Sudhanshu Vats, group chief executive of Viacom18 Media Pvt. Ltd, is pleased with the launch of Colors Tamil entertainment channel last week. With this the broadcasting company has added another language to its existing bouquet of television channels in Kannada, Marathi, Gujarati, Bangla and Odia. In Kannada, Colors has been the leader for close to three years with a 36% share of the market and launched a second channel in the language last year called Colors Super.

Growth via aggressive foray into regional markets is an integral strategy at Viacom, says Vats. “We want to grow deeper and wider in these markets. By wider I mean more channels in other languages and deeper indicates new genres in the existing regional languages we are present in," he explains. Broadcaster Sony Pictures Networks is also mulling a Marathi language entertainment channel but is not yet ready to share details.

In a first, Star India Pvt. Ltd, which runs a clutch of regional language entertainment channels (apart from flagship Hindi Star Plus), is planning to offer cricket commentary for the Indian Premier League (IPL) in regional languages.

In an earlier interview, Star’s managing director Sanjay Gupta said that IPL this season will be available in Tamil, Telugu, Kannada and Bengali. And this won’t be dubbed commentary but each of these languages will get a separate sports channel. “Cricket has, so far, been seen either through the lens of English or Hindi. If we localize it more, we have the potential to grow the fan base dramatically," Gupta had said.

Clearly, the growth opportunity for these media networks lies in the regional markets. And this is true not just for television but for print and digital media as well. The latest Indian Readership Survey (IRS) released last month also highlights the boom in regional print media markets. It said that newspapers in the country added 110 million new readers between 2014 and 2017 on the back of an increase in literacy rates, population and number of publications.

According to the survey, based on a sample size of 320,000 households, newspaper readership saw a 40% increase, with 40 million new urban readers and 70 million new rural readers. A chunk of these clearly came from regional language markets. The survey pointed to an 83% jump in total readership for Odia dailies, followed by Telugu newspapers which recorded a 63% growth.

In digital media, too, consumers want to consume content in their preferred language. Little surprise then that last year Bengali video streaming service Hoichoi made its debut. Speaking to Mint earlier, its co-founder Vishnu Mohta said that the future of OTT (over-the-top) streaming was in regional language content. “Nearly 75% of the new internet customers are coming from tier-2 and tier-3 towns. And 70-80% of them want to consume content in their own language," he said. In earlier columns, heads of other video streaming platforms had said they were betting big on regional languages. Viacom18 Digital Ventures’ video platform Voot, for instance, offers content in languages such as Kannada, Marathi, Tamil, Bangla and Gujarati. It’s chief operating officer Gaurav Gandhi had said that as digital video goes deeper, the biggest growth will come from going even more regional.

Rajiv Vaidya, chief executive officer of movie streaming service Spuul, also said that a majority of the next 200 million internet users will consist of those who would like to watch content in their native language. And the regional markets are growing precisely for this reason. “Nearly 60% of the people communicate in their native language, 39% in Hindi and the remaining 1% in English," argues Vats. Agrees Yogesh Sharma, leader-technology, media and telecom, at tax and accountancy firm BDO. According to him, language changes every 100km and people like to consume entertainment in their first language. “Your first language drives media and entertainment consumption and growth," he says.

Interestingly, regional markets for TV are also showing growth owing to better measurement by the viewership monitoring agency Broadcast Audience Research Council (Barc) India. The earlier viewership measurement agency focused more on urban and North India markets that were Hindi-centric. “Now BARC is measuring rural and regional markets," says Viacom18’s Vats.

Besides, regional markets are also seeing growth as national broadcasters spread their wings in regions earlier fed by local firms. “National players have the capacity both in terms of finances and content quality to drive up viewership," he adds. In fact, Viacom’s film division is now launching projects in Marathi, Bangla and Kannada besides exploring partnerships in Tamil and Telugu. Clearly, on the back of growth in viewership, regional advertising is growing too. There is a growing propensity to spend as incomes increase, leading to purchasing power. “So advertising is being developed for these markets as both consumption and entertainment grow," Vats says.

Summing up the growth in regional media, C.V.L. Srinivas, country manager, WPP India and CEO, GroupM South Asia, says that regional has been gaining in prominence across media formats. “Unlike the past when mass marketers largely focused on pan India options and topped up with regional media, today in many cases media plans are being built bottom-up. Marketers realise the nuances that each region brings and plan their marketing and media investments accordingly."

This is also the result of the availability today of regional media and vernacular content platforms. Clearly, the demand is fuelling supply and vice versa. “Media measurement is also more broad-based today with BARC covering rural in addition to urban and IRS having a more robust sample this year with better representation across town classes," he concludes.

Shuchi Bansal is Mint’s media, marketing and advertising editor. Ordinary Post will look at pressing issues related to all three. Or just fun stuff. Respond to this column at shuchi.b@livemint.com

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