Telugu TV Industry: The battle for eyeballs
There is a mad rush to grab eyeballs in the Telugu TV industry and how. After all, the largest spoken language in the country after Hindi, the six-crore plus population in the state and a huge diaspora is any adman's and marketer's delight.
In the last few months alone three new channels have been launched and more are waiting to go on air. Nine months ago, Rachana Television Private Ltd launched NTv , a 24-hour news channel and Bhakti Tv , a niche devotional channel. Around the same time, Shreya Broadcasting Pvt Ltd launched TV5, a 24-hour news channel. Now the market is abuzz with the impending launch of Saakshi TV after Saakshi daily by chief minister Y S Rajasekhara Reddy's son Y Jaganmohan Reddy sometime in October-November.
Among the national players, Zee TV, after its foray into Teluguland three years ago with its Zee Telugu, a general entertainment channel (GEC in industry parlance) is soon going to launch its Zee 24 Ghantalu (hours in Telugu), a 24-hour news channel in October. Similarly AsiaNet , which has a bouquet of channels in Malayalam is all set to launch Sitara, its Telugu channel. Giving a twist to this TV saga is Star TV that is reportedly eying AsiaNet , which will enable it get a footprint south of the Vindhyas, according to market observers.
Interestingly, while some are high profile people behind the channels, some are hardly known outside their business circles. However, promoters are looking at various benefits— including political clout— some say pejoratively, in a state that is highly stratified along regional and caste lines. More interesting is the timing of most of the channels' launch in the next few months.
"Elections," quip analysts. The state is slated to go in for elections early to mid next year. The Lok Sabha elections too could be around the same time. Of course, the local players are more keen on the Assembly elections.
There is another reason for this Telugu channel boom. "The Telugu 'bidda' has tasted the quality of the world. If you look around, every fourth or fifth family in the state has a member in the US," says A S Raghunath, a Delhi-based media consultant. In fact, cable and satellite penetration (C&S) in the South is much higher than in the North and AP's C&S penetration is 92 per cent, the highest in the country, aver industry experts.
While the total advertising market (print and television) in the state is put at about Rs 890 crore, of this the television advertising market alone accounts for a mouthwatering Rs 460 crore per annum, according to market estimates. Predictably, everyone wants to get a slice of that pie.
"Having a GEC channel under Zee Telugu , we decided to have a 24-hour news channel as it adds to our bouquet of channels. Even before that for Zee, the strategy was, after going national and international, the next destination in expansion was South and we started with Zee Telugu ," explains T Sanjay Reddy, CEO, Zee Telugu. He claims that Zee Telugu already has four per cent share of that Rs 460 crore in 2007-08 and is confident of doubling it to 10 per cent.
"But the Telugu TV market is one of the most saturated ones," differs a veteran TV executive. Then why are so many players rushing in? "It's sheer optimism that they will succeed. Interestingly, everyone is lured by the example of TV9 which found a place for itself after Etv ," she explains.
Another reason for national broadcasters to get into the regional space is: the regional advertising market, which is increasing every year showing traction and growth while the national advertising pie is under pressure. Moreover, national advertisers drove broadcasters in a way to go regional as well. The reason? "Earlier, pan-India advertisers did not get their money's worth. With a bouquet of channels including regional ones, they assure advertisers more bang for their buck," says an industry source.
Different strokes for different folks
While for national broadcasters it's a need to have a pan-Indian footprint, albeit driven by advertisers, the reason for local players to take on the airwaves is mixed. For some it's a pure business opportunity that has to be cashed in.
"Our vision is to plan and concentrate on niche channels. We launched NTv with a clear focus on news. Ditto with our Bhakti TV , the niche devotional channel. In fact, I'm seeing a fall in viewership of GEC channels and news channels are taking away the viewers from GEC channels," observes D Rajendhira Prasadh, COO, Rachana Television Pvt Ltd.
True, as one need not be a couch potato to surmise that these days news channels have become the index of general entertainment channels because much of the content of the general entertainment channels (GEC) is being packed as news genre. And who better than Rajendhira Prasadh knows this truth as a veteran of Telugu television business first with Citi Cable in 1993 and then as a co-promoter of Maa TV which became a popular GEC until he sold his stake to exit it even as megastar Chiranjeevi, actor Nagarjuna and N Prasad of Matrix Labs (also known as Matrix Prasad) invested in the channel.
"For us this is the business of news and we are focused on Andhra Pradesh. We do not have any other agenda. If you see our news, it is neutral and unbiased and we give a platform for all political parties in a fair manner. That's why we have already shot into the third place in the state with our TRPs (television rating points) in just nine months of our launch," says B Surendra Nath, vice chairman, Shreya Broadcasting Pvt Ltd, promoters of TV5 .
While national broadcasters are heading to Hyderabad, in a strange move, homegrown Telugu channels are headed out. TV9 is a case in point. Launched in 2004, it soon emerged as a prominent news channel in the state. Recently it launched TV9 Kannada and Gujarati and is now reportedly launching an English news channel too. However, in the GEC segment ETV launched Marathi, Urdu, Kannada and Bengali versions among others a few years ago.
Making business sense, locally
Interestingly, the model of localization with district editions across the state so that viewers get more local news has attracted more advertisers. The concept pioneered by Eenadu and followed by others is now being replicated by some new entrants.
According to sources, the soon to be launched TTv is going for localization where it is going to have programmes for the three regions of the state - Telangana, Coastal Andhra and Rayalaseema - which are distinct socio-economic regions with their own dialects. This will cater to both viewers and advertisers. However, primetime programmes will be common.
"Our focus is regional, covering districts. While our news is local, we have also been focusing on local advertisers in a big way. In fact, we worked hard to remove the perception that TV advertising is expensive by making it affordable," says TV5's Surendra Nath.
As more channels hit the airwaves in the next few months, "there is of course going to be a clutter," quips Zee’s Sanjay Reddy. And there will be— like in other industries—a wave of consolidation faster than before when big players will gobble up smaller ones in a bid to enlarge their bouquets. Even before that, channels will have a tough job holding that notoriously fickle viewer attention. Or, face the axe of the remote as viewers simply flip to some other channel.