Why are broadcasters paying court to the regional audiences in India?

Sunil Dhavala   New Delhi     Last Updated: November 7, 2017  | 00:00 IST
Why are broadcasters paying court to the regional audiences in India?

The Indian immigrants across the globe extensively follow the local news and entertainment channels, but withal they consume Entertainment and Television content in the mother tongue. Languages have played a vital role and were of paramount importance to Television audiences in India. Two thirds the country converse in various identifiable mother tongues and so is the media consuming habits.

According to a recent FICCI-KPMG report, the regional viewership share in 2016 was 33 percent, that's a substantial share of audience in regional demographics. Among regional pie, Tamil channels occupy the most prominent share 25.7 percent in local viewership Telugu is the second largest with 24.4 percent, Kannada managed 11.6 percent, Malayalam 9.2, Bengali 6.6, Marathi 4.6, and 2.6 percent is Oriya's viewership share.

The Indian subcontinent for Television Broadcasters is a land of opportunities due to the demographic and geographic characteristics. Howbeit, the Indian market is very complicated given its culture, traditions, language, dialects, and TV consuming habits. The Indian market is both a boon and a bane for Broadcasters and thus requires time for thorough research before setting foot. The Foreign media companies, for two decades, managed to avoid those cultural and behavioural differences in deciding to leave the regional market to the established local players ETV, SUN Network, Asianet and ABP. Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation initially entered into Indian market to pursue its DTH goals.

Another challenge for Broadcasters, in India, is the Television owning and viewing habits. Invariably, dining tables and television sets bind the Indian families, and families enjoy watching TV together. Two-thirds of Indian households or  185 million households in India own TV sets, out of which 96 percent households only have one TV. Initially, these factors served as an entry barrier for the broadcasters and a dilemma for advertisers to subjugate their target audience. MTV learned a lesson the hard way. MTV set its foot in the late nineties to influence pop culture among the Indian youth. Eventually, MTV ended up shaking a leg to bhangra, thus embracing the Indian culture. MTV's strategy, to many minds, neither fish nor fowl.

Due to the challenges posed by disruption and the metamorphic rise of Indian Media and Entertainment Industry, broadcasters not merely in search of greener pastures and platforms. They are also on the lookout for potential acquisitions, initiating concerted efforts in a bid to attract the audience in territories and reviving content strategies to match up the quality of offerings by OTT and streaming players' libraries.

The Broadcasting titans have significantly grown their regional audience over the last five years, either by an acquisition of the existing regional channels or innovation and creation of a few new channels.

How about a sports channel in your mother tongue? Intrigued? Tamil viewers were wholly bowled over when Star India, in last May, went a step further and propelled the Star Sports1 Tamil, to mark its debut as India's first ever regional sports channel. It makes sense in the age of various Leagues and Franchises in every Sport, especially when Dhoni represented Tamil Nadu in IPL and became a household hero. Star TV and Tamils are not strangers to each other. Star India took over Vijay TV in 2001 from UTV. Vijay Mallya, the beleaguered Chairman of United Breweries, was the founder of Vijay TV. Thus, Star TV knows the pulse of the Tamil audience.

Zee TV's regional portfolio boasts of six languages, and last year it created Zee Yuva Marathi and a Tamil movie channel. Meanwhile, Zee is on the verge of acquiring six 9X music channels including 9X Jhakaas-Marathi and 9X Tashan-Punjabi. Sony India, arguably a behindhand in the regional game, is fast catching up and planning to enter the fray with five regional entertainment channels  SAB Bangla, SAB Tamil, SAB Punjabi, SAB Marathi and SAB Telugu.

HomeShop18 in the middle of acquiring 74 percent stake in Shop CJ Network in India which already established a presence in five languages in regional Teleshopping space. Last year, Star TV took over the Maa Telugu channel network and added Maa TV, Movies, Maa Music and Maa Gold to its chaplet. Viacom18 after acquiring the ETV regional bouquet except for Telugu baptised the channels as Colors Bangla, Colors Marathi, Colors Gujarati, Colors Oriya and Colors Kannada. Sony-BBC a joint venture entering into Infotainment genre, to grab a pie from the Infotainment duo Nat Geo and Discovery, to offer Sony BBC Earth in Tamil, Telugu, Hindi and English across India.  In 2010 National Geographic and Discovery Channel's initiation of separate regional feeds, albeit dubbed, proved prophetic.

You'll no doubt be intrigued to learn that the kind of buzz and fortunes 'Kaun Banega Crorepati,' 'Indian Idol' and 'Big Boss' created in Indian states through regional versions. The tremendous success and multiple versions were not what Endemol and Fremantle aspired and envisioned while creating the original British formats.

In December 2012, Indians were disappointed to hear the news of the discontinuance of the BBC Entertainment and CBeebies TV Channels. Those two channels could not hold the forte in a country of single TV viewing homes with 15% viewing of kids category. It was the most heartbreaking exit for those channels with its audiences ranging from toddler to teen hearts. Last month The BBC nurtured a partnership with ETV and India TV for its BBC Worldview programme. In the late 2000s, Living Media forged ahead with Aaj Tak, round-the-clock Hindi news channel. Aaj Tak reaches Hindi speaking audience spread across all continents.

These developments and scenario indicate the importance that broadcasters vouchsafed to Indian regional languages.

Indian Media and Entertainment sector came a long way from a rationed thee-hour apportioned Doordarshan regional link from New Delhi in the 80s to prancing around with choicest of entertainment in the palm today to the grandiose flight of social media.

(Sunil Dhavala is media entrepreneur. He has held senior management roles at Bertelsmann, Fox Broadcasting, National Geographic Channel, Star TV and WPP group. He is an alumnus of Indian Institute of Foreign Trade.)

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