Music channels face uncertainty

Year 2010 saw major changes in the music and youth TV channel genre. Firstly, the space got further cluttered with the launch of a new player – Mastiii. Secondly, at least three channels – MTV, UTV Bindass and 9XM – were fighting week-on-week to know who is first among the equals. And thirdly, the focus of the channels shifted - some went for pure music and others for pure youth.

The 13-odd channels in the genre (as per Tam) are locked in a rat race. From January –December 2010, in the C&S 15+ age group of Hindi speaking Market (HSM), MTV and 9XM were leading the pack with a 14 per cent average market share. UTV Bindass was, however, in hot pursuit with 13.9 per cent.

To add on to the fierce competition, Sri Adhikari Brothers’ Mastiii, which launched in July, quickly climbed and captured a good 12.6 per cent average share.
Meanwhile, Channel [V], Zoom (Bollywood and lifestyle channel), B4U Music, ETC and E24 (Bollywood news channel), which Tam puts in the same genre, followed with 9.1 per cent, 8.8 per cent, 7.7 per cent, 6.5 per cent and 6.3 per cent respectively of the overall pie.

The also rans include Zing, Imagine Showbiz and Vh1.

The question remains: How the music and youth channels will survive with such competition? Industry pundits peg the whole pie between Rs 2.5–3 billion yearly and believe the market is small while the players are too many. Some say that the music space has undergone tremendous transformation and today they all have the more or less same generic content - be it music or reality shows.

But how true is it? Answers Channel [V] EVP and GM Prem Kamath, “TV is not the primary medium for music anymore as it is available everywhere. More importantly, the greatest monetisation in television comes from differentiation. The biggest limitation of the music television model has been that there is no scope whatsoever in differentiating the content of one channel from another. Every channel has access to the same pool of music and, hence, very little differentiates one channel from another.”

And to counter this situation, Channel [V] has cut down its reliance on music drastically. The channel airs music only between 7-10 am band, which is a prime slot for music channels.

However, at the same time, pure play music channels – 9XM and Mastiii - are doing great so far as ratings go. What is their success mantra?

9XM programming head Amar Tidke says, “It’s all about how you package your content. Yes, you have to break through the clutter and for that we have animated characters.”

Tidke believes that other “youth channels” have diluted the music proposition. And on the point that music is skewed towards Bollywood only, Tidke strongly replies that it is wholesome music. “Bollywood music contains all the forms of music including romantic, sad, sufi, bhajans, etc. So it is wrong to say that we are neglecting other forms of music,” he says.

And while Channel [V] and Bindass are youth channels, through and through, MTV, the long standing undisputed leader of the genre, changed its positioning twice in the year.

While MTV continued cutting down its music content to 20 per cent, in the later part of the year it backtracked and increased it to 50 per cent. Some rival channels executives believe the step taken by MTV is rather unfortunate. “The channel has lost its positioning. It had a head start with cult shows like Roadies. But they have spent a lot and the latest seasons of the shows did not perform well. The high cost may have been a reason behind going back,” one senior executive on condition of anonymity said.

However, MTV India channel head Aditya Swamy said that the channel has adopted a new “Raw” identity. “MTV as a brand is much bigger than a TV channel,” Swamy said. “We felt that a good combination of music and reality is necessary, so we have increased the music content.”

However, experts believe that pure music channels 9XM and Mastiii are forcing the older music channels to relook on their music content. “MTV and Channel [V] had taken steps to reduce their music content as they repositioned themselves as youth brand channels. MTV could now be trying to play a fine balance between their reality and music content," says a media tracker.

Meanwhile, on the reality content front, MTV’s reign is shaking as UTV Bindass has succeeded with bold homegrown reality shows like Emotional Attyachaar and Dadagiri. And Channel [V] also is upping the ante with new reality shows.

Also, as per ad sales executives, a pure play music channel can have a revenue upside of Rs 600-650 million, if it leads the genre and buying music is not expensive. And that precisely is the opportunity Sri Adhikari Brothers’ saw while launching Mastiii.

As might be the case with MTV, the reality content doesn’t come cheap. It increases your cost significantly, while results are not always that great. So is it not safe to play pure music? Kamath disagrees. “Music is very easy form of content to put on a channel, but then there is a limit to grow. Moreover, many pure play music channels are getting good ratings from retro songs, which are not sampled by youth,” he says. Channel [V] claims of targeting youth in the 15-34 year segment.

Meanwhile, the year 2010 saw a slight increase in the whole genre, presumably because of the launch of a new channel and the combined effort of other channels to market their shows.

However, 2011 will be a tougher year for the players. There is one more new player in Sony Entertainment waiting for licence to launch its music channel - Sony Mix. Imagine Showbiz has also changed ownership and is now in the hands of Anil Ambani. So wait for more uncertainty in the genre.

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