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Sony enters Marathi GEC space but the going won’t be easy at all

The network, which is already struggling in the Hindi market, has tried to swim against the tide for the last few years but lost the momentum. With the launch of Sony Marathi, it hopes to see a gradual revival but experts warn it could face high tides because of its delayed entry and intense competition

After being unable to break into the top Hindi GECs and a failed attempt at cracking the Bengali GEC market, Sony has set its eyes on the highly competitive but growing Marathi GEC segment.

The network launched Sony Marathi on Sunday with an aim of building a brand that delivers quality content. According to sources, the channel isn't aiming to be the top GEC player in the market but is looking at a strong number two position.

Sony Pictures Networks India already has a decent presence across Maharashtra as the network claims to have 23% market across genres, across over 30 existing channels. The network is hoping to capitalise on this available reach.

Will Sony Marathi be able to breach the dominance of Zee?

Marathi television entertainment market is completely dominated by ZEEL, with Zee Marathi, Zee Yuva and Zee Talkies garnering as much as over 65% of the viewership share in the segment. Even within the Marathi GEC space, Zee Marathi and Zee Yuva grab over 60%, while Zee Marathi alone has close to 54% share in the market. The other players in the market – Colors Marathi, Star Pravah and DD Sahyadri – claim the rest 40% in the Marathi GEC viewership. Zee Yuva, ZEEL’s second GEC, primarily focuses on youth, which is also the primary TG for Sony Marathi – urban 15+. Experts feel that Sony Marathi may not have it easy.

Shripad Kulkarni, Head of Media at Triton and a media consultant, said, “It is going to be both, tough and easy for Sony. Marathi is surely an easier market going by precedence. The whole market of content and marketing is a good industry. The audience wants and goes for better variety. There is an established and accepted base for Marathi channels. On the other hand, it might be more tough than easy for Sony, since it is entering after three major players are already present. It might find it difficult to break into that market. There is high viewership, so are revenue prospects. But one has to get it right with content first.”

Putting his focus on ‘aspirational content’, NP Singh, CEO, SPN, was reported saying that the channel is not looking at ranking higher but at building the brand.

The Marathi revenue pie

The advertising spend of Marathi GEC space is nearly Rs 1000 crore a year. However, the dominance of Zee is proportional to the viewership it commands. The revenue pie that Sony Marathi could attract to start with would be miniscule as compared to Zee's Marathi channels but there's a huge potential for Sony Marathi if it could produce path-breaking regional content.

“Marathi TV market would be in the range of about Rs 1000-1100 crore, of which major chunk goes to the ZEEL channels. Breaking through this dominance would be a tough game. Others with deeper pockets, including Star and Colors, couldn't do it," said a media agency veteran who did not want to be named.

He spoke about the possible purpose of launching Sony Marathi, “It will help Sony build its ad-sales portfolio. While there is a major overlap of Hindi and Marathi content in the region, Hindi has a national rate. If you are a local advertiser in Maharashtra, you can’t afford that. If I am a national advertiser, I will divide between Hindi and Marathi instead of putting everything on Hindi. They might be able to sell a little more of Hindi, if they build a wider regional portfolio, even if the regional channels are not so up in the rankings.”

According to experts, Zee Marathi is a more stable and stronger proposition because it has got its daily dose of fiction correct. Colors Marathi does attract good monies, but that’s majorly because of the spike in ad rates for its reality shows, which Viacom18 is already strong at, even in the Hindi space.

The content challenge

“How far and how often can you invest in high-voltage reality shows for a regional market? There can be only one or two KBC and Bigg Boss kind of shows in a year. Somehow, these haven’t taken the viewership or ad rates for the whole channel up," said an expert.

Sony has planned to launch with two reality shows alongside nine fiction properties. The network has given charge of the channel to Ajay Bhalwankar, who was instrumental in launching and building the Marathi portfolio of ZEEL between 1999 and 2008.

A senior official from the industry said, “Alongside having great content, Sony must have right experienced people at the right places. There is a talented and experienced workforce in the Marathi TV entertainment space. It only needs to be identified.”

On sustenance, Kulkarni said, “They have a strong library of content from Hindi, which can be dubbed and used as is. Having said that, they must have a high dose of good relevant original Marathi content to sustain, survive and be profitable. Relatively, if you see, Marathi is an easier market to get in, compare to the rest of the country. But at the same time, with a struggling flagship channel (Sony Entertainment Television), this might a tougher game for Sony. That’s probably why they have started off with Marathi and might slowly expand.”

The downward trajectory for SPN

SPN has tried to swim against the tide for the last few years and has naturally lost the momentum across its channels.

Sony hasn’t been able to hold the Hindi or Bengali GEC reins tightly. The network is already going to suffer from IPL’s absence in the current financial year. If the investment on the new launches does not show a positive sign in a couple of years or more, the network might lose more of image than money.

“Sony has tried to enter the regional space multiple times and has failed. Be it the ETV deal that fell flat around 2011, or the Maa channels acquisition that did not see the light of the day. Even for the Marathi market, the network has been waiting to launch a channel for quite some time, but it had its own set of challenges. One has to understand that the network is also investing a considerable amount of time in fire-fighting for its flagship Hindi GEC, which hasn’t been able to take off in a way that a mainstream Hindi GEC should have or could have. All of this, despite KBC, Kapil Sharma and many other ‘capital-draining’ initiatives,” said a broadcast expert, who did not want to be quoted.

The network operates a Bengali GEC named Aath that has also been struggling for a long time. The channel doesn’t list in the top five channels in the market, as per the BARC India data for eight weeks between Week 25-32, 2018. The channel exists in the market since 2009. The channel now resorts to animated, acquired and dubbed content from its Hindi GEC library.

Speaking more about the regional stint of the network, Kulkarni said, “You either get it right, or you don’t. I think they have already lost it in the other market. They have got into a vicious circle of no viewership, hence no content and no content, hence no viewership. To win it now, they will have to probably pump in huge amounts of money in one go to revive the channel, or maybe launching a new channel in the Bengali market will be a better option.”

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