Guest Column: Understanding the Tamil GEC space in South regional market

Dubbed Hindi Fiction is disrupting the southern market and broadcasters can turn it to their advantage if they stay alert, says Venugopal Nair, Senior Media Personnel and formerly, Sr Vice President, Polimer TV

e4m by Venugopal Nair
Published: May 15, 2017 8:20 AM  | 9 min read
Guest Column: Understanding the Tamil GEC space in South regional market

Be it drama, mythology, fiction, dance or reality shows, regional broadcasters are not far behind. This Pandora’s box opened up when national players like Star, Colors and the Zee group realized the immense potential that lay untapped in the language media. So, we are now responding to the aspirations of regional markets. Be it Kannada, Malayalam, Telugu or Tamil, each region has its own unique nuances, culture, value systems.

It is interesting to note that while the HSM markets are getting saturated, regional channels assure tremendous growth. The bottom line, “give viewers a programme that they can relate to”. According to Anuj Podar, Executive-Vice President at Viacom18, “Regional languages are far more rooted and relatable as compared to Hindi GECs. Differentiated mass based drama works well in Marathi and Gujarati.” The regional channels, therefore, is where the revenue flows, what with an integrated India viewership data offered by BARC.

However, unlike what Anuj Poddar said for the Marathi and Gujarati markets, the market in Tamil Nadu begs to differ. Yes indeed! The Tamil market is where the audiences have a strong affiliation with their mother tongue and in all probability, do not view anything in another language. But, thrust any fresh dubbed Hindi fiction content that offers a good story line and it is well acknowledged. We have numerous examples such as Nagin on Sun TV and Kumkum Bhagya on Polimer TV and Zee Tamil. In the recent past, Utaran and Baade Ache Lagthe Hain on Raj TV and Polimer TV helped the channels rake in huge numbers.

How Kumkum Bhagya stole numbers from Polimer TV to Zee Tamil

It will be appropriate to mention the story of how Zee Tamil snatched numbers from Polimer TV. When Zee Group’s syndication team agreed to sell the Tamil dubbing rights of Kumkum Bhagya to Polimer TV, it raised eyebrows as to why a top rated Hindi show is being sold to a rival network, especially when Zee Group has its own regional channel, Zee Tamil. The voice of descent from then Business Head of Zee Tamil, NS Easwaran, fell on deaf years in the headquarters. However, when Iru Malargal (the Tamil title for Kumkum Bhagya) delivered record-breaking numbers to Polimer TV, it made the top management in Zee TV realize their mistake. By then, 200 episodes had been aired on Polimer TV and there was a regime change in Zee Tamil.

Finally, the deal with Polimer TV was cancelled halfway and the show was abruptly shifted to Zee Tamil with almost the same title – IniIru Malargal – and the same time band. The love for quality content and their favorite show, supported by necessary promotions, prompted audiences to shift platforms from Polimer TV to Zee Tamil, resulting in Zee Tamil swinging the numbers its way. Soon, the show became a channel driving property.

Naagin an eye-opener for Sun TV Network

It was the time when Sun TV and its programming team had convincingly settled for 4 to 6 TVR in its 10 pm time band thinking that the late night viewing habit of audiences in Tamil Nadu (TN) was on the drop as the same time band was fetching the channel 12 TVR a decade before. Similarly, its Telugu and Malayalam GECs, Gemini TV and Surya TV, were struggling with eroding viewership due to stiff competition. The launch of Tamil dubbed version of Naagin on Sun TV helped the channel reach 13 TVR (a whooping 300% growth in viewership) that made the management realize that content is always the king and prompted them to bet on high production value project the Nandhini in all four languages.

Surging numbers from the Telugu dubbed version of Naagin also helped Gemini TV build its prime time that saved the job of the programming team. Despite similar hype in ratings, Surya TV failed to capitalize on the momentum. It has ended up falling behind along with the conclusion of Naagin in Malayalam.

According to a very senior Media Director, “Tamil viewers have a penchant for opulence, white skin and larger than life presentation of fiction. The fact that Indians culturally connect with them is reason enough for dubbed programs to succeed.” However, he cautions that too much dependence on content can prove catastrophic. With too much competition for dubbed serials – what with the national broadcasters having their own regional networks – the space is shrinking. Not enough content for dubbed versions should worry channels who only run dubbed serials. With even Sun TV taking the dubbed route with Naagin sourced from Colors and a few others, the cost for dubbed content has increased.

However, for now, and going by the popular acceptance of language networks, the mood is upbeat. The market on the whole is positive, but for the individual broadcasters, it is a huge challenge to keep abreast with the potential that needs to be unearthed. With digitization and more and more players entering the fray, the market will begin to shrink nevertheless.

