need some examples to back up your by-now-unimpeachable theoretical expertise, stuff like “Welch used the inverted-pyramid model of critical-path re-engineering in GE’s media business and improved eyeball share by 32 per cent in two years. What he did was…”This is where these writers play dirty with you. They never give detailed examples in Chapter 1.

But not to worry. What they do give are sentences like “As we shall see in the chapter on inverted pyramids, GE used this concept extremely successfully.”Underline all such sentences that mention companies well-known in India (you’re not going to score any brownie points by telling your boss about Meniscus Motorware even though they paradigm-shifted the hell out of the competition) or are based in Silicon Valley. When you finish Chapter 1, track down the underlined references through the index at the end of the book and read up those paragraphs. This should take you another 10 minutes or so.

You are now home and dry, and the plane hasn’t even taken off yet; they’re still showing you the oxygen mask procedure. Spend a few more minutes to reach god-like status and yet have enough flight time left to gather deep understanding of critical issues regarding Urmila Matondkar or Sunil Shetty.

Flip the pages rapidly, scanning for numbers and percentage signs. Most of these will appear in the first few chapters, when the author is still selling his concept to the reader with the help of all sorts of statistics. Keep a lookout for many zeroes in a row; these are the big numerical mothers that can make the difference in your next job interview. Underline them or, better still, bookmark them with ads torn from your film magazine. Glance through these again once your flight lands and you are in the car heading for Nariman Point or Nehru Place, so you remember it all when the occasion arises. Nothing can help you along the career and monetary ladder more than stuff like “I was reading about this study in America that found that 33 per cent of fresh MBAs believe that the Old Testament should be required reading in Strategy courses.”

But when you mention this, never reveal that you read it in a widely available management book. Say vaguely: “I think it was in a journal. HBR? Or was it the McKinsey one?”By now you have already convinced everyone that you spend all your after-office hours reading brick-sized management books, and this is the knockout punch: you also read the journals, which carry the stuff that gets turned into those fat tomes a year later!

The plane is now airborne, the seat belt signs have been switched off. Reach boldly for your Stardust, push your seat back. And get to know what really happened on the sets of Goondaraaj ki Kasam.