Till a few years ago, Sun Network was a closely guarded business, with most of the divisions being headed by Kalanithi Maran’s trusted classmates. But things are changing now. So, is the Sun Network undergoing a transformation of sorts? exchange4media delves further into the media-reticent Sun Network in the second part of this report.
Painting the country Red
Even as Sun Direct went about its growth, there was action on the airwaves too. In August 2009, the Network, in a one-of-its-kind re-branding exercise, converted all 38 FM stations operating under the SFM brand into Red FM. These included 23 FM stations of South Asia FM (SAFL), 14 stations of KAL Radio, and one station of Udaya FM. With these inclusions, the number of FM stations under the Red FM brand stand at 41.
On the rebranding exercise, which took just two months to execute, K Shanmugam, CEO of the unified Red FM brand, said, “Rebranding will definitely help the entire sales team to sell a single brand across India. This is also well-accepted by media buying houses and clients across the country, who will now get to invest in a single brand for their campaigns. Since Red FM Brand has been doing well in certain markets, we are utilising this brand name to bring us more mileage.”
This transition is intended to help South Asia FM target metros like Mumbai, Delhi and Kolkata better, from where a bulk of investments into radio and even Tier II and Tier III cities happen. “Red FM is quite strong in smaller cities across North, West and East due to its close proximity to cosmopolitan cities. With content enhancement, we were able to beat competition in most of the cities during SFM days itself. Now, with rebranding, it has taken us to a different level, which I am sure is well-accepted by the audience,” said Shanmugam.
However, not all growth has been good on the HR front. There were a few key exits from the group – Abraham Thomas, who quit Red FM as COO in November 2009. A source in Sun Network has said that the group would soon name Thomas’ replacement.
It may be recalled, Sun Network, through its subsidiary South Asia FM Ltd (SAFL), had entered into a strategic alliance with Red FM in August 2007 to further its FM radio broadcasting business in the North, West and East Indian markets by taking up a 48.9 per cent beneficial interest in Red FM. This was done by acquiring equity of the holding companies of Red FM at par.
Coming back to the key appointments in the Network, after D’Silva, Ajay Vidyasagar, who too was from Star, was roped in. In August 2009, Zee South COO Sanjay Reddy joined as Head of Sun's television business in Andhra Pradesh. That apart, LV Navaneeth, who was heading Radio One Chennai, joined the company as VP-Content and Revenue. Navaneeth’s key focus as of now is to manage the business of the Network's non-GECs. He handles the music, movie, comedy and kids channels of the group – namely, Sun Music, Kiran TV, Gemini Music, Udaya TV, Chutti TV, Chintu TV, Kushi TV, KTV, Udaya Movies, Teja TV, Ushe TV and Adithya.
Market forces or momentum from within?
Till a few years ago, Sun Network was a closely guarded business, with most of the divisions being headed by Kalanithi Maran’s trusted classmates. But things are changing now. So, is the Sun Network undergoing a transformation of sorts?
Narendra Kumar Alambara, GM and Head of Starcom, Chennai, noted, “Probably, Sun Network is identifying the perceived or real weaknesses and trying to plug those gaps by bringing in people who could contribute in those areas. Or it could be to get a different, fresh perceptive to whatever the challenges ahead are.” Ravi Menon could have been brought in to create reality shows, for instance, as Sun TV had historically not been strong on non-fiction content, Alambara added.
GV Vijay Kumar, Associate Vice-President, Lintas Media Group, also expressed similar opinion. He felt that the changes were only to add quality to an already established network.
Historically, Sun has been pretty strong on fiction content, and people have been glued to the channel because of that. With rival channels upping the ante with reality shows, Sun TV probably felt the need for reality content, opine market watchers. Shows like ‘Deal or No Deal’ and few others on the channel are examples of Sun TV strengthening its non-fiction content even as it holds on to its forte - fiction.
GV Vijay Kumar noted here, “Today, across the market, reality shows are hitting the roof. Sun Network is also closely following that pattern. I would like to compare Maran to Vijay Mallya, who also likes to have the best of things. Maran is also trying to add on recognised, dynamic people. People who were with Maran (most of them are still with him) were highly dedicated and known to him for years. Today, the channel is well-established, and all he needs to do is add more quality and good people so that the channel reaches the next level.”
Industry watchers still comment, some off record and some on, that the Sun Network still operates in ‘archaic’ fashion. There has been guarded criticism on the rate hike effected in January 2010 on Sun TV and network channels. Some media buyers contend that competition in Kannada, Telugu and Malayalam is at its fiercest today for Sun Network channels. Others defend the Sun Network, underlining that it still offers the best value for money and RoI. The truth is, they argue, several much-publicised launches and JVs by competition have had little or no impact on the Network’s channels.
Yes, there is competition today. But the Sun Network continues to lord over the South. It is also clear that it is no longer happy reigning just here.
The Sun shifts gears – Part 1