New bill of fare for TV viewers

New bill of fare for TV viewers

In the beginning, there was Doordarshan: Buniyaad and Nukkad in the evenings and Mahabharat on Sunday mornings. Zee came along in 1992, Sony joined the fray in 1995. In 2000, Star Plus, which till then mostly showed American soaps such as The Bold and the Beautiful, became a Hindi channel and introduced the daily soap (as opposed to weekly episodes) and the high-stakes game show Kaun Banega Crorepati. Thus, the general entertainment channel (GEC) was born.

If we make a generational leap—the kind that is frequently seen in our chart-topping daily soaps—to 2008, we see 11 channels in the general entertainment space (click here to see channel rankings). Two new channels, 9X and NDTV Imagine—both well-funded and led by experienced hands—are locked in a fierce battle for the No. 3 slot. They will soon face competition from Colors—to be launched in July by Viacom18, a joint venture between Viacom Inc. and Network18 Group.

Alva Brothers Entertainment Pvt. Ltd, the holding company of production house Miditech Pvt Ltd, has entered into a 50:50 joint venture with Turner International to launch a channel by 2008-end. Reliance Entertainment Pvt. Ltd is launching a slew of regional entertainment channels, which will further fragment the audience base. The firm may also consider a Hindi GEC.

For advertisers, increased competition is a double-edged sword, says Punitha Arumugam, group CEO, Madison Media. “As the space gets more competitive, ad rates on individual channels go down as there is intense competition to get an advertiser on board. However, because there is fragmentation of audience, we have to advertise on more channels and the effective cost of a campaign goes up. The cost per 10-second spot goes down, but the cost per rating point and the cost of reaching a person goes up."

“Fragmentation is inevitable. Even as a genre, the share of GEC has reduced over the years. But, the market is also growing," says Rajesh Jain, who heads the entertainment practice at consulting firm KPMG. “Today, the key entry barrier for a new channel is very high distribution costs, which has pushed up the break-even point. On the content side, differentiation is not really happening. Competition will certainly increase the quality of content, as people will start experimenting a lot. We will also see channels trying to carve niches within the segment."

Zarina Mehta is already doing that. The head of UTV Bindass is tired of hearing people refer to her channel as a GEC. “We are not a GEC, we are a youth entertainment channel," she says, “and I can’t emphasize this enough". Her channel targets 15-24-year-olds and, for the marketer trying to reach that age group, “there is no better platform than Bindass", Mehta says.

The critical challenge is figuring out what people want to watch after a day’s work. Indian families watch TV together—more than 90% of households are estimated to be single-TV households.

“Differentiation and disruptive programming are our focus," says Rajesh Kamat, CEO of Colors . Indrani Mukerjea, founder and CEO, INX Media Pvt. Ltd, says: “I don’t want to be different. I just want to be bigger, better and fresher." NDTV Imagine Ltd CEO Sameer Nair says: “Reality shows can be easily duplicated. I think the challenge is to create high-quality fiction that can’t easily be duplicated."

Clearly, everyone is taking a different road to the same destination.

‘We have to close the gap with Star Plus and Zee significantly’


NDTV Imagine started out at No. 3, much ahead of the rest, but now it seems to be losing the slot to 9X?

Not really. We just completed a quarter and, from the day of the launch to this day, we have been a clear No. 3 during prime time. When we launched, we were clear about two things: We wanted to do differentiated, original programming and build brand association with our programming and Imagine. So, we announced all our programming before the launch, and put the spotlight on Ramayan.

Weekly ratings going up and down are minor blips on the larger radar. Now, being No. 3 doesn’t have much meaning because No. 1 and 2 (Star Plus and Zee) are far ahead. We have to close that gap significantly.

Are you saying that it is of no concern to you that 9X has been consistently closing the gap with you?

Not really, because they have to use a lot of movies to be able to do that. We don’t do movies. Those are hard to monetize and (the strategy) is not sustainable in the long run. Besides, 9X launched two months ahead of us.

The ratings for ‘Ramayan’ have fallen...

Yes, to a limited extent. The initial curiosity is over, and that has had an effect. But, there will be a revival of interest when the story enters the vanavas (exile) phase.

What is new on the programming front?

In June, we will launch a show called Junoon Kuchh Kar Dikhaane Ka—it is a music-based reality show—and an afternoon soap. Junoon... will see three music genres—folk, Sufi and film music—compete with each other. Rahat (Nusrat) Fateh Ali Khan, Anand Raj Anand and Ila Arun are the judges.

Which have been your top shows so far?

Nachle Ve with Saroj Khan has done well, so has Jasuben Jayantilal Joshi Ki Joint Family. Jasuben... is very popular in Gujarat, Dharam Veer skews towards Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh. Ramayan has a very uniform skew.

In terms of programming, what seems to be working right now?

Ever since we started Ramayan, everyone else seems to have jumped on to the bandwagon. But, soon there will be a lot more focus on doing good fiction. The daily soap will have to give way to this new breed of high-quality fiction.

Distribution is a new beast you have to tackle.

Distribution has always been important but, now, it has become very difficult as the analogue cable is clogged. Hopefully, the direct-to-home market will expand fast... The moment you have more addressable homes, you will also have more revenue realization. That is critical.

‘We are confident of our programming’

INDRANI MUKERJEA, Founder and CEO, INX Media Pvt Ltd

Your ratings seem to have picked up finally. Are you happy with the way it has panned out?

Yes, our ratings have always grown slowly, but consistently. Critics were wondering initially why we were growing so slow but, if you ask me, that is the only way to grow. You have to build and consolidate your audience base. We have grown by offering bigger, better and fresher entertainment.

