Suvarna is the Kannada general entertainment channel of Star Network. The channel is led by Anup Chandrashekaran, who has been Business Head of Suvarna since 2008. He has over 15 years’ experience in television. He was Business Head of Zee Kannada before he joined Suvarna. Under Chandrashekaran’s leadership, the channel has attained the No. 1 spot in weekday primetime.
In conversation with exchange4media, Chandrashekaran talks about Suvarna’s climb to the top as well as the regional television space.
How well has the ‘Kannadada Kotyadhipati’ (KK) property worked for Suvarna? How have you managed to pull in audiences and retain viewer interest?
Around three years back we conducted a study with IMRB to work out our roadmap on how to become the market leader. One of the key inferences was that people were not consuming Kannada television, but were turning away to other language channels. The quality of content was not good enough for the Kannada viewer. To offer better quality, we started spending heavily on our content much more than our peers; the cost for our fiction shows was 30-40 per cent higher than the others. This plan worked and we brought in younger and newer audiences to sample the channel.
Season 1 of KK ensured that Suvarna became the No. 1 channel in Karnataka in weekday primetime. On the back of this show we also launched a couple of fiction properties, these fiction shows are also doing extremely well. KK was one effort that finally gave Suvarna the push. We were building the tempo with our fiction and non-fiction line-up and the grand finale was KK.
What are some challenges that regional channels face to retain audiences?
One of the main challenges faced by a regional Kannada channel is ROI. The market size is very small. In order to grow the market we have to look at alternate revenue streams and grow the retail base. Unless there is clear differentiation and a clear lead over other players, you cannot get your pricing right. You have to capture the market and then command the premium, otherwise you will be part of the clutter.
Due to the influence of other language channels, there is a tendency for consumers to frequently migrate. If you have good quality products, then you can still manage to pull in a reasonable number of consumers. You have to show audiences value for money.
On the positive side, we don’t have one MSO here with a large market share controlling the ground, it’s fairly spread; a fair game for every player in this market. The fight is for content; if you have quality content then you’ve got the game right.
The marketing spends in India are much lesser than other major markets. The challenge here is how we can innovate, grow the market, involve retail brands, and increase revenue streams. The market has tremendous potential.
How do brands perceive Kannada television channels as vehicles of advertising? Do they prefer them to market their product offerings?
The game is in bringing value for money to advertisers. We have to grow their market share. However, advertisers should not look at spill over audiences, but tap the reach of Kannada speaking audience offered by the Kannada channels. Also, regional brands have to grow as they have a loyal customer base and offer an emotional connect with audiences. Advertisers need to understand that and invest heavily on regional channels, allow them to grow by giving them their space and the premium that they require to grow the market. If they start looking at price point and at controlling their costs, then regional channels will not be able to invest further. They should give necessary support to regional channels to think big, experiment, to bring out differentiated content.
Our performance in the market can be gauged from the following statistics: the market is growing at around 10 per cent, but we are growing at around 20-30 per cent annually. We are not bogged down by low sentiment.
What would you say are the key differentiators for Suvarna?
Differentiated content across fiction and non-fiction is our USP. The differentiation can be seen in the kind of non-fiction content that we have been offering over the past couple of years.
Most of the channels buy formats from abroad and implement it. But we were the first channel which proved that even though we were inspired by such formats, they could be customised to Indian audiences and to local sentiments. When the peer group was focussing on regressive content we were looking at progressive content. All our fiction content is aspirational in nature. Our shows have younger protagonists, but the situations and the story-telling are designed to resonate with older audiences too. Around 60-70 per cent of our fiction themes would factor in the 15-44 age group.
A couple of years ago, 70 per cent of our GRPs in prime time came from non-fiction. Today, 60-70 per cent of our numbers come from fiction. That is a strategy used by any new channel to get audiences to sample their offering. Ideally, we would like to see a ratio of 50:30:20 (Fiction:Non-fiction:Movies). We are also very aggressive on movie buying.
What were Suvarna’s achievements in 2012 and what are your focus areas for this year?
Today, we are the No. 1 channel of Karnataka in weekday prime. In 2013, we will widen the gap with the No. 2 player. We’ll take the game to a different level and continue to offer value to the consumer and to the advertiser. Our philosophy is to grow this market and not be perceived merely as a regional brand. We want Suvarna to be a regional player, but looked at from the national perspective. That is the vision of Suvarna as a brand.