There have been no exclusive comedy channels operating in Tamil Nadu, but September 8 changed that when market leader Sun Network launched a 24 hour channel, called 'Comedy Thirai'. The new channel, accessed only through the Sun DTH service, telecasts hilarious scenes from Tamil cinema round the clock. To add to it, Kalaignar TV (Sun TV's direct competitor) is also planning to roll out a comedy channel soon, as reported by exchange4media earlier.
So why is the market leader and its immediate competitor looking at exclusive comedy channels seriously now?
Over the past few years, there have been only comedy-oriented programmes like 'Vairu Kulunga Sirikalam' and 'Asathapovadu Yaaru' (a reality show) on Sun TV; 'Sirripo Sirripu' on Kalaignar TV; and 'Lollu Sabha' in Vijay TV. These programmes aired hilarious comedy scenes from popular movies and the ratings of these programmes ranged anywhere between 1 TVR and 6 TVR. However, there never has been an exclusive comedy channel as such in the State. On a national perspective, channels that have positioned themselves on the platform of humour, like SAB TV and Zee Smile, have failed in the past and now have again decided to reposition themselves as GECs. So, how viable are the comedy channels in Tamil?
According to GV Vijaykumar, AVP, LMG, Chennai, there was tremendous scope, especially in Tamil Badu, where comedy clippings were well accepted, even when some of the channels kept repeating the same stuff quite often. He added that the comedy genre would perform better than the music genre itself in terms of revenue and viewership.
Meanwhile, Rahul Srivastava, GM, South, Media Direction, averred that comedy channels in exclusivity would function on the similar lines of music channels like Sun Music and Isaiaruvi (Kalaignar TV's music channel). There would be no appointment viewing and would attract audiences depending on the kind of programme (humour element) aired.
However, Narendra Kumar Alambara, GM & Head, Starcom Chennai, felt that scope for any channel to exist depended entirely on its ability to deliver unique and differentiated content to a defined viewer base irrespective of market and language. A comedy channel was no different and the same generic rules applied, he cautioned, adding that if the channel(s) could offer a sustainable, differentiated programming, it would become a viable option over time. There have been instances abroad where dedicated comedy genre channels existed (for example, Comedy Central), but these were few and far in between, he added.
While it is difficult to gauge the scope of such an option today, it must be said that genres and niche viewership will and can only be created over long periods of time. From being a one or two channel option (which covered the entire gamut of entertainment, sports, educational, films programming) we now have multiple channel options within each genre (music, sports, movies, infotainment, etc.). So, maybe we would be able to include comedy in that list, in the near future, Alambara further said.
With the market leader in the state launching a comedy channel (though on its DTH platform currently), others expected to follow suit. Hence, a market is expected to be created for the genre in Tamil Nadu like music, news and movie channels.
Today, market leaders Sun TV and Kalaignar TV control 95 per cent of the satellite library and they have the best in-house film-based programmes. Their top-ten songs, top-ten films, phone-in programmes and film reviews enjoy a larger viewership than all other channels put together. As they own the satellite rights of films, they are able to slice a film into different segments such as songs, comedy, action and sentiment. There are comedy shows hosted up and coming comedians in almost all channels. So, these comedy channels are expected to help the both the network to attract more eyeballs.
Will these comedy channels affect the viewership of their flagship channels? Will they attract sizeable eyeballs so as to attract the advertisers to its fold? "There wouldn't be a drastic effect on mass channels like Sun TV, Kalaignar TV, etc. because of the new comedy genre emerging in the market since viewership would not be focused towards a particular programme like soaps or reality shows. On the contrary, viewership would be driven more because of the content in hand and the time it is aired," felt Srivastava. There would be fragmentation in viewership because of an additional genre, he added.
Kumar opined, "There will be a significant growth for this genre and I foresee other networks following suit. The real challenge will be to sustain the tempo and quality of comedy in the future. Advertisers will certainly divert small outlays towards this new category."
Srivastava explained that the comedy channels would definitely attract a lot of retail and film advertisers. However, he cautioned that the challenge would be to woo corporate advertisers who would like to wait for viewership numbers before committing themselves in a major way. "But the ad pie is not going to grow significantly with biggies like Sun TV and Kalaignar TV dominating the ad pie," Srivastava further said.
Alambara said that viewership was a function of two key aspects – content and timeslot. He added, "Eyeballs will be generated if both aspects are taken care of adequately. If adequate viewership is generated, Advertising opportunity will automatically follow."
Today, comedy is a saleable element (to the advertisers) within the GEC mix since it is limited and focused, but the viability of exclusive comedy channels will be ascertained only in due course of time. Alambara summed it up when he said, "The analogy could be in the lines of one eating a piece of sweet today versus trying to eat an entire kilogram of it tomorrow – it will ultimately depend on the person's appetite."