Regional television struggles to find its voice

BENGALURU: What good would a FICCI MEBC event be in Bengaluru without a discussion on the current status of regional TV, ratings, content and formats? The session moderated by CEO and editor in chief Anil Wanvari saw four personalities - TAM CEO L V Krishnan, Asianet and Star Suvarna Business Head Anup Chandrashekaran, TV serials director Shruthi Naidu and actress Malavika Avinash - talk about the evolving genres in the south TV market and the tussle that that the industry has with the TAM ratings.


According to the FICCI Deloitte report, the south Indian TV industry was valued at Rs 13, 470 crore in FY 2013 and is set to grow at an estimated CAGR of 20 per cent over the next four years. TAMs Krishnan added that it also accounts for 20 per cent of national viewership. To top it all, south Indian viewers are glued to their TV sets almost 30 per cent more than their northern cousins. The former spend 150-200 minutes a day watching soaps, series, movies, drama and non-fiction as compared to HSM viewers who spend 100-110 minutes disclosed Krishnan.


Kannada TV is in a strange predicament and its viewership is eroded because of the fact that the state shares its borders with others such as Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Kerala and Maharashtra which means viewers in these regions watch TV shows in the languages prevalent in those states. To make matters worse, only 35-40 per cent of Bengalurus populace speaks Kannada. This despite, Krishnan is optimistic that Kannada TV will do well. It has grown by 25 to 30 per cent in the last five years in terms of engagement and the next four years will see the viewership increase by 20 to 25 per cent, he says.


Chandrashekaran said that the south TV industry is experiencing changing consumption patterns. Fiction consumption is growing here as compared to HSM where non-fiction is taking over, he said. There has been de-growth of film consumption in the states of Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Kerala. Movies are unviable on TV today everywhere else except in Tamil Nadu, he said. We pay Rs 2.5 crore to acquire a title; but we spend around Rs 70,000 to Rs 80,000 an episode for fiction and we get the same or better viewership. Then, big ticket formats are also slowly spreading such as the Kannada and Tamil versions of KBC, he added. Then ETV produced Bigg Boss in Telugu and Kannada.


Both Avinash and Naidu bemoaned the fact that budget restrictions in Kannada have led to creativity and innovation being stifled in the region. The protagonists in most shows are becoming younger - in their late teens or early twenties, which leaves limited scope for actors like us who have been around for 15 years, wailed Avinash. She, however, added that her Oprah Winfrey-like conflict resolution show has given her a good platform for her to exploit her creativity.


Chandrashekaran said that the younger protagonist strategy is being resorted to because broadcasters are trying to draw in younger audiences - apart from the plus 45 year olds - to watch television. Krishnan pointed out that the broadcasters strategy is on the button as TAM Media research has shown that boys 14 and above tend to follow what their fathers are watching, mainly sports while girls follow their mothers and watch serials.


Chandrashekaran said the economics of programming dictate that higher budgets for shows will work in a broadcast network scheme. If we can produce and amortise our costs over various languages like Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam and Kannada it will make our shows viable, he explained.


Naidu agonised over the fact that Kannada broadcasters are increasingly resorting to making adaptations of successful Hindi shows rather than encouraging and experimenting with original stories from Karnataka. Chandrashekaran said that this was happening because there is a paucity of scriptwriters in the region and the novelists and literature writers from the state tend to look down on TV as below their creative dignity. We do a lot of interactions with our viewers and we only focus on filling whatever our focus group studies throw up as viewing need-gap. Avinash pointed out that emotion and drama work very well with TV audiences which is why adaptations of Hindi shows in the form of soap, drama and series are working on regional television.


The topic also shifted to the credibility of TAM with her asking whether TAM data is rigged due to inconsistent ratings as compared to the popularity and visibility of shows. To this, Krishnan said that they have checks and balances in place to prevent any penetration or doctoring of the data. Yes, I am honest enough to say, one can reach out to our people meter sample, but we have policing mechanisms in place which will immediately penalise anyone who is trying to do that, he emphasised.


Niche genres are missing in the south with most of the channels being GECs or film channels. But Chandrashekharan says that the potential to harvest niche genres is there.


With the 10+2 ad cap coming in, we will see a lot of advertiser funded programs (AFPs) specially in Tamil Nadu because its base is huge, he said. I am very optimistic about our future and I can only see rosy pickings for everyone.

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