Business Today

Finding their niche

Anand J.        Print Edition: Feb 19, 2012

The growth of digital broadcasting means that 2012 will be a busy year for the television industry , with companies eyeing niche audiences. Last year, 67 channels were added, bringing the total to 626, and 264 applications for channel licences are pending with the information and broadcasting ministry. In December 2011, Viacom 18 launched Sonic, a children's channel. Nina Elavia Jaipuria, Executive Vice President and General Manager, Sonic and Nick India, says audiences can expect more such niche channels.

"Digitisation improves the quality of delivery of the channels," says M.G. Azhar, Chief Operating Officer of DEN Networks, the leading multi-system operator in the National Capital Region. "The real viewership of the channels will be clear for all."

The industry expects growth in not only advertisement revenue - projected at 10 to 12 per cent for 2012 - but also in segments that currently account for less than one per cent of viewership.

ROOM FOR GROWTH

10-12% growth in advertisement revenue in 2011

Rs 11,800 cr Advertisement revenue for the television industry in 2011

13.8 cr The number homes with television

80% Satellite penetration

30% Increase in the number of channels watched in a home with digital TV

Rs 175 What Indians spend each month on pay television channels

Source: FICCI-KPMG M&E report, 2011
Jaipuria says fragmentation has not hurt viewership in the children's segment, which is growing at 89 per cent a year. With the market expanding, new channels do not eat into the viewership of old ones. Viewership for health and lifestyle programmes, according to TAM Media Research, more than doubled from 0.09 per cent in 2010 to 0.22 per cent in 2011.

Another trend in the wake of digitisation is the growth of the subscription model. Sun TV, the leading media conglomerate in South India, is launching four regional advertisementfree channels. Ashish Pherwani, Associate Partner at Ernst & Young, says niche channels are viable because digitisation reduces distribution costs. He says more than 31 million households have direct-to-home service in India, and this is a catalyst in the digital transformation of the Indian television industry.

"The distribution cost will drop to single digits," says Ajay Chacko, President, A+E Networks and TV18. He says distribution today accounts for almost 30 per cent of the cost of running a channel, and digitisation will reduce transmission costs for both digital and analog channels. Digitisation enables cable operators to transmit up to 1,500 channels in the same bandwidth that would be taken by 100 analog channels with varying transmission quality.

In developed markets, niche channels' revenues come mostly from subscriptions. Chacko says such channels are increasingly viable, although India is still a long way from subscription-driven business models.

Shifts in advertising strategy are also helping niche channels. Punitha Arumugam, Group CEO of Madison Media, says advertisers are increasingly targeting specific audiences. "Advertising on kids' and regional channels is growing," she adds. Niche channels expect to break even only in a couple of years. Subscription revenues make viewership numbers and ads less relevant. Jaipuria sums up the strategy: "Be there, and stay ahead of the curve." She says the way to do this is to build up a loyal audience while the industry is still taking baby steps towards the subscription era.

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