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Looking at acquisitions and organic entries to expand in regional markets: Viacom18’s Ravish Kumar

Viacom18 targets to have half the viewership of the entire network from regional channels. With the launch of Colors Tamil, the network has set the ball rolling towards launching premium regional channels in new markets, which hold much more growth potential than Hindi markets

Ravish Kumar

If a regional movie, Baahubali, could be one of the highest grossing movies in the country, a Tamil channel with premium content can also get ad rates better or at least on a par with Hindi channels, believes Ravish Kumar, Head, Regional Entertainment, Viacom18.

With this belief, the network has unveiled its sixth regional channel, Colors Tamil. To be launched on February 19, the channel will have three-and-a half-hours of original programming on weekdays and two hours on weekends. The network hopes to get premium rates in the low ad rate Tamil market on the back of progressive and rich cultural content with women empowerment in the forefront and high production values.

"There is a lot of interest from advertisers and they have been enquiring a lot. Our shows are universal. They will cut across languages and regions," he said in an interview with BestMediaInfo.

Kumar says that the channel would not only appeal to audiences in India but would fare very well in countries with rich Tamilian diaspora. "These shows will appeal to Chinese, Malay and Tamil viewers. So, it is beyond the Indian market. If you look at the markets closely, Singapore, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, US, South Africa, UK and Middle East have a lot of Tamil-speaking population," Kumar said.

Speaking on the network's focus on regional markets, he said regional had more growth potential than Hindi markets and the network was looking at expanding in other regional markets as well.


The production quality of the shows is almost at par with the Hindi counterparts, which means high investments for a regional market. On the other hand, regional markets don't command the kind of ad rates that Hindi GECs do. How do you look at balancing this out?

As a broadcaster, it's our duty to put the best content in front of the viewers. Let's face it that the viewers are watching the same content elsewhere, so why not serve them the same content in their own native language. Also, they are watching such quality content on films. The market is known for the innovation and the kind of production value – just look at how Baahubali has rocked the entire world. So then, why should television be left behind? Yes. Someone has to take the first call and someone has to have the confidence of where he is investing. We are happy to do that, because we truly believe that the viewer deserves it and the viewer wants it.

But, with such an investment, will you be able to up the ad rates in proportion to what they are in Hindi markets right now? Because if you see the content of Sun TV or other channels, it is lower in quality when compared to Colors Tamil and hence, probably the ad rates are not a big pain for them.

A lot depends on how the show does and what viewers vote with their remotes. That will in turn decide on the monetisation and the ad rates. But we are confident that we will be able to realise the costs.

Are you starting in the market with a premium?

We haven't yet gone to the market. This press announcement is the first thing to be released. We will go to the advertisers now, though there is a lot of interest from them and they have been enquiring a lot. These shows are universal. They will cut across languages and regions.

Will this content be available for non-Tamil viewers in Hindi or with English subtitles?

We are definitely looking at putting subtitles on Voot so that it can reach more people. In fact, I am just returning from Singapore and Malaysia, there is a lot of interest in the content that we are doing and they too were asking the same question. These shows will appeal to Chinese, Malay and Tamil viewers. So, it is beyond the Indian market. If you look at the markets closely, Singapore, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, US, South Africa, UK and Middle East have a lot of Tamil speaking population.

Do you have shows from Colors Kannada or Colors Bangla with subtitles?

No. What we will do for this market is that we will remake and adapt stories. We will not pick up Kannada fiction shows and subtitles or dub them for Colors Tamil. Even those are wonderful shows, but there is a certain relevance that we would want to stick to. Also, in our experience, the same idea can be translated beautifully for a certain market and it needs to be translated, rather than copy+paste it.

Tamil Nadu is a very unique market in the sense that almost 90-95% of Tamil Nadu already watches television with the highest average time spent, leaving very little headroom for growth. So if you have to grab viewership, possibly you will have to eat into the existing channels. How difficult do you think will it be?

In our experience, going to different markets, when you bring in a new channel in the market, you source half your viewership from within and half from the expansion. The expansion not necessarily be more people watching TV, it can also come from people switching from other genres. You might find viewers coming from news, movies and other genres. But this market has a lot of GECs, which might also give in some viewers. The top ranks are Sun and Star Vijay and Zee Tamil. There are about six other players who together give out 60-80 GVMs – Raj, Polimer, Jaya and others. Yes. We will definitely source some from within the category, while some others from expanding the category. That's the shape of the GECs in this market.

Tamil Nadu is also unique in another sense that analogue is still largely prevalent. How do you look at that?

We are distributed across every platform, including Arasu and all the DTH and cable operators. We are there across the length and breadth of the state. There is no single carrier that is not carrying us.

Would it affect your subscription revenues, given that it is a pay channel?

The market is going to transition to that anyway. But the process is slower in this market. It is a truth for everyone in the market, not just for us. Actually, it's good that you start small and walk your way up.

Regional is growing across all segments. IRS shows that regional print and OTTs have original regional web series and television too is growing in this segment. But the rates and revenues that regional commands are still seeing very little growth. It is not growing at the same proportion as the viewership. Or is it?

Ad revenues will always continue to be under pressure from the advertisers and agencies, both because that's how they are incentivised. But there is quality GRPs growing in every market. Also, there is minor shift away from the lesser GRPs to the bigger channels/ shows and programmes. So there is a redistribution happening at this point. The good part is that the growth in regional – while we say it's modest – it is much more than all India or HSM. The people have a distinct preference for content in their language which showcases their celebrations and traditions and hence, they relate more to it. That's the beauty of Indian regional channels that you are far more relevant. If you look at it from classy marketing, you are segmenting down to finer degree and you are reaching a more targeted audience with less wastage, which is deeply engaged with you as well.

