Television

MTV may soon sing south Indian tune; to 'Hindify' Nick

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MUMBAI: Frontrunner music channel MTV is setting its sights south of the Vindhyas, even as struggling sibling kids channel Nickelodeon is set to make the switch to Hindi lingo.

MTV India managing director Alex Kuruvilla confirmed to indiantelevision.com that the company is seriously looking at launching a South Indian music channel, crowding a space already occupied by Southern Spice and being eyed by heavyweight Zee Telefilms.

While Kuruvilla would not put a timeline on the launch, he revealed that the channel MTV was looking at would be representative of all four South Indian languages - Tamil, Malayalam, Telugu and Kannada.

Queried as to what the programming template for the new channel would be, Kuruvilla said the format would most likely be a hybrid of what MTV India was today morphed into a matrix tuned to South Indian cultural sensibilities.

Elaborating on the plans for Nick, Kuruvilla said dubbed Hindi content on the channel would be ramped up from the present four hours with the aim of making Nick completely "desi". He mentioned that a dual feed was a possibility with a Hindi Nick service and an English one targeting the South Indian markets.

According to MTV Networks chairman and chief executive officer Tom Freston, who gave an interview to Bloomberg in Singapore, "MTV plans to dub about half of Nickelodeon's programming into Hindi this year."

Kuruvilla said that some major marketing and promotional activities were being worked out for Nick that would be rolled out over the next three to four months.

One clear revenue stream for Kuruvilla vis-a-vis Nick is via the licencing route. Kuruvilla referred to the Rugrats franchise in that context. MTV has already had some co-branding success with its Airtel SIM card and Citibank credit card as also with its branded clothing and perfumes lines.

Kuruvilla stressed however, that a key factor that would impact on the plans that were being set out would be the distribution landscape that would emerge out of the regulatory guidelines that the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai), laid down.

ASIA AD SALES TO GROW 20 % IN 2004

That MTV clearly has its sights set on India was apparent from Freston's assessment in the Bloomberg interview that Asian advertising sales are likely to see a 20 per cent hike this year. "We are looking at several years in a row of good healthy growth," Freston said. "We're looking at healthy growth in India, in China, in Korea."

MTV advertising sales in Asia last year rose 24 per cent, twice the pace of the rest of the world for the company, which is owned by the cable-network unit of New York-based Viacom Inc. "India's one of the most interesting markets out there, where you've got this exploding middle class," Freston told Bloomberg.

Part of MTV's plans for India this year include dubbing half of kids' channel Nickelodeon's programming into Hindi, according to Freston, who estimates Nick to reach the 150 million homes in Asia that get MTV. Nick, which has stayed away from dubbed programming thus far, may have to follow the lead set successfully by the reigning Indian toon channel king Cartoon Network.

While MTV remains strong in most Indian markets, competition in the form of Star India's music channel [V], the lowkey but effective etc and B4U Music that's attempting to fight back into the reckoning continues to knock at its doors. Down south, the three-year-old Southern Spice has enjoyed a monopoly thus far, its success prompting other players to eye the hitherto untapped sector. The Zee - etc combine has made public its intention to venture south with a music channel too, in 2004.

Adding to Freston's optimism is a ZenithOptimedia report which says advertising expenditure will rise 5.1 per cent in the Asia-Pacific region this year to $68.41 billion, the fastest growth of the world's regions. India's economy too, is expected to grow at its fastest pace in 15 years, with Asia's third-biggest economy expected to accelerate at an 8.1 per cent pace in the year.

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