Sun TV Network continues to maintain its position as India’s largest media conglomerate. It has 33 TV channels which reach more than 95 million households in the country. According to the latest figures released by BARC India (Broadcast Audience Research Council), Sun TV Network continues to dominate ahead of Hindi and English channels. Sun’s channels can be viewed in 27 countries, including the US, Canada, European countries, Singapore, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand. Competition (Star Vijay and Zee Tamil) from Star India and Zee Entertainment, respectively, have really not been able to make much of a dent so far. It is not for lack of trying. However, with the recent success of Star Vijay’s Bigg Boss and Zee Tamil reaching double-digit figures, finally it looks as though some kind of churn may be happening in the industry.
The so-called conservative Tamil viewers were never supposed to accept an in-your-face reality show such as Bigg Boss. Star Vijay took a gamble and launched Bigg Boss in Tamil. During its telecast between June and September, Sun TV’s viewership, which has always been 60-65%, dropped slightly below 50%. This was in the urban markets of Tamil Nadu. Star Vijay, however, has not been able to sustain that lead. It seems to be conceding space to Zee Tamil. Siju Prabhakaran, cluster head, South Business, Zee Entertainment Enterprises Ltd, says that Zee was growing in the North while others were fighting it out in the South. “The South is a great TV market. TV penetration and viewership is much higher in the South. It is more literate. Consumption patterns, too, are higher,” says Prabhakaran. Zee Tamil unveiled a new brand identity and launched its HD channel in October. The rebranding coincided with Zee Network’s silver jubilee celebrations, with all the network channels going through a change of look and positioning.
Zee has been steadily increasing its market share in the highly lucrative Tamil market. The Tamil entertainment industry accounts for about `2,000 crore and is one of the largest regional markets in the country. It is a priority market for advertising for many retailers. Zee Tamil, which was an also-ran when it was launched, has registered steady growth in the last two years. It has been experimenting with new shows and serials in the past year, and has seen its market share increase from less than 5% to 15%. For several months it edged past Star Vijay, which has retained the number two position for many years. “We want to increase our audience base further,” says Prabhakaran. “The kind of prime time shows that were popular a few years ago have undergone a change in the last two years.” Obviously, Zee TV wants to take on Sun TV, whose serials have occupied the top slots in viewership forever.
In a market study the channel carried out recently, it was found that women-centric serials and serials that do not drag on for years tend to attract more viewership. It also found that viewers look for variety more often as they lose interest in reality shows that run for months together. Movie slots attract a lot of viewers during weekends. Zee TV has managed to acquire two recent Tamil blockbusters and the much-awaited new movie of Rajinikanth. Prabhakaran says, “With a refreshed brand purpose, we are striving to erase the lines between the younger and older generations, especially women, urging them to unite and embrace progress and change in all forms.” Zee Tamil has launched a multimedia campaign to drive home its plans. It has hired actor Jyothika as its brand ambassador. “We wanted a brand ambassador who actually stands for our values. Jyothika, both with her on-screen and off-screen persona, symbolises a perfect blend of changing views but unchanging values.”
The channel has been conducting events across towns and rural areas. “We take the cast and crew of popular serials and do fun shows in smaller towns.” This is important as Sun has a stranglehold on rural Tamil markets. Prabhakaran adds Zee Tamil has broken into the remotest parts of the state and has got people from there to appear on its channel. “We go find talent and not wait for talent to approach us.” The channel has been producing new original serials which they say are doing very well with the core audience, the women. “New, healthy completion is evolving. Viewers are getting more options. Competition is good for everybody,” he says. Zee is betting on a new fiction series, its successful reality shows adapted to attract the Tamil audience, and programmes for younger modern women. It is making programmes to appeal to women across age groups.
Market leader Sun TV Network has always believed that families who watch television together stay together. It has not wanted to produce anything to upset its traditional audience. It is still the most profitable media company in the country, although net profits have been coming down. It is expected to do very well with its IPL franchise and growing FM radio network. It has just announced that it is getting back into film production. Sun Network will end the financial year with a profit of over Rs 1,000 crore. After its IPO in 2005, the company has not had to go back even once to the shareholders for additional funds. Sun is not going to be a pushover.
How is Sun going to deal with Zee and Star nipping into its market share? And what is it doing to regain lost ground in Telugu? Gemini TV, from the Sun stable, is no longer the market leader. Zee Telugu has grabbed that position. Zee is now planning to enter the Kerala market as well. Is Sun planning any programme changes? So far, Sun has maintained a customary silence.