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The Niche Channel Option: Miles to go in India

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Developed television markets like the US have a bouquet of channels, with some mainstream entertainment channels and other niche channels. But that kind of scenario is some time away for the Indian market. Reason: the absence of conditional access, which can work as a tap for consistent subscription revenue.

That was the consensus at the session focusing on niche programming

Chaired by former Star India chairman and Tara promoter Rathikant Basu, the session had a distinguished panel: History Channel managing director Carl Meyer, Tech TV sales & marketing head Rasa Urmonas, ESPN Software India managing director Manu Sawhney, Carlton Television producer cultural diversity Parminder Vir and Doordarshan director general S.Y. Quarishi.

Both Urmonas and Myer pointed out that niche channels are not cheap to create: deep pockets are needed to do research, and for programming teams to implement concepts for informative channels such as the ones they individually lead. Urmonas said that she was on a fact finding mission in India and the trip had been an eye-opener for her.

Sawhney said it was imperative for a niche channel to know its audience and deliver quality content better than general and other channels. Niche channels especially those like sports - which arouse passion - have universal appeal, he said, especially cricket in India.

Vir presented a case study of how British Asians who number 3 million and have a lot of disposable income, are being wooed back to terrestrial TV. "By 1995, we had lost nearly 70 per cent of our audience to cable and satellite channels," she revealed.

A cross-industry platform, the Cultural Diversity Network - consisting of various broadcasters to pool together resources - has been set up, she said. "We had a conference in 2001, and we are implementing its findings," she says. "And the audiences are coming back," she said gleefully.

DD DG Quarishi emphasised that as a pubcaster his network has a responsibility to deliver educational, agricultural and cultural programmes which are targeted at niche audiences, even if these generate no revenue. He added that the state-owned network is now looking at DTT (digital terrestrial transmission). which will provide subscribers a 12 channel bouquet through a set top box priced at Rs 500 in the near future. He mentioned that advertisers are interested in reaching specific audience have shown interest in advertising on some of these audience-specific programmes.

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