You have launched ‘Jai Maa Vaishno Devi’ and you have ‘Mahabharat’ lined up. Is the mythology push a result of the success of ‘Ramayan’ on rival channel NDTV Imagine?

We had commissioned Jai Maa Vaishno Devi in August 2007, long before Imagine launched or Ramayan achieved its so-called success. It was a deliberate strategy to build the audience base to a critical level and then pull out our trump cards. Now, you will see them one by one.

But, we were clear from the beginning that our package would include all of this. We were clear that we would play a lot of blockbuster Bollywood movies, which we continue to do. We knew we would have a lot of singing and dancing in the form of reality shows, we knew we wanted a lot of drama and comedy.

People say running movies can neither be monetized nor is it sustainable in the long run...

Completely false. What is true is that you have to be smart about your movie deals. I buy the rights to a movie for five years. I recover the costs from one airing alone. Then, I syndicate the movie to two or three other channels. It has been very profitable for us. At the end of the day, a GRP is a GRP. We run a general entertainment channel. We have to give the audience all kinds of entertainment.

How has the DLF Indian Premier League (IPL) affected you? Any strategy to counter the onslaught?

So far, we have not been affected at all. We have been growing during the IPL weeks. In fact, I think we are the only GEC to air the IPL commercials. That reflects the confidence we have in ourselves. I am not saying we won’t be affected...there will be big match days and there might be a blip. But not to the extent that we need to get worried.

What shows have done well for you and what are coming up?

Chak De Bachche and Yeh Hai Jalwa, two reality shows, have done very well. Balaji production Kya Dil Mein Hai has done well and, now, Jai Maa Vaishno Devi is, of course, doing very well. We now have two-and-a-half hours of prime time programming. By October, we will add another one-and-a-half hours... Yeh Hai Jalwa ends in June, and we have a big reality show—a talent hunt—coming up.

Are you worried about the increasing competition?

Well, fragmentation is bound to happen. But, I think, the window will shut soon. The players that will come in this year will perhaps be the last of the GEC launches. We are glad that we are already in this space. And, the universe of TV viewers is expanding, ad spends are also expanding. And, as I said, we are confident of our programming.

‘15-24-year-olds are driving our ratings’

ZARINA MEHTA, CEO, GenX Entertainment

Bindass has spent seven months in the general entertainment space. How has the going been so far?

Firstly, I would like to clarify that Bindass is not a general entertainment channel; it is a youth entertainment channel. Our target group is very clearly defined as 15-24-year-olds, and they are driving our ratings. We are a speciality channel strongly focused on the youth. So, for an advertiser who is trying to reach India’s young people, there is no better platform than Bindass.

What do you do differently in terms of programming and marketing the channel, and what new shows are coming up?

Our shows are all tailored to the needs of the youth, based on our extensive knowledge of our target group. We do a lot of ground events, and we have a massive college contact programme. All of these help build brand association. The Airtel Bindass India Concert with Shah Rukh Khan was a big success. We introduced a show—Idea Hass Ley India Comedy Gang War—to exploit the knowledge that the youth operate in tribes. This has inspired several shows now. Our Bindass Go To Space contest was a major hit.

We have five new shows coming up in June. Both fiction and non-fiction. All I can say at this stage is that all of them are new ideas that have not been tried before.

Apart from programming, what else do you have to do that is unique to your target group?

We have to always look fresh—we keep changing our look and feel every six to nine months. This is very important. We have to be like our target group. We have to change with them. We also have to reach out to them through platforms other than TV. It is a generation on the go. We will soon launch a major Web initiative as well.

‘The Indian audience is tired of copycat programming’


Coming in at No. 12, what are you counting on to stand out in the crowd?

Firstly, we are supported by two media giants that understand this space very well. And they are both strategic investors in the venture—which is to say, they will dedicate time, energy, expertise and resources to grow the business, unlike a purely financial investor.

Secondly, we hope to bring differentiated and disruptive programming to the Indian audience which, by all indications, is tired of copycat and “me too" programming.

Thirdly, we already have an audience base. We run MTV, Nickelodeon and VH1 in India, and we should be able to use the media network to our advantage among audiences, advertisers and distributors.

Can you flesh out your programming philosophy and strategy for us?

We want to create a channel that is vibrant, with a pan-India appeal, and with differentiated content. We recognize that emotion is the overriding factor in general entertainment. The channel is called Colors, and the tag line is Jasbaat Ke Rang.

Another key focus is enabling cohesive viewing. This is important as most viewing households are single-TV homes. Another focus area is bridging the gap between what is liked in the cities and what is liked in the smaller towns and villages.

What does the pre-launch programming line-up look like?

I can only reveal the names of two shows right now. One is a period drama set in 1942, called Mohe Rang De. This will be a half-hour show, daily. Another is a big reality show called Khatron Ke Khiladi. The format for this show is Fear Factor, which is an Endemol property. This will feature Akshay Kumar, along with 13 girls, including Yana Gupta, Sonali Kulkarni, Pooja Bedi, Nethra Raghuraman, Tapur and Tupur Chatterji and Dipannita Sharma. This will be a one-hour show, shot in South Africa.

What are the targets you have set for yourself?

We recognize that it is a difficult market. However, our programming is disruptive and we will have good distribution, with group company DEN giving us an advantage in Delhi and Uttar Pradesh. Having said that, shifting viewer loyalties is not easy, and it is a time-consuming process. But, we are very clear that we want to be a formidable player in the Top 3. We hope to achieve this by 2008-end.

Will you be using Viacom’s international content?

We have access to their intellectual property, and we certainly intend to utilize them at some stage. But not during the launch stage.