the mobile phone has a different ring to it. Drawn to the tiny gadget
like moths to a flame, broadcasters in India, much like their counterparts
abroad, have realised the mind numbing potential of the mobile as
an alternative medium to hook the viewer.
- the next Big Thing?
started as a tentative trickle in 2002 initiated by music channels
like MTV, etc, Aaj Tak, has suddenly turned into a flood in the
last few months. With big brother on the block Star India threatening
to let loose its own charged up version of wireless in the next
few weeks, the wee mobile is now sending out signals of gigantic
potential. And no one's immune to the fever anymore.
zany ringtones to budget snippets, from voting for your favourite
pop star to finding out the best deal going in the neighbourhood
music store, everything is now just an SMS away. And while most
broadcasters are currently content to drive interactive viewership
via mobile, Star has taken an aggressive stance, proclaiming that
it is its content that is going to drive revenue from day one. That
it is Star CEO Michelle Guthrie's pet passion and has alrady reaped
rich dividends in China adds to Star's ambitious plans in India.
Internet sites and service oriented companies have already jumped
onto the bandwagon, but it is television that appears to be poised
for the biggest leap in the mobile revolution in the country.
Star with its proposed wide array of wireless services may be the
biggest in the fray, several channels have staked their claim to
being the pioneers in the field. Music channel etc toyed with SMS
as early as 2002, calling it 'mobiletainment' and inviting viewers
to send in birthday messages to Bollywood stars. Aaj Tak claims
to have taken the lead in the news genre in its first year of operations
by getting viewers to participate in SMS voting contests. Ten Sports
has dabbled with SMS during the Morocco Cup two years ago, and Sony
tried it during the World Cup last year. Even Cartoon Network has
its long term sights in place - SMS oriented contests have been
part of its strategy for over one year.
mobile phone penetration increasing by leaps and bounds and the
entry of CDMA which triggered an even faster growth, other channels
have entered the arena, with results far exceeding their expectations.
Business news channel CNBC TV18 entered the fray last month, and
was overwhelmed with 30,000 SMSes on the day of launch. Its budget
day SMS offer got the channel over 50,000 messages in five hours,
and today the channel has a unique user base of over 15,000 and
growing. Says an excited vice president marketing, B Saikumar, "The
response was at least eight to tenfold of our expectations."
The channel is now busy chalking up plans to introduce audio streaming,
offering forex rates, bullion and international news on SMS, all
targeted at developing the mobile as the 'third medium of delivery'
after the channel's primary two - home viewing and office (out of
is not worried about losing viewers to the mobile. Usage will build
loyalty and will subsequently bring revenue, he argues. "Revenue
is not the prime concern, although it will become a substantial
factor in the coming year," he concedes. Sab TV president Kanta
Advani agrees. "It is a very convenient form of connecting
with the viewer and a good way of nurturing interactivity,"
she maintains. In the four weeks that the channel's Lucky Number
9 SMS initiative got off the ground, Sab's reach and connectivity
have improved considerably. Advani, who believes wireless can become
a profit making proposition within two to five years, says its best
used for trying new programming concepts.
Ten Sports' programming and strategy head Peter Hutton has also
gone on record saying that Ten will shortly leverage its wireless
activity. MTV India has already spawned a separate cell to handle
the mobile business to be handled by marketing head Vikram Raizada,
and CNBC is putting the finishing touches on an advertising campaign
to push its mobile initiatives, that will break over the weekend.
the biggest plans seem to be in the Star kitty. A separate wireless
business development division, under the stewardship of Sumantra
Dutta, will be leveraged in the coming months to provide a range
of services including exclusive content from the Star stable, mobile
gaming (custom made Kyunki... games, to give an example) as well
as help lines and info services. Star Wireless, as it is being termed,
will work totally on and feed off television and radio, because
the content and the ability to talk to the masses is available only
through these media, which can keep reinforcing the message. There
will be a large amount of non Star content that Star Wireless will
provide, says Dutta. The other content offered could be linked to
best deals, astrology, traffic, medical emergencies, logo downloads,
wallpapers, mobile phone gaming... the list is endless.
in on the target
follow China's lead in embracing wireless with enthusiasm?
who are the channels targeting? For Star, it could be the man on
the street, for CNBC the keen business follower. There's a mobile
phone user to cater to each service provided. May 2004 statistics
show that the number of mobile phones, including WLL (M), stood
at over 36 million and their share in the total number of 79.4 million
phones was more than 45 per cent. The number of mobile users in
the country has exceeded the fixed subscribers in circles like Mumbai,
Delhi, Chandigarh, Punjab and Chennai. The number of mobile subscribers
is expected to total more than 100 million by 2005, thanks to some
of the world's lowest call rates. Mobile phones are thus expected
to overshoot landlines by the end of 2004, a fact that augurs well
for broadcasters' wireless plans.
