Southern Spice fine tunes its act

MUMBAI: The only indigenous music channel south of the Vindhyas is sharpening its claws and getting ready for the fight that will break out in the genre later this year.

Barely three years old, Southern Spice is currently gloating over its march over national leader MTV, in prime time channel shares in Andhra Pradesh (Southern Spice is 34 per cent to MTV's 25 per cent), in the second week of January 2004.

The only channel that clubs in all the four South Indian languages - Tamil, Telugu, Kannada and Malayalam, as well as English sees itself notching a 50 per cent increase in ad revenue over last year this fiscal.

Thanks to the increasing presence of national as well as local brands on the channel in the last one year, Southern Spice has taken another radical step recently - save a half hour show, all the hourly lottery draws that were telecast live on the channel (Southern Spice promoters have their origins in the lottery business) have been taken off. This, according to programming head Bryan Peppin, has helped 'clean up' the channel's image, not to mention open up advertising inventory.

While the channel claims a lead over available rivals (none of MTV, Channel V, etc or Zee Music are south India oriented channels) since the last month in Kerala, it is see sawing between the number one and two positions in the other states as well. Except for Karnataka, where cosmopolitan Bangalore is still in favour of more national channels.

Interestingly, Karnataka callers are not requesting Kannada songs on SS, but opt for other languages, says Peppin. Thus, while Karnataka remains high on the agenda of Southern Spice, the channel has also aggressively begun to tackle markets out of the South, says ad sales head Nischal Kumtakar. 

Mumbai and Delhi have already been probed and found potential markets for both viewership and advertising. The channel has set up seven national offices in cities including Hyderabad, Mumbai, Delhi, Coimbatore. 

While the 2004 focus will be ground events, including a huge talent hunt to commence in March that will also convert into a televised event for nearly four months on the channel, Peppin says three new shows have also been lined up for the next quarter. One of these, High Five, based on a game show format will launch on 14 February. Other shows include a technology driven show and a 'countdown show with a twist', says Peppin, all of which are designed are keep viewers glued to a half hour show. This is pertinent as viewers could drop off when a song in another language comes up in a show. However, as actors often cross over to other Southern language films, this does not pose as big a problem, contends Peppin.

Armed with a song library of nearly 4000 regional songs and 4000 to 5000 English songs, Southern Spice currently boasts a cumulative reach of 10.55 per cent against MTV's 13.35 per cent in the South (as per TAM figures for the week ended 17 January 2004). This again represents a see saw, as SS Music in December 2003 shot ahead of MTV with a cumulative reach of 11.31 per cent against MTV's 9.13 per cent.

With advertisers like Britannia's, Cadbury's, Castrol and Zandu having acknowledged the strength of the SS Music brand, it was but a matter of time that broadcasters would look to fill the need for a direct competitor for SS Music. Till that materialises, SS Music is ensuring it gets its act together.

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