Travel sounds fun, and lifestyle undoubtedly adds the ‘glam topping’ to it. However, for most Indian channels, this ‘exciting genre’ is not as rosy and inviting as it looks. In fact, caution is the watchword among most channels aspiring to tread into this programming space.
Interestingly, Discovery Travel and Living is the only channel currently providing 24-hour content on travel and lifestyle. However, now with DTH turning into a reality, most channels have accepted that there is room for experimentation. Indian channels are certainly eyeing this ‘gap’ with interest but with caution. So, who will make the big leap?
Ashish Kaul, VP-Corporate Brand Development Group, Zee, points out that there are several reasons why channels are cagey about coming up with a standalone channel in this genre. “Such niche channels are viable as a secondary option if you are part of a large network that can afford to spread the expenses from primary revenue generating ones. The fact that it has niche viewership becomes the first entry barrier and the fact that these are static products cannot be dismissed.”
Kaul also said that international channels can have a host of foreign programmes mixed with India-specific content spread across their programming schedule. Even then there is repetition of programmes. A Star India spokesperson, who did not want to be named, also agreed with Kaul’s views, stating that “specialized channels make sense only if they are pay channels”, and limited viewership is certainly an obstacle. “If there is a consumer demand, then there is room for such specialized channels,” he said.
Not all agree on the lack of viewership argument. Said a senior official of a major channel, on condition of anonymity, “There is no question of lack of viewership for such content in India. There will always be an audience for non-typecast content. Moreover, there is also a shift in the ad pie from mass channels to niche channels and the issues of carriage and numbers are short-term concerns.”
Asked if the first Indian channel to start a 24-hour travel and lifestyle would have first-mover advantage, he said, “In the television business, there is never a first-mover advantage. It’s all a question of creating a good programme format.”
Rupin Dang, MD, Wilderness Films India, a television software production house that is planning to launch a non-fiction channel by the yearend, brings a different perspective. Dang said that a slot for an average programme in a good channel costs around Rs 50,000 per half-hour and goes up to Rs 300,000 per half-hour in prime time. “It’s certainly workable if the advertisements are in place. More than a shift in ad pie, a new market is being created for this genre,” he said.
Dang completely disagrees that making travel and lifestyle shows are high-cost ventures. “There are several production houses that are willing to provide content which are cost effective if there is room for it,” he said.
Meanwhile, media planners generated mixed views on the viability of travel and lifestyle channels. Anita Nayyar, Executive Director-North, Starcom, said that there is a fair share of niche audience, no risk of wastage and certainly no paucity of advertisers. According to her, the issue is of return of investments to the channel. “In extremely focused channels, there is strong investment that goes in and the ROI from just advertisements may not make it viable at all. If DTH becomes fully operational, then the money will flow into the kitty through subscriptions, which could constitute nearly 70 per cent of the revenue,” she said.
Interestingly, Gopinath Menon, VP-Media, TBWA India, questions the relevance of paid channels in India. “In India, pay channels cannot be qualified as truly pay channels. Even when channels claim they are pay, the revenue they get is in the ratio of 1:5. Cable operators claim that they have 100 connections and pay the channel accordingly, when in reality they would be having 500 subscribers,” he remarked. However, he added that there is scope for such channels as long as they move away from the “marketing model to the manufacturing model”.
Be that as it may, lone ranger Discovery Travel & Living is upbeat about its overall performance but is looking forward to some healthy competition. Aditya Tripathi, Head-Marketing, said, “We are looking forward to competition as it will increase the interest level in this category.” Asked if the channel faced issues of carriage during its launch, he said, “Every channel is facing this concern today with limited capacity available on the prime band. However, there is a pull that is happening now.”
So, the jury is still out as opinions are divided. But the grapevine has it that a couple of Indian channel aspirants are scouting for the right options in the travel and lifestyle genre. We can’t take names yet.