Flashback 2014: The voracious appetite for regional content remains unsated: Ravish Kumar

Regional programing is envisioned to be the next wave of growth in Indian television - the significant progress of which has reinforced the growth wave in 2014, says Viacom18's Ravish Kumar

e4m by Ravish Kumar
Published: Dec 23, 2014 8:41 AM  | 7 min read
Flashback 2014: The voracious appetite for regional content remains unsated: Ravish Kumar

A multilingual country like India comes with entertainment needs as diverse as its population. The Indian Media & Entertainment sector has grown rapidly in the last two decades. Television remains the largest contributor to the industry and I believe we must all buckle up for an exciting journey ahead.

2014 witnessed unprecedented change in the broadcast industry, both for national as well as regional content. It brought with it, as many occasions to rejoice as to imbibe and implement learnings in future.

What I learned

One of the most significant takeaways for the year is the upcoming paradigm shift in the audience measurement system. The need for a more transparent, accurate and accountable measurement system has been felt for the longest time. The Broadcasting Audience Research Council (BARC) beginning operations soon brings with it prospects of a significantly wider sample size, a move that shall benefit advertisers, agencies, broadcaster and ultimately viewers eventually resulting in the production of superior content. As a result, broadcasters are experimenting with sharper segmentation. They are actively digressing from the convention of ‘One Format Fits All’ and more willing to experiment with a variety of genres that garner larger viewer bases. This change in broadcaster attitude has also resulted in a more evolved approach to branding and marketing content. TV, therefore, is no more about TV and your engagement with the brand remains long after the television set has been switched off.

Brands today go beyond the single TV screen. They explore other media include multiple handheld devices as well as the big screen. In addition, audiences can experience their favourite TV shows through on-ground activations as well as through merchandise and online. So the need for branding has never been greater and requires a shift in mindset of broadcasters who were hitherto content to let their protagonists and shows be the de facto “brand equity” of the channel.

The 10 + 2 Ad cap is a close second, to my mind. The limited advertising time available to broadcasters will drive industry players to innovate content that appeals to more viewers. The same minutes of content now need to work harder and rate higher in order to garner increasing revenues. As a result, I see the ad cap as a positive turn of events where it will drive broadcasters and distributors to raise revenue through content instead of the heavy dependence on advertisers currently.

The speed breaker in Digitisation has impacted negatively on revenue projections for broadcasters. However, with the new government coming into force, we expect the revised promise, of the completion of Phase III and IV of digitization, to be delivered on time.

Regional Trends

Regional programing is envisioned to be the next wave of growth in Indian television - the significant progress of which has reinforced the growth wave in 2014. A few key elements contribute to this phenomenon, of which the first is very clearly the voracious appetite for regional content. This demand continues to remain unsated. For example, the live broadcast of the 2014 FIFA World Cup with Bengali commentary expanded the viewing base exponentially in Bengal and delivered strong ratings, paving the way for more such innovations in the future.

Content Innovation continues to be the key driver of channel performance and turnaround. A classic example is the resurgence of ETV Kannada which is now the #2 GEC in Karnataka ahead of established players including Star Suvarna & Zee Kannada. The turnaround which began with Season 1 of Bigg Boss Kannada continued as both locally developed shows and adaptations of successful Hindi shows/International reality formats continued to deliver strong ratings resulting in ETV Kannada emerging as the #1 GEC in Bangalore and the leader in fiction.

Viewers in regional markets display a strong affinity for quality programming resulting in strong ratings across both original programming reflective of local tastes and also across adaptations of successful Hindi GEC shows. For example on ETV Kannada the top rated fiction properties are equally divided between originally developed shows (e.g. Lakshi Baramma & Charandasi) and adaptations of top rated Hindi GEC shows (e.g. Puttagouri Madhuve (Balika Vadhu), Ashvini Nakshatra (Madhubala) & Kulvadhu (Uttaran). Additionally legacy properties, especially reality shows, continue to flourish in this market with rating graphs that grow positively, season after season. Examples of this include SaReGaMaPaa, Dadagiri and Bigg Boss across the Kannada and Bangla landscape.

Lastly, the slot sale model pioneered by Sun in the South is under immense pressure. Content across a channel must speak a cohesive voice, thereby corroding into the conventional model that previously offered airtime to the highest bidder and put the onus of performance and profitability on them as well with the channel playing a passive role as a mere viewing platform. Broadcasters need to be actively anticipating and adapting to changing viewer needs if they need to remain in business.

The Roadblocks

No development is devoid of challenges. The entertainment sector too is fraught with hurdles. The ad cap ruling have left broadcasters flummoxed as to how to source revenue if advertising time is restricted. The slowdown in digitization and its concomitant revenues has been a disappointment for the entire fraternity. The relentless introduction of new niche GECs like Sony Pal and Zee Zindagi are segmenting audiences further. And with viewers getting more discerning and demanding, creating the right formats that push the envelope for innovative content with mass appeal has been a mammoth task. Successful examples of this include the superhit show “Comedy Nights with Kapil” while finite formats that blur the line between fiction and reality like 24, Yudh and Everest have yet to find widespread acceptance despite their outstanding creative and production values.

The Year That Was

2014 was both challenging and rewarding for the ETV Regional Channels bouquet which saw a resurgence in ratings, monetization and equity. We have excelled in providing innovative and engaging content that have delighted viewers and set new standards for both the market and for us to surpass. Our pace of growth has been relentless with new show launches every month and we submit that while we may have gained some ground, we still have a long way to go. 

On ETV Kannada we are especially proud of the high standards we have set in reality shows and fiction shows. The success of Bigg Boss Season 1 was followed by “Indian”, “Dancing Star” and now “Super Minute” – which proved that regional adaptations of successful internationally formats can deliver ratings in regional markets that are multiples of their rating in Hindi GEC. In fiction shows we creating history by launching a new fiction show “Agnisakshi” that brought together protagonists from two of our existing top rated fiction shows “Laxmi Baramma” & “Ashwini Nakshatra”. All three fiction shows were shot simultaneously for a seamless and immersive viewer experience. We were also the first GEC to shoot a fiction show extensively overseas with our top rated show “Ashwini Nakshatra” being shot in Australia the footage of which is currently airing.  

On the ETV Bangla front, we will be launching the biggest mythological show in the regional entertainment space with the launch of “MAA DURGA” on December 15th. We are also the first Bengali GEC to launch a TV show featuring the iconic detective “Byomkesh Bakshi”.

Future Fervour

The New Year ushers in a renewed spirit to keep our viewers glued to the TV Screens more so than before. The television sector, I believe will continue its robust growth in 2015 as well. The full impact of digitization in terms of growth of subscription revenue, reduction in carriage fee and better addressability is expected soon.

Indian delivery platforms have started on the multiscreen journey. The boom in the digital space will see us leveraging the power of social media optimally. The TV Audience Measurement system will undergo a sea change and I welcome the BARC with the hope that they will deliver on the promise of a transparent measurement system that enables broadcasters and advertisers alike to have a better investment strategy, in turn devising  even better means to entertain our audiences.

My team and I look forward to the year ahead and our new year’s resolution is to continue to delight viewers by anticipating their needs and fulfilling their wants better and faster than anyone else.

The author is EVP Viacom18 Media Pvt Ltd and Project Head (Regional Brands – ETV Kannada/ Bangla and Odiya)

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