When AR Rahman signs off the biggest acceptance speech of his life with “Ella puzhugum iruvan orruvanikein”, is there a message beyond just the English translation he quickly offered? When Chidambaram intersperses his prim English budget speech with liberal references to the famed poet Saint Thiruvalluvar, is he signaling the growing importance of a crucial constituency?
While the answers are a subject of a pointed interview, clearly these are signs of a growing confidence of an Indian in his or her local identity. In these examples, both proud Tamilians speaking their mother tongue. Never has India been this aware of what many would call their first identity. Never before has the local tongue been flouted with such passion.
The resurgence has not left the television industry untouched.
Television entertainment is currently at an interesting crossroad. Things were this exciting last when the first big change was happening; when Indians started demanding TV content in Hindi, their own language, from a C&S system that was only broadcasting English from Hong-Kong. That’s when Zee TV came in and changed the rules of TV viewing. Ever since then, the C&S households in India grew at nothing less than 20 per cent a year and surely expanded the base of Hindi GEC viewers. However, this assertion of identity has not remained stationary. The boom of TV in Hindi has set grounds for what can undoubtedly be called Television 2.0.
If Television 1.0 was about India; Television 2.0 is about Bharat. It is about a Bharat that lives beyond the big cities, and both of these reasserting its distinct identity. A Bharat that demands content in its own myriad languages. While Hindi GEC continues to, and for the foreseeable future, will continue to take rapid strides, it is the regional language content that will fuel the next big leap in television in India saying “Amar monoranjan amar bhashaye bhalo lage…”.
Close to 70 per cent Indians speak vernacular and very clearly they also want to be entertained in the language that they speak at home and with family. The television industry, as always, has been quick to respond. Even in this early phase, there are as many as 30 regional channels on air, feeding the dishes and cables of the Marathi, the Tamil, the Bengali, and several such, no longer niche, consumers. Why no longer niche? One-fourth of India’s total television consumption is already taking place in regional languages, and sure as dawn, will only multiply further. In a position of advantage, at the helm of India’s most powerful and experienced pan-India distribution player, I can predict this share to go up from a current 50 per cent in the total GEC pie very soon.
My evidence is the tremendous success our own language GEC cluster has experienced in rather quick time. Zee Turner has nine successful GECs as against a ‘6’ and ‘4’ with some others. Six of these nine are already regional language channels – each witnessing a furious growth in reach and viewership.
In Maharashtra, for instance, Zee Marathi, which is also the king of Zee Turner’s language GEC cluster, has a majority genre share of 55 per cent. It has overtaken the Hindi GEC that is nationally the highest TRP gainer by a whopping margin of 40 per cent. Zee Bangla similarly has the highest share of 36 per cent in its State. In both these markets, Zee enjoys three to four programmes among the top five viewed, according to TAM and exchange4media ratings.
Let me take you to the intensely competitive Southern markets. Andhra Pradesh is the country’s largest C&S State. With Zee Telugu, we changed the way audience viewed content there. With a steep rise in TRPs, Zee Telugu has succeeded in toppling the long standing No. 1 of channel of Andhra Pradesh several times in specific time bands.
Zee Kannada in Karnataka is also already in the top 3, not too far behind its rivals Udaya TV and ETV Kannada. Though very much in its infancy, Zee Tamizh is another channel geared to storm the Tamil Nadu market.
Much like the billions of regional ears that wanted to hear their own language on TV, the audience for English, that watched its options dwindle over the years, is finding its own chorus too. The unique content of Zee Café that has built a niche, but extremely loyal viewer base, is just the tip of the iceberg. What will now really pad up the English GEC segment for Zee Turner is Turner’s new offering ‘Warner Brothers’.
So what does the future foretell? Well clearly, democracy has found its way to the Television screen. For quite some time, television in India was following Henry Ford’s dictum on his Model-T; “Any customer can have a car painted any colour that he wants so long as it is black”. Television 2.0 is all about a vibrant palette of colours. And it is the consumer who is calling the shots.
“Aata jagane rangeet zhale”… Life has now become colourful.
(Dinesh Jain is CEO of Zee Turner.)