With rising competition in the regional GEC space, investment across local content has gone up significantly. How are broadcasters upping their game and how is the programming shaping up?
The regional broadcast space is as dynamic today as its Hindi counterparts, with viewers now having a wide range of vernacular offerings to choose from. India loves its local dialect; about 59% of Indians communicate in regional languages while 40% prefer Hindi — which speaks for the potential of local language programming on TV. National broadcasters are also broadening their horizons beyond Hindi channels by providing quality content in the regional space.
Viewers can see Mahesh Manjrekar hosting the Marathi version of the reality show Bigg Boss, while Kamal Hassan gears up for the second edition of its Tamil version. Or consider cricket icon Sachin Tendulkar, who was recently seen in the grand finale of the Sourav Ganguly-hosted Bengali show, Dadagiri Unlimited.
The local landscape
General entertainment channels contribute 54% of the total TV viewership of which 30% comes from regional channels, as per BARC India. “National broadcasters forayed into regional markets with tried and tested formats which caught immediate attention,” notes Rajiv Dubey, head — media, Dabur.
Then there’s Viacom18’s acquisition of Prism TV, which owned and operated five regional channels and then rebranded them as Colors Kannada, Colors Marathi, Colors Bangla, Colors Odia and Colors Gujarati. The joint venture between the New York-headquartered media giant Viacom and Mukesh Ambani’s TV18 followed the acquisition with organic launches — Colors Super (Kannada) and Colors Tamil.
“Regional is a very exciting place to be in because it gives you a lot of liberty to experiment at a fraction of the cost compared to a Hindi GEC,” says Ravish Kumar, head — regional entertainment, Viacom18. Regional broadcast currently contributes about 25% to Viacom18’s total revenue. There are several factors that have contributed to this growth.
“Since BARC India came in and meters went deep, a justifiable monetisation started happening across the board, and that resulted in an increase in demand for content,” explains Abhishek Rege, CEO, Endemol Shine India. The rise in demand has resulted in a rise in investment too. Primetime, which used to start at 6:30 pm earlier and ended at around 10-10:30 pm, has now gone up to 11:30 pm in most markets.
It’s all about the money
The scale too has gone up. Viacom18 is doing the remake of Shani for the Kannada market, for which it is using the same sets used by the Hindi show.
Sun TV, the leader in the Tamil market, charges between Rs 45,000-60,000 for a 10 second ad slot during primetime while other regional leaders Colors Kannada and Star Jalsha command around Rs 22,000 and Rs 20,000, respectively.
While broadcasters are spending on producing quality content, print media still commands a larger pie of ad dollars. But the onus is on broadcasters to bring print advertisers to TV. “The moment you will move the metrics towards gross viewership in millions is when we will see print advertisers moving to TV,” says Kumar.
Dubey agrees that regional television is cost effective for a brand. Dabur is the title sponsor of the Marathi version of Bigg Boss and despite the huge overlap with Hindi in Maharashtra, he sees merit in the association. “In Maharashtra, if you leave out Mumbai and Nagpur, Marathi is the primary language and viewers love to consume content created in the local language which features local stars,” Dubey says. Endemol-produced Bigg Boss is the most expensive property in the regional market.
Colors Marathi is spending about Rs 20 crore to produce the first edition while Star Vijay’s project cost for Bigg Boss Tamil is estimated to be around Rs 25 crore. The per episode cost of programming in all six major regional markets is estimated to be between Rs 1.5-2.5 lakh in case of VFX heavy-fantasy dramas. “The viewership and channel segmentation in the regional space are following the exact same pattern as Hindi channels,” opines Indranil Chakraborty, CEO, Big Synergy.
Sun TV, Star, Viacom18 and Zee lead in most regional markets and the programming includes remakes of popular Hindi shows, local adaptation of reality formats, original shows for the particular market and dubbed content. Earlier, dubbed content was very prominent on regional channels but gradually, it has been replaced by either original content or remakes. “When viewers are given the option to pick between dubbed content with subtitles and original content with local faces, they are choosing the latter,” asserts Kumar.
Mahendra Soni, founder, Shree Venkatesh Films, shares that the production house had created Bhootu for Zee Bangla, the Hindi remake of which is now airing on Zee TV. “Another Bengali show on Star Jalsha, Potol Kumar Gaanwala, is now airing on Star Plus as Kulfi Kumar Bajewala which is a great sign,” he says.
While the regional broadcast space is growing faster than Hindi and investment in content is growing substantially, Soni feels broadcasters are starting to follow the ‘Hindi pattern’ which can result in viewers moving to the VoD space. Perhaps another challenge is to move from a mass production model to an on-demand model. Broadcasters need to perhaps explore genres beyond ubiquitous VFX heavy-dramas.