As niche as it gets

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Published: November 3, 2015 12:49 AM

Infotainment channels in the space of food, lifestyle and travel have mushroomed over the years and more are being added to the pie. How sustainable are they?

Infotainment took its baby steps in India back in 1995 with the launch of Discovery. Twenty years on, this niche genre has established a footing— somewhat—in the larger Indian television pie, albeit at 1.75%. According to the FICCI-KPMG M&E report 2015, the genre enjoys a viewership share of 1.3%, higher than the 0.9% of English Entertainment and 0.1% of English News, while its AdEx share stands at 2%. Certainly, there’s potential for growth but it’s a space largely dominated by channels that belong to international networks. Perhaps it is this opportunity that Subhash Chandra, chairman, ZEEL & Essel Group, spotted when he recently announced the launch of five new infotainment channels in India under Essel Group’s Living Entertainment brand.

Living Foodz, an international food and lifestyle channel, launched on September 11, 2015. Z Living, with a focus on health and entertainment, is set to launch in early 2016 followed by Living Homez in the second half of next year.

The coming 18-24 months will also see the launch of Living Travelz and Living Rootz from the brand. On his expectations from Living Entertainment in India, Chandra had said, “It will cross R100-120 crore revenue in the next 12 months. I would think that this business would be Rs 1,000 crore plus annually in the next 4-5 years”. The source of Chandra’s optimistic predictions lies in his strategy to create channels that are globe-centric as opposed to India-centric. The attempt? To become the first Asian network to enter the factual entertainment genre.

Elaborating further, Piyush Sharma, CEO, Zee Living—India APAC says, “Infotainment in India is still quite under-penetrated and under-leveraged as compared to other evolved markets around the world.” It’s no surprise then that we have a long way to go in terms of consumer penetration and participation from advertisers.


A fragmented market

In India, the genre has been on a consistent trajectory of evolution. The first phase of this was fragmentation spurred by digitisation and changing lifestyles of consumers. Arati Singh, channel head, NDTV Good Times says, “As audiences are maturing, there is an increasing interest in a variety of subjects and people want different and interesting content.” Adds Neelkamal Sharma, COO—buying, Madison Media Group, “Growing digitisation has led to a lot of room for specialised content and a fragmented audience will seek more differentiated content.”

Through strategic content decisions and launch of new channels, networks in this genre steadily moved away from wildlife and nature programming. Today, the genre has expanded to include under its umbrella niche categories such as science, history, food, fashion, travel, lifestyle and culture.

NDTV Good Times claims to have redefined the lifestyle entertainment category codes by catering to the youth and focusing on food, travel and fashion. “While we retain our extremely popular shows like Highway on My Plate, Band Baajaa Bride and Kingfisher Supermodels, we are reordering our programming schedule to be even more viewer friendly with clearly defined bands for fashion, food, travel and reality,” Singh says.

Following the launch of History TV18, the genre grew by about 30%, states Sangeetha Aiyer, vice-president & head, marketing, A+E Networks TV18. “Typically, brands within the same genre tend to cannibalise audiences which doesn’t lead to real growth,” she explains. It’s when a brand attracts more audiences to sample the genre that real growth takes place. “We have been continuing with the same objective for a while to get more people to sample factual entertainment and History TV18.”

On the move from its previous identity, Swati Mohan, business head—India, FOX International Channels says, “FOX Life has given us the opportunity to go beyond travel and become more lifestyle in terms of fashion and style. Soon we are launching something on home makeovers. The channel aims to talk about all the things that are rooted in people’s culture, lifestyle and choices.”

Localisation is key

The second phase of the genre’s evolution has come in the form of localisation. Once the channels had rid themselves of the ‘educational’ image, the next challenge was to dispose of the assumption that these channels appeal to a select audience. Aiyer says, “It was perceived to be a space watched by a few people, ideally well-travelled businessmen or wildlife enthusiasts. People thought it was meant for a certain profile of audience.”

This perception has been broken by introducing regional feeds and a focus on producing more local content. Right from the onset, HistoryTV18 was available in five languages and full HD with Salman Khan as the face of the channel. The channel’s next focus is more local content. Aiyer remarks, “Currently most of our content is library based, either acquired from our parent company or a third party.” After all, most channels in this space do not have local content because the economics of the business from a top-line perspective does not allow for investments to happen in programming to the scale at which it probably happens in a GEC. “Over the next 18-24 months we are aiming at 60-70% locally produced content relevant to local audiences,” she says.

On the other hand, NDTV Good Times seems to have pioneered the space with its localised content. Singh says, “We have a fixed number of fresh hours of programming each year and with growing interest in the lifestyle space, content is not a problem.” The channel’s next plan of action is adding regional language versions to respond to the growing aspirations of the small towns of India. This may be a smart move for the channel as in this genre, regional viewership in some cases is more than in English. “The FICCI-KPMG Report of 2015 marks infotainment viewership at 1.3% but this would be higher if the number sourced from TAM included language feeds,” says Anita Nayyar, CEO, Havas Media Group, India & South Asia.

But where’s the money?

The genre’s steady growth in the Indian television space, both in terms of channel share and viewership, has provided advertisers with an option to target a niche audience and achieve effective results. Singh comments, “Mainstream advertisers only understand the game of numbers so that’s an area we face a challenge in but niche advertisers realise the value our targeted and specialised programming offers.”

Ajit Gurnani, managing partner, ZenithOptimedia India, feels that some of these channels have accelerated their growth by being open to customisation of their content in the form of premium branded offerings which allow advertisers to build a sustained engagement that goes beyond plain messaging.

Sharma of Madison agrees, “Premium brands are looking for more niche content which is relevant to their audience. Partnering with such content gives the brand a natural association.” One such example is Great Mind Long Miles, an initiative by Siemens which premiered on TLC on October 25, 2015. Ramya Rajagopalan, head of communications & government affairs, Siemens India, describes it as a unique 360-degree initiative where Siemens integrated digital with TV. She says, “Through TLC, Siemens intends to reach out to an audience that includes unique  decision makers.”

The audience profile of channels in this space is typically loyal and most importantly has a high affinity index so it is bang-on messaging targeting for an advertiser.

With the growing interest in the space, existing players are only happy. Sharma of Z Living says, “Niche has longevity value and it is the way to go. It enables us to build communities around a niche subject and be able to satisfy that community across platforms of which TV happens to be one manifestation.” The channel has plans to develop these businesses as brand-centric with multi-platform delivery, not restricted to TV.

However, a key challenge is that this space demands high investment in content. Nayyar agrees, “Ours is a generation of content so where right content meets right audience it definitely works. It makes no sense to launch simply to gain market share. Here, eyeballs will have to be earned.” In that sense, well thought infotainment and an appetite to wait to break even would go a long way for new infotainment channels.

Currently it is tough for advertisers to pay for these channels as on the one hand they have to buy more spots on more channels to reach a fragmented audience and on the other hand, channels want to charge more for the same audience, despite splitting them into SD, HD and DTH. Therefore, there needs to be a balanced approach between integrated offerings and proposed rate. Gurnani concludes, “Given the growth in overall TV homes especially after digitisation, I expect more niche offerings to add to the already fragmented infotainment portfolio of broadcasters.”

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