According to Sudhanshu Vats, Group CEO, Viacom18, 60% of our country speaks in any one of the regional languages and this market is under-indexed on television. It is imperative that this segment will continue to grow rapidly in the years ahead. In an endeavor to strengthen their Southern base, Viacom18 will launch their Tamil channel soon. The experiment with the Tamil market, however, is nothing new, what with many of their Hindi versions of Colors serials dubbed in Tamil.

As per the data from BARC India Measurement Systems, Regional Entertainment Channels comprising Regional GECs, Regional Movies, Regional Music account for 38.99% of the viewership.

Tamil channels occupy the biggest share of 25.7% followed by Telugu at 24.4%.

The annual TN spends projected nationally is a whopping Rs 2,100 crore per annum for 2017-2018. This is to say that the amount constitutes close to 11% of the Annual Revenue spends.

A glance at the Tamil channels registered under BARC demonstrates that the incumbent and wannabe broadcasters understand this potential of the Tamil market, but baring a few serious players, there is a lackadaisical approach towards revenue generation. This, primarily, because some of them are affiliated with political parties, for whom the business of broadcasting is beyond ringing the cash registers. Still some others are owner/family driven, with no desire to look for the right people or delegate the job to professionals. For yet others, it is due to financial constraints or the inability to risk investments and improve content and distribution.

Week 18: BARC Reports: The channels have not been named.

A Tamil 1000> 1
B Tamil 250-450 3
C Tamil 100-120 3
D Tamil 60-95 5
E Tamil 20-50 7
F Tamil 0-11 15


NEWS Language GRPs Numbers
A Tamil >80 1
B Tamil 45-65 2
C Tamil 15-35 5
D Tamil 0-10 2


a) The GRPs for GEC/MOVIES/MUSIC Channels demonstrate that baring 10 of them, the other players are yet to catch up in numbers. There’s a yawning gap between [A] 1st and [B] 2nd.The gap extends between [C] 3rd and the 4th.


b) Barring [A] [B] [C]-7 in all, others do not command befitting revenues from the market.

c) The GRP’s of NEWS genre demonstrates that barring [A] and [B], [C] [D] pale into insignificance.

Most of the channels [D], [E] and [F] know they have to innovate, regroup their content and improve their distribution process to remain in contention, but prefer to remain in silos. Due to the trust deficit, there is a huge amount of reluctance to hire professionals to take their channels forward. This short sightedness can perhaps be attributed to their inability to comprehend that besides the constant reinvention to remain afloat, one must stay relevant and competitive in the times of New Age Media.

For all the channels, especially [D] [E] [F], the saving grace is a regular inflow of sustenance drawn from Teleshopping slots that criss-cross time bands. For many, they are the life-line for survival. For others, it seldom matters which time bands they schedule these slots, as long as their cash registers are ringing. But for now, as long as TRAI lets the slots run on the Networks, the channels will continue to breathe.

What is the New Age Media we discussed above? According to KPMG-FICCI Report 2016, 78% Indians prefer watching Video Content in local languages, of which Hindi accounts for 40%, Tamil 8%, Telugu 4%. For the Tamil and regional TV channels, there is competition not just within, but outside as well. This is the New Age Media that we are referring to. This is not to say that Traditional Media will be wiped out.  In fact, there is going to be an equilibrium. New Age Media will complement Traditional Media as the key is New Age Media as a conversion or a performance medium will remain unchallenged. And Tamil regional channels (like most other channels) will have to work hard to remain competitive.

The proposed launch of Colors Tamil is bound to stifle the top rung GECs in due course. The gap between Sun and its immediate followers is only going to shrink further. The Tamil market, hitherto dominated by Sun TV Network, will be under test. With Corporate Broadcaster Channels inching into each other, SUN TV and KTV and its allied group channels’ hegemony is under test. The Tamil channels have long tails; they will remain there as long as they chose to and add to the numbers, but with no significant improvement.

Late comedian Jimmy Durante’s line, “I am surrounded by assassins’’, should be the motto driving TV channels ideally. TV channels should know that competition looms, within and outside. The channel on top of the game knows that somewhere someone is plotting to steal their ratings, to make their innovations and concepts obsolete, to displace their programs. They know that other channels want to usurp their share. They know that they are surrounded by assassins and that they have to be alert. Outwork them and win should be the motto.

(The author Venugopal Nair is a Senior Media Personnel and formerly, Sr Vice President, Polimer TV)

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are solely those of the author and do not in any way represent the views of

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