"Putting up hoardings here and there does not bring in viewers" : Markand Adhikari vice-chairman and managing director, SABe (Sri Adhikari Brothers Entertainment) TV

"Last year was not good for all channels except one," Markand Adhikari, vice-chairman and managing director, SABe (Sri Adhikari Brothers Entertainment) TV, has been quoted as saying. Adhikari is confident that 2002 will be different, though. Different, because he believes viewers are getting increasingly fatigued with the same family dramas, whether it is in the afternoons or at prime time. The audiences are looking for some relief and that is what SABe TV will provide, Adhikari avers, mainly through humour based programming.

Towards this end, on 25 February, a new sitcom Sajan Tu Jhoot Mat Bol is launching. Once that is launched, the 8 pm to 10 pm band will constitute sitcoms. There is also a current affairs band that the channel is developing. And with the recent introduction of the cartoon cult classic Asterix in the 7 pm slot, SABe TV is the only channel where there are no family dramas on show between 7 pm and 10:30 pm weekdays.

SABe TV is a digital free-to-air channel beaming off Asiasat 3 and was launched on 23 April 2000. The channel claims it now reaches over 28 million homes across India up from 15 million last year.

Thomas Abraham caught up with Markand Adhikari for a lowdown on where the channel was headed.


What made you decide to position SABe TV as a 'relief channel' different from the rest?

The feedback that we have been getting tells us that viewers are tired of the sameness of it all on the other channels. And they are looking for some relief. Therefore the positioning and our focus on sitcoms.

When did you launch the new baseline Come Smile With US?

That has been on since the start of the year.

'Since our programmes are now getting tangible viewer attention, the target is to channelise that into getting advertising.'


Could you elaborate on the programming mix the channel is looking at?

From 25 February, we are launching a new sitcom Sajan Tu Jhoot Mat Bol. It is directed by Rajan Waghdhare and the writer is Ashok Patole. They have also done Yes Boss and Sriman Srimati for SABe TV. Once that is launched, the 8 pm to 10 pm band will constitute sitcoms.

Then there is a current affairs band from 10 - 10:30 pm five days a week, with shows hosted by well known names like Karan Thapar, Vir Sanghvi, Priya Tendulkar and Manoj Raghuvanshi.

What about the weekend?

There is the Telethriller we launched in December, a one and a half hour show that airs from 9 pm to 10:30 pm on Sundays.

What about advertising? The ad market has contracted in the last year. And it will obviously have affected the smaller channels such as yours more. Any comments?

We are yet to complete two years on air, so that doesn't really apply here as we are still in our early growth phase.

Which shows are getting you the most as far as ad revenues are concerned?

We have not reached a stage where we can sell our programmes individually. We are selling the whole channel so advertising is spread across. If you were to mark out one show though, then it would have to be Office Office (SABe TV's celebrated sitcom).

SABe TV's strategy is to slowly increase the rates. Since our programmes are now getting tangible viewer attention, the target is to channelise that into getting advertising.

In fact, from the next financial onwards, we will be making programme specific sales pitches.

What about profits? When do you see break-even?

We have reached a stage now where from the next quarter we will be able to declare a consolidated break-even quarter-on-quarter.

On 23 January, the BSE imposed a 25 per cent margin on SABTNL shares due to a surge in activity seen around the share in recent times. What do you ascribe the reasons for this to?

We do not comment on decisions made by the BSE but it should be noted that our share price was grossly undervalued so if there is increased buying, it is a reflection of that.

There is some talk that the heightened activity could be around rumours of a strategic investor coming on board. Any move in that direction?

Nothing has been finalised on that. We are open to investment proposals but we are essentially looking for a partner who can add value to the business.

'We are essentially looking for a partner who can add value to the business.'


What about your distribution? The Turner deal collapsed in August so who is doing it now?

We have our own distribution team in place. An example of how effective our team has been can be gauged from the fact that in Mumbai, a good 40 per cent of C&S viewers get SABe TV in the prime band (the first 12 channels). In UP (Uttar Pradesh), this goes up to 60 per cent. This is as per TAM (AC Nielsen's TAM Media research) connectivity data and not our own figures.

Other channels are pumping in big money towards promotional activity that is very visible. As a channel head said, 'In this business you have to spend to grow.' But SABe TV does not seem to be doing any promotional spends at all. Will this change or will you continue with your strategem that content alone will drive viewership to your channel?

To say we do not spend on promotion is incorrect. When we launched, we spent Rs 11 crore (Rs 110 million). This (financial) year we spent Rs 6 crore and we will be spending an equal amount next year as well.

I don't believe in blind publicity. Just putting hoardings here and there does not bring in the viewers. We believe we have the right content in the right place. And that is what will take the channel ahead.

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