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Mixed Media: Let’s get Real… do we need another GEC?

19-January-2009
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Mixed Media:  Let’s get Real… do we need another GEC?

The answer to the question in the headline: a big, big ‘Yes’. We need another general entertainment channel very, very much. In an industry reeling under a recession and with a few of its members down under, the invitation to the announcement of the GEC from the Alva Brothers and Turner stable was hugely welcome. Every part of the media economy is crying for manna from heaven. And here it is for real. Pun intended.

The question though is, whether an all-new GEC will work in Indian homes. If the same poser was made when Colors was launched last year, the response would’ve been a firm no. NDTV Imagine and 9X had already added to the clutter of entertainment offerings and both weren’t doing anything dramatically different, this, despite opening their accounts in the ratings sweepstakes with a bang.

The beleaguered 9X is near-history with rumours of Indrani and Peter Mukerjea announcing a full or partial exit soon. NDTV Imagine is celebrating a year’s existence with some fresh infusion of vigour from the Balaji Telefilms soap factory.

And in all of this, it’s not that both Colors and Star Plus, and to an extent Zee, aren’t doing anything new.

The Alva Brothers and Turner will disclose the identity of their channel, the logo and the programming line-up this week with the launch expected this quarter, though without as much hype as Colors. Man for all seasons, Sunil Lulla, is CEO of the JV called Real Global Broadcasting Pvt Ltd (RGPL).

There will be reality shows – where Miditech has done loads of work – and Turner has its truTV, soaps, song-and-dance. But the plan, I hear from insiders, is to be a GEC with a difference. Like a low budget multiplex film is in an ocean of blockbuster wannabes. So, do we need another general entertainment channel? The more the merrier, one could say. For the sake of viewers and the medium, one hopes that there will be enough innovation in the programming from now on.

It’s good to see a Star Plus come up with an ‘Aap Ki Kachehri’ with Kiran Bedi. Ditto with Colors, which successfully put an end to the saas-bahu domination of the weekly rankings.

I’m told Real Broadcast has done a fair deal of research to figure what works and what doesn’t. The way Viacom18 set up Colors has decidedly changed the way any new GEC needs to be distributed and marketed henceforth. Clearly, an entertainment channel is not a very cool way for a moneybag to book losses, or for easy returns on investments. In fact, it needs super deep pockets.

If you don’t include Doordarshan and Star Utsav, there are 10 Hindi GECs currently on air – Star Plus, Colors, Zee TV, Sony Entertainment TV, Sahara One, Star One, NDTV Imagine, 9X, Zee Next and SAB. Expect some consolidation as the liquidity crunch hits the trade further. What they show on air is a fair deal of make-believe, but it is – pardon the pun again – time to get real.

Post Script: Some readers have asked why I didn’t comment on the NewsX acquisition by Messrs Vinay Chhajlani and Jehangir Pocha last week. Well, no specific reason except that I thought the Satyam story was far more interesting. News channels typically require a few star anchors and editors who inspire the newsroom enough. The sentiment is that the new company – Indi Media – doesn’t come with any such name. Of course, Chhajlani and his NaiDunia group have been on the overdrive since last year and Pocha has some sound experience behind him. But, for a channel that has been rendered insignificant by the previous leadership, NewsX requires loads of everything. And luck.

(Pradyuman Maheshwari is Group Chief Editor, exchange4media.com and impact. The views expressed here are his own. Email mixedmedia@exchange4media.com.)

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