New Delhi: Its big television premiere for Baahubali 2: The Conclusion is still a few weeks away but Sony Pictures Networks India Pvt. Ltd (SPN) already has a reason to rejoice. According to data from the Broadcast Audience Research Council (BARC), the two movie channels of the network, Sony Max and Sony Wah, are at the top two positions in the Hindi movies category for the 2-8 September week, with 457,375 and 435,247 impressions, respectively.

Impressions refer to the number of individuals in thousands of a target audience who viewed an event, averaged across minutes. BARC India is the country’s TV viewership monitoring agency.

Sony Max also recorded the top average weekly gross rating points (GRPs) of 123 for the urban Hindi-speaking cable and satellite markets for the 15-plus age group from the end of the Indian Premier League season in May till the week of 12-18 August. Second in line was Star Gold with an average weekly GRP of 95. The average weekly time spent on Max for the same period among the same group was 80 minutes compared to Star Gold’s 61 minutes.

In no unclear terms, the network attributes the growth to the success of south Indian dubbed movies.

Star Gold declined to comment on the story.

“Data was telling us conclusively again and again that there is a growing set of audience across the universe which is not averse to this cinema and in fact, enjoying it. That was one data point and to validate the same, we put it as part of our research reality," said Neeraj Vyas, senior vice-president and business head, Sony Max cluster, Sony Pictures Network.

Vyas said even in markets like Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh, there are absolutely no reservations about watching southern cinema. The one important consideration that needs to be made relates to the lip sync and dubbing matching the emotions on screen. But the quality of south Indian cinema itself remains unmatched.

“Most of these south films are technically superior to the films that come out of the Hindi industry. More than anything else, the movies are very smartly made and as an overall package, they have started delving into plots which are not very routine," Vyas said.

The limited reach of south Indian cinema, otherwise a hindrance, also becomes an advantage.

“Once a Shah Rukh, Salman or Aamir Khan film releases, it’s seen by a large mass of viewers. Then if it comes on television after three to four months, you’ll probably watch it once. In between, there is a huge possibility that people have seen the film on a streaming application or a pirated platform," Vyas said, adding that the first premiere of these Hindi films does well but then the ratings drop.

“A south dubbed film is unknown territory. That is why some of them manage ratings higher than Hindi films. So they evoke a lot of curiosity and if you promote them smartly, in a way that they look engaging and interesting, then the ability of south Indian films to give you sustained ratings over a long period of time is a lot," Vyas said.

That explains Max’s “Dil se South" campaign, a newly launched video to promote the intimate, mass-based films of the south that currently play out on a 60:40 ratio in favour of Hindi films on their channels.

However, the success of dubbed south Indian cinema is a phenomenon observed across broadcast networks.

“South Indian dubbed films work very well with our action proposition, they are a blend of Bollywood and high action martial arts and so they offer great action with exaggerated effects, making for easy viewing content and mass appeal," said Abhishek Maheshwari, vice-president and head, Media Networks and Interactive, Disney India, which runs a clutch of television channels including UTV Movies and UTV Action.

“On UTV Action it forms 35-40% of our current programming schedule. We do intend to build our library and our aim is to provide our viewers with premieres of south dubbed movies on the channel regularly," Maheshwari said.

South Indian dubbed movies have brought returns for all broadcast networks. But what given an edge to Sony is its movie collection and choice. Top-rated films on the channel include revenge, vendetta and massy plotline-driven potboilers like Ram Charan-starrer Yevadu and horror comedies like Kanchana 2.

“I think they figured the genre was working out after the success of Baahubali: The Beginning. Earlier, Star Gold was the market leader. Sony’s rise is a phenomenon that has happened in the last eight to nine months," said Sujata Dwibedy, executive vice-president at media buying agency Carat, a part of the Dentsu Aegis Network India Pvt. Ltd. “Dhanush, Surya, Prabhas, (whose films they acquired) are south Indian stars who are known nationally. Plus their high action content brings in male viewership among an audience that is always looking for fresh stories."