Television space has grown by leaps and bounds over the years and broadcasters are cashing in by experimenting with niche channels. The viewers, or course, are the happiest of the lot, being offered a plethora of channels and programmes.
Of late, religious channels have been able to gather considerable number of viewers, rapidly gaining in popularity across classes, considering the fact that anything that has do with faith sells well with the Indian audience.
Aastha channel pioneered this genre by starting a 24-hour faith channel in 2000 and soon other channels like Sanskar, Sadhna and Jagran followed suit.
According to Ved Sharma, Executive President, Sadhna, the religious channel market in India was more than Rs 12,000 crore.
Anil Anand, Channel Head, Jagran (Zee TV), said, “In the next five years, we will see this genre to expand to nearly Rs 100 crore, as the younger generations are getting hooked on to spiritual, yoga and meditation content. At the same time, these channels are expanding and trying to grab the attention of the NRI communities and overseas markets.”
Going by the perspective put forward by Anand, the international market is really opening up to these channels. This can be exemplified by taking the case of Aastha, which is now available in the US as well, and shortly UK and Canada will be added to the list. Said Hiren H Doshi, Director, Aastha Broadcasting Network Ltd, “We intend to be present in all countries of the world that is home to Asian Indians.”
“The roadmap is very clear. Niche channels are here to stay. Though we are termed as a religious channel, we only preach our sanskriti, traditions, and rituals which are a parts of every Hindu,” maintained Kishore Mohatta, Managing Director, Sanskar.
Despite the growth of these channels, there is not much difference as far as the content is concerned. However, Aastha’s Doshi, maintained, “Varied programming has made Aastha popular among all age groups.”
These channels with more or less similar content are now trying to break away from the age-old convention of only targeting the elderly, they are also making an attempt to reach out to the younger audiences.
Said, Doshi, “Previously it was perceived that only the old people watched Aastha, but it is now an accepted and acknowledged fact that youth have always been interested in learning about their social, spiritual and cultural roots, and have been an integral viewer base of Aastha.”
“The new wave of spirituality and meditation has really attracted the much awaited attention of the neo youth. Health and stress are the two biggest factors driving this genre, but now the addition is an attempt towards ‘self realisation’, towards soul searching,” said Jagran’s Anand.
On the other hand, Sharma of Sadhna opined, “We are teaching modernisation and spiritual culture. We are trying to keep a balance between the two.” He added that youths should move forward, but at the same time they should never forget the heritage that they have inherited.
However, despite the well-accepted genre that it has become, advertisers still don’t find these religious channels to be a viable proposition to place their ads, unlike the general entertainment mass channels.
Sundar Raman, General Manager, Mindshare, Delhi, while attributing the reasons said, “Religious channels do not as yet command a sizeable share of the audience. From an audience stand point, the profile of the viewer is slightly skewed towards the older age group of 35+, not too many brands target this audience set today.”
However, Anita Nayyar, Executive Director, Starcom Worldwide, asserted that brands did advertise on these channels, but they catered to a particular set of audience, those in the higher age groups. She termed these channels as “typecast”.
Agreeing on the fact that it was not a great option for the advertisers, Abbas Muni, General Manager, Carat Media Services, said, “There is no organised way of marketing these channels, a proper marketing framework is needed in place in order to drive the sales.”
Even though the broadcasters are tapping this genre of late, what remains to be seen is their ability to woo the advertisers in the long run.