There's a wide belief that the growth in regional is coming from the English genre. Do you think so?

If you look at it from market to market, it is difficult to generalise where it is coming from. A lot of it is as regional has gotten better and has started giving better content; viewers have started watching more of it. This sourcing of volume depends on the markets. If it is a large market like Marathi or Bangla, it is coming from Hindi. If it's a market that used to watch a lot of English, it is coming from English. The preference is good content. You don't want to be fussy about what you are currently watching. Because you would switch it off and come here. Word of mouth is very strong, if someone knows from peers as to how one of the shows is very good, they ought to try it out.

What's the line-up like for Colors Tamil?

We have 3.5 hours of original programming on weekdays from 6.30 to 10 – three fiction shows are half an hour each, one reality shows of one hour and Nagin 2, which is dubbed content, will run for an hour. On Saturday and Sunday, there are two one-hour shows, one is Colors Super Kids and Mahakali dubbed.

All three shows that you have picked from Colors Hindi – Chakravartin Ashok Samrat, Mahakali and Nagin 2 – are period/ costume drama genre. What insight went behind this selection?

The basic insight is the sheer production values that have gone into these shows. This is a market that really rewards a lot of special effects, a lot of shows are elaborate and expensive – that's how I will bluntly put it. These are the shows which are unimaginable in the regional markets from a sheer scale perspective. We are blessed to have a parent company.

So, is it that Colors Tamil will never have a Shakti or Udaan kind of shows from Hindi market, which attracted viewers in the HSM market?

We would be delighted to do shows like this and that's the joy of operating under a network. We can look at the best concepts from Marathi, Bangla and Hindi to understand which one of these can be meaningful for this market. But our preference would be homegrown stories and ideas. That's how we want to encourage and grow the content ecosystem here.

Your key properties Bigg Boss is on Vijay TV, Khatron Ke Khiladi and Naagin 1 are on Sun TV. Do you think you would want to bring these to your fold, in the Tamil Nadu market?

Naagin season 2 is coming on Colors Tamil. Star has Bigg Boss today. It is uncertain who will have it next. But we would love to do it. We were the first to take it beyond Hindi and extend it to the Kannada market and then to the Bangla market. Based on the success of these, the Tamil and Telugu versions came up. We are going to take it to Marathi in the next few months.

Which other markets look like a white space to you? You already have two channels in Kannada.

We have two Kannada channels. One is no. 1 and the other one is no. 4. The reason is that we had more ideas than slots. Everyone kept looking at us, calling us funny. They asked us our target and how we would position it, how would it be different and why were we cannibalising our own channels. There is enough demand for quality content out there and that's what we did. We launched a second GEC with a similar slate of programming and both are doing extremely well. We have already overtaken Star Suvarna.

But why not a Telugu or a Malayalam channel instead?

We are here today and we are still looking at opportunities. Mr Vats just said that regional is a big focus area for expansion for us. We will continue to go deeper and wider. We will continue to look for acquisition and organic entries both.

How much does your regional GEC bouquet contribute to your overall GEC bouquet of the network?

We have six regional channels right now – Marathi, Gujarati, Bengali, Kannada, Odia and Super. Tamil is the seventh. All these six put together contribute to over 30 per cent of the network's total GEC viewership. With Tamil, we are expecting it to grow further and faster. I would ideally love it to be 50-50 or 60-40.

Prime time in this market is not restricted to evenings. People watch television throughout the day and channels like Sun TV provide about 10 hours of original content every day. Any plans on that?

Right now, our hands are full with primetime. When we are successful as we are hoping to be, we will be expanding the time slots. We will take it as it comes.

What’s the marketing plan for the channel? Will you be expanding the promotions out of TN too?

The marketing plan is robust and the rollout will start tomorrow with lot of print, cross channels across news channels, radio, outdoor, which will go to over 30 cities, and a lot of digital. In Chennai, since hoardings are not allowed, we will use bus shelters, bus backs and metro branding. The plan is focused to TN right now.

Who are your closest competitions in all the markets?

It depends from market to market. By and large, there is presence from Star and Zee and Sun in the south.

Since you are starting off with Voot, would there be integrated sales deals for the Tamil market?

No. Voot will be sold separately because we feel that it allows us to possible discovery of two different prices for different mediums and also allows the teams to reach out to potentially different advertisers.

Everything on TV, especially GECs, revolves around females. Your channel too is a torchbearer of feminism. TN has a large male population watching GECs, almost 50:50. Why then, did you take a feminist stand?

Even though our shows will be women-centric, they are family programming. We wanted to do shows that entire families can sit and watch together. Arya and CSK are complete family entertainment.

It is difficult to move a viewer from his local favourite brand (be it a TV channel) to a new one. Regionals have a strong habitual viewing. How would you tackle that?

It depends on what you offer. If it is distinctively superior and different than what you are watching, then the viewers will come to you and sample it. If they like it, they will stay on. Habits are not broken overnight, it happens gradually and we are sure we will be able to do that. There will be a section of people who will be the late adopters. I am sure there will be younger audiences who will migrate sooner. But later, the mass majority also begins to shift. It depends on the content that you put out. Word of mouth becomes a big catalyst in this diffusion process. People are looking at content that is more progressive and contemporary.

How soon do you expect to be the top player?

We never set out with that target in Kannada too. We were happy being no. 2 or 3 or 4; Since then, we are very focused on reaching no. 1. Getting there is easy but staying put at that position is hard. It is always easy when you are gunning for a goal. I don't believe in giving targets to the team, all I ask them to do is put their best efforts forward and content reflects their passion.

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