A case of limited bandwidth

Written by Sagorika Dasgupta | Updated: Jan 27 2008, 05:21am hrs
Indias television viewers may have reason to cheer this year as a flurry of general entertainment channels (GECs) make their way to Indian homes.

Technological advancements coupled with rising income levels have created a huge demand for entertainment and production houses are rushing in. With media houses branching out last year saw a role reversal of sorts with news channels trying their hands at general entertainment and vice-versa. A news channel like NDTV went niche by entering the lifestyle space with NDTV Good Times and NDTV Imagine (a GEC), which was launched in January. After 9X and 9XM, a GEC and a Bollywood music channel respectively, INX Media plans to roll out its news channel 9X News headed by Vir Sanghvi this year. At least nine more channels are expected from the INX stable between 2008 and 2009. After venturing into the print space, Zee Group added an extra wing to its bouquet of channels with Zee Next positioned as the younger sister of Zee TV. UTV is trying to lure youngsters with Bindass. Besides these, American media conglomerate Viacom will be launching two GECs this year and Marathi newspaper Sakal too is launching two infotainment channels. With the glut of channels, will viewers necessarily be spoilt for choice Almost all channels are lining up a host of shows ranging from music-based reality shows to a wide variety of soaps. So, if theres Mission Ustaad, Rock the Dhun and Dhoom Macha De on 9X, Zee Next and NDTV Imagine respectively, there are family dramas like Dahhej (9X), Ek Thi Raajkumari (Zee Next) and Ek Packet Umeed on NDTV Imagine). NDTV Imagine has also forayed into the mythological space with shows like Dharam Veer, Raajkumar Aaryyan and Ramayana. However, most of the channels strongly negate the possibility of a fatigue factor seeping in. They feel that there will be healthy competition, resulting in innovative programming and producers will be experimenting a lot more with new genres of scripted and non-scripted formats. Says Yash Khanna, senior VP, corporate communications, Star India: It is important for any channel, even if it is well established, to keep reinventing in order to avoid monotony. Even for some really long running shows like Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi and Kahani Ghar Ghar Ki, we need to constantly keep changing the story line to improve viewership.

According to Kalyanasundaram, programming head, Sahara One Television, the clutter in the general entertainment space will result in challenges galore and better content production. He adds, There is no specific formula for a successful genre. Women are generally glued to soaps especially in the afternoon slots, the younger age groups of 15-20 stick to reality shows and comedy is popular among male members.

Experts say the need of the hour is to gauge the potential of GECs in such a cluttered environment, leading us to the TV markets share numbers. According to Audience Measurement and Analytics Ltd. (aMap), among established players like Star, Zee, Sony, Sahara One and Star One, the market share of Star Plus was estimated at 10.7% in the second week of 2008 TG CS4+ with Zee and Sony coming in second and third at 7.2% and 2.4% respectively.

Among the new entrants, 9X was pegged at 1.3%, whereas both Zee Next and Bindass acquired a market share of 0.5%. With established players like Star Plus, Zee, Sony and Sahara already owning a sizeable portion of the market share, the new GECs are experimenting with novel methods of marketing to grab eyeballs. The key is to find a concept that ensures stickiness and most channels are using an encapsulated format to cover all mediums like television, radio, print, Internet and on-ground promotions to make viewers take notice. Channels like INX Media, NDTV Imagine, Bindass and Zee Next have launched extensive promotions and spent around 30% to 40% of their budget on marketing. INX Media managed to create curiosity with hoardings and teaser campaigns of 9 times more entertainment, Zee Next used the ubiquitous dabbawalas Mumbai clad in purple (the channels trademark colour) and strategically placed air balloons in various parts of the city to advertise their channel. Anthony Pettifer, group director, brand and communications INX Media, says, As a new player, we have positioned ourselves with leaders like Star, Zee and Sony. Our biggest marketing challenge was to create a brand from a weak standing. We have met that challenge by using conventional and unconventional methods. Instead of having our own TV platform, we managed to achieve 45% of the awareness through cricket when we bought the ground rights during the Indo-Pak cricket tournament. Pettifer further adds that INX road blocked radio spots and used integrated brand messages to grab viewer attention.

According to experts, the main challenge that GECs will face is of distribution. Satellite channels are available through analog and digital systems. With digitisation in the form of CAS (available only in some cities), most of the country relies on the anlog system. The analog system with a limited bandwidth will only be able to accommodate those channels for which a demand is created by viewers. Since the right placement is important for a channel to get noticed, most channels will strive to achieve better placement. Thus, content will be the key factor for viewer stickiness.