number is the key
SMS number or 'short code' is the key that links the broadcaster
with its audience. Star has hammered its 7827 code deep into viewer
psyche for the last two years, and is ready to unleash another promo
blitz to create what it calls "consumer awareness" of
the concept of wireless. Aaj Tak, too, recognised the power of the
mobile early on and adopted short code 2424 (tallies with the tag
line of being there, 24 hours) for its own. Sony, which earlier
used the Indiatimes number 8888, has now developed its own, 2525,
which is being used for Jassi as well as for its forthcoming
Max Games, according to executive V-P and Max business head Rajat
CNBC uses the same short code as Sab, 3636, but Saikumar insists
that not having a dedicated number is no handicap, once the viewer
is clear about the information he has chosen to follow. Dutta however
believes otherwise. 7827 is going to be drilled into the public
mindset, as the 'short code of choice' for the masses, and the communication
the channel will underline - 7827 has arrived.
SMS show revamped recently, citing increasing popularity
Dutta says he does not expect wireless to drive programming, although
international experience shows that it does help some, others says
the business does help define and and drive viewership. TV Today
vice president, marketing, Rajesh Seshadri says the responses Aaj
Tak gets often help identify viewer demographics, and that these
mostly mirror TAM data. Concurs Saikumar, "Since much of our
viewership is out-of-home, the peoplemeters don't reflect actual
figures. We hope to generate surrogate evidence of viewership through
mobile." Advani too says that SMS has helped the channel identify
areas of programming that were popular, since its mobile foray with
talk show Kuch Diiil Se last year, and improving the reach
of the channel. The initiative has also helped Sab to surpass certain
rival FTA channels, she maintains.
however, believes in being conservative with the use of SMS as a
tool of driving viewership. "We can put up SMS polls ad nauseum
to heighten interactivity, but it can lead to viewer fatigue,"
he points out. Rajat Jain has another perspective, "We are
not a sports channel that digs deep down into the definition of
sport. We are into stretching the concept wider so that the sponsors,
advertisers, the ICC get value. Sports channels which keep digging
deeper and deeper into a sport are not expanding the viewership
base," he told indiantelevision.com recently.
too, has big plans up its sleeve. Says a spokesperson, "The
Indian marketplace is developing quickly and represents strong growth
opportunities for all of our businesses. We are taking a comprehensive
approach to a variety of Disney business initiatives in India regarding
an overall strategy, including opportunities for new media initiatives
(eg wireless/ Disney Mobile)..."
are channels cashing on SMS as a revenue spinner? Most are cautious
in their replies when the revenue potential of wireless is probed.
With a 45 million mobile user base in the country that is growing
by the minute, channels are sitting on a goldmine. The potential
of the medium is as big as the imagination of the broadcasters.
Dutta says Star plans to target a large subset of the 200 million
TV viewers who happen to be mobile phone owners. In the next six
months, at least 30 per cent of the market will be cornered by 7827,
and by the end of the July fiscal next year, 50 per
like Sab's new SMS based show be the next revenue spinning gambit
of the market. Star has its plan drawn up. But for players like
Aaj Tak, the strategy is different. Says Seshadri, "Our approach
to SMS is different. Our strategy is to leverage the Aaj Tak and
Headlines Today brands, rather than look at it as a major source
of revenue." Yet, it is reaping dividends, indirectly. Aaj
Tak's tie up with Air Tel for news updates already has a user base
of 30,000 and a contest for the fledgling Headlines Today fetched
one million responses in two days.
an estimated 30 per cent revenue share accruing out of every SMS
sent to the channel, channels are already making money. Already
companies like TollfreeIndia have been offering value added services
to Star, Rediff and Yahoo! at competitive rates. Channels are making
use of airtime to effectively promote the wireless initiatives at
minimum cost to themselves. Even the Star Wireless team will comprise
just a dozen key executives handling the show, with most of the
business done on alliances with multiple partners.
one is still willing to talk about advertising that can be tied
in with wireless services, but Saikumar admits that any such advertising,
that can be taken up in the future, will have to be non-intrusive
to be effective. Dutta says Star's Wireless will move towards a
monthly subscription parameter, but right now, Star is focusing
on developing mass usage of services that are offered, to check
which are feasible and then put the more used ones into a package.
But that's in the future.
could well be just a couple of months from now.