Sahara One breathing down Sony's neck

MUMBAI: While Star Plus' KBC wars engage television audiences, prime time viewership has been undergoing yet another churn. The rejuvenation of Zee TV has seen its ascent as a very strong No 2 while Sony Entertainment is looking increasingly insecure in the third position.

The channel is now seeing stiff competition and it's coming from a rather unsuspecting source! Sahara One has sneaked up in the ratings, almost unbalancing the Sony network's flagship channel Set. The question is, will it manage a complete coup?

A few numbers to mull over: A look at Sahara One's channel share shows a gradual increase from 5 per cent in Jul-August '06 to 9 per cent at year ending. (15 Dec - 30 Dec TG CS 4+ Yrs Market: HSM). Sony, meanwhile, has seen its channel share fluctuate between 12 and 13 per cent in the same period. 

The latest Tam data for Jan '07 pegged Sony's channel share at 11 per cent with a further decline at 9 per cent (1 Feb - 17 Feb) while Sahara One is pegged at 7 per cent, a increase in one per cent over the past month. (1 Feb - 17 Feb TG CS 4+ Yrs Mkt: HSM).

The consistent feature of Sahara One's rise has been the prime time show Woh Rehne Wali Mehlon Ki, the channel's flagship show launched in May 2005. The show took a 20 year leap in mid 2006 and has since seen increasing viewership.

In fact Tam ratings for Week - 28/01/07 to 03/02/07 saw WRWMK peak with a 2 TVR (TG CS 4+ Yrs) and appear twice in the Top 100 while Sony is nowhere in the picture. The next week (04/02/2007 to 10/02/2007) it fared even better, registering four times in the Top 100 while Sony was again nowhere in the picture. Data for the latest week (11/02/2007 to 17/02/2007) however, sees Sahara's lead soap dipping to 1.9 TVR and Sony clawing its way back into the Top 100 thanks to old warhorse CID with a 1.8 TVR.

Says Sahara One programming head Kalyan Sundaram, "If you look at the ratings post the 20 year leap, we have managed a slow and steady rise. What we have also noticed is a spillover from the 9 pm show to the 9:30 pm slot which features Ghar... Ek Sapna."

In fact many of the long running shows like Kitu Sab Janti Hai and Sati Satya Ki Shakti, which started out as 'strong women protagonist' stories, were also revamped since the channel realized that "once the plot revealed that women were free of troubles and could handle their own life, our target audience seemed to lose interest and we lost our viewer," says Sundaram.

Sundaram points out that the moment these shows were infused with conflicts and twists, they started picking up again. He picks the shows that have been gradually picking up in terms of ratings with an average TRP ranging between 1.1 to 1.3 - WRWMK, Solah Singar and Suno... Har Dil Kuch Kehta Hai.

When asked why these shows which perform well individually are not reflecting in the Tam ratings, Sundaram says, "It has been difficult to wean away audiences from the other channels. We have now managed to do that with our prime time shows and are relooking and re working each show. Sooner or later you are bound to see them doing well."

Sony, on the other hand, announced their 10 to 11 pm slot with much fanfare in a bid to stem the Star juggernaut in the same time slot. While the channel insists it's still early days to measure the response for these shows, the fact is that prime time on Sony isn't looking very good either.

Says Sony Entertainment chief creative director Sandiip Sikcand, "We have been concentrating on our two new shows that we launched in February Durgesh Nandini and Jeete Hai Jiske Liye and the initial response has been good. The prime time band has seen a decline in viewership but we are taking a re-look at them and we should be adding some new twists and drama to get the audience engaged once again."

The channel had in fact announced a re look at its primetime band once the 10 to 11 pm slot had settled down. In fact, it is only old guard CID that is raking in any worthwhile numbers for the channel. One after the other - soaps such as Kulvadhu, Thodi Khushi Thode Gham, Ek Ladki Anjaani Si have failed to impress the ardent soap watcher.

Meanwhile, Sahara One, which has recently dabbled in non fiction programming with the launch of Gold Safe in the 7 pm slot and Comedy Champs in the 10:30 pm slot, is also looking at two more non fiction shows, one each in the weekday and weekend category, to be announced in a couple of weeks.

Adding to its list of drama genre would be the Aruna Irani production Doli Saja Ke again slotted for the prime time band, although the timings haven't been decided upon as yet.

Still, Sahara may yet have to watch its back as Sony brings back its mammoth Indian Idol 3 to the screens this season.

Says Sikcand, "Indian Idol 3 launches in May and we are sure we'll get a good response, but we are not going to wait until then. In another two weeks you will see a few changes on the channel and hopefully it will reflect in the ratings as well. Besides the more immediate worry is the World Cup, which will affect all general entertainment channels."

The ICC World Cup 2007 could sure act as a party spoiler for the GEC. While the channels will still battle it out with each other on non match days, viewership of most shows is likely to be dented, the most harm being done on India match days.

To sum up, as improbable as it may have sounded just a few short months ago, today the battle lines are drawn between Set and Sahara One.

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