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Indexation on regional will soon increase, says Sudhanshu Vats of Viacom18

Colors Tamil is one of the biggest challenges faced by the network’s regional cluster, as of now. Amid distribution issues in the Tamil Nadu market, the network has launched a new movie channel for the Kannada-speaking audiences

Announcing the eighth regional channel of the network, Viacom18 MD Sudhanshu Vats is quite optimistic about the yields on the regional offerings going forward. On September 24, the network will launch its second movie channel and first regional movie channel in the Kannada market, Colors Kannada Cinema.

The network is eying to expand the movie genre to all the markets, but it is not yet decided which is next. It will continue to dial up the library on the Hindi channel too. Explaining the importance of the regional play of the network, Vats said, “The linguistic and socio cultural preferences will remain in India, making languages a very important part of the country for a long time to go. We are, hence, driving regional very aggressively, while going on to deepen and widen our presence in the regions. The rate of growth in regional is considerably faster than that on the national and I think this momentum will remain, because as we measure deeper, the indexation of regional will go up.”

Speaking more on the increasing yields, he said, “About 59% people communicate in regional languages other than Hindi, but the share of viewership is still under 50. If it was to become at par, there is still considerable amount of tailwind. Many of these languages, particularly down south in general, are high income indexation areas. While viewership has to grow, the monetisation of that viewership should also grow. The yields should increase.”

The network has time and again mentioned how Kannada is its strongest market and the regional GEC game too started in this market for the network. ETV Kannada was launched in December 2000, the first channel in the network which was then taken over by Viacom18 and converted to Colors Kannada in 2012.

Adding more about the choice of the market and why is this a good time to do so, Ravish Kumar, Head, Regional Entertainment, Viacom18, said, “Five years ago, about 70-80 movies were being made in the Kannada film industry, which has gone up to about 170-180 in a year now. A healthy broadcast industry gives a boost to the film industry as well. We are also at a position where we can leverage and monetise movies in a way that we haven’t done yet. Over the years, we have reduced our dependence on movies on the two GECs; we wanted to have a separate platform for the same.”

The new channel will have content beyond films. Initially the channel will experiment with how much of pure movie play should happen. Thereon, it would settle at having about 20-25% of the FPC to be the non-movie content. It will increase with more music launches and movie releases. It might also want to look at the user-generated content and telefilms, among others.

With this, the broadcast network has strengthened its position in the Rs 600-750 crore Karnataka TV market, which has about 80% dominance by the GEC channels. The non-Kannada viewership from the state stands at about 22%. The state generated about 11% viewership of movie channels, while 24% viewership comes from movies as a genre of content irrespective of the genre of TV channel. The state gets about 14% viewership from news.

Kumar mentioned that close to 80% advertising still comes from the national players, and the ideal is to have a mix of both sets of advertisers. “The major advertisers focusing on the hinterland and internal markets are pulling the indexation up. Earlier, one would see regional versions of a national ad being played in the regional, while now it is more about shooting a regional language ad and products being made for these markets. That says a lot. Local advertisers are more pronounced at certain times of the year, preferring certain properties and shows. They prefer movie premiere and reality shows.”

The marketing for the new channel will start shortly, riding majorly on television and digital. The marketing plan will be backed up by print, radio, outdoor and cinema. About 45 cities are being tapped for the outdoor stretch.

Both the existing Viacom18 channels in the market have already reached a breakeven and this one too is expected to earn profits sooner than we think. Kumar added, “We generally reserve three years for the channel to break even. Colors Super has already broken even. We expect this to get there much sooner.”

The recent launches of the network were Colors Tamil in March this year. Speaking about the channel, Kumar said, “It is one of our biggest challenges. While the content is very strong and has much affinity, the issue is with distribution because the market is in the state of complete flux with digitisation coming in on Arasu. It needs to move from analogue to digital and there aren’t enough meters, pushing the whole market into the state of disarray right now. For existing players, it doesn’t matter much because their signals have already found a way. For newer players like us, we are caught in a very turbulent environment. In Chennai, we are very strong, the challenge is coming from outside Chennai and it’s all linked to distribution.”

It is unclear as to by when will the air around the market get cleared. Kumar had mentioned how Colors Kannada had soon built loyal viewership for almost all the shows on the channel. This gave them little to no scope of experimentation. That is why the network went into launching Colors Super. On the other hand, the 14-minute ad-cap on the regional channels is also something that was restricting the monetisation game for the channel. Was inventory expansion the main motto behind launching three channels in the market?

About further expanding the market with a third offering, he explained, “It wasn’t the deciding factor for us, though it was one of the reasons. The deciding factor was that we ran out of programming slots on our existing channels and it is a great problem to have when all your shows are working well. Experimentation is not an issue when you are a No. 4 or No. 5 channel. But when you are on the top of the flock, I am very scared to take off a 9 rating show from the primetime and replace it with a new one. Our risk-taking ability was coming down and we were losing our edge. I didn’t want to take the edge on the fringe slots of 11 pm or 5 pm. I wanted to play in the main battle field of prime time. That’s how Colors Super came about. Colors Super is as independent and competitive as Colors Kannada. Both channels are fighting among themselves too, for the top spot.”

He laughs out while saying, “With the amount of ideas that we have, the temptation to bring a third GEC is very high.”

The Karnataka market doesn’t have a lot of movie channels anyway. Among the top five, there is only one movie channel Udaya Movies. For Colors Kannada Cinema, it is an add-on that the competitive set isn’t very rigidly defined either. Also, a lot of viewership on Udaya TV (a GEC) comes from movie content.

“We realised that there is a lot of appetite for movies and we had a fair amount of library for both of our existing channels, we continue to acquire newer titles and movies have a distinct audience. As a broadcaster, it is always good to have a complete portfolio,” added Kumar.

A latest KPMG report on the M&E industry had a mention of how the movie satellite rights are getting cheaper which is hurting the film industry. It mentioned that the combined sales of TV and digital rights is not something that the filmmakers are very keen on. However, Kumar said that the regional film market is better off with combined deals. Broadcast anyway takes the majority of the satellite rights fee.

While this is the second movie channel of the network after Rishtey Cineplex, it still doesn’t have any English movie channel too. Vats feels, “With English as a genre, we have to look at it slightly differently. We need to play a role that cuts across television and digital for English genre. Even on other genres, we are looking at content very comprehensively.”

Among the other new offerings in the Kannada market, Bigg Boss’ new season will appear on Colors Super in October. Colors Kannada will soon have about two new fiction shows, Super Minute on weekends and a new non-fiction in November.

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