At Jaya TV, KP Sunil is preparing for a bigger role. As head of news, he is eagerly waiting for the news and current affairs channel to launch in a market that is occupied only by Sun News.
The question is: When? Run by close associates of Tamil Nadu chief minister Jayalalitha, insiders say it is bound to happen before the state elections that are due in May 2006. But Jaya TV had hatched plans for the last few years of floating such a channel. So will it take birth this time?
Matters are moving. Permission has been obtained to run a teleport and a second channel. "We are only awaiting approval from Wireless Protocol Clearance for the channel. The teleport should be operational within six months," says Jaya TV vice president of administration and legal S Ranganathan.
A bouquet of channels is what Jaya needs if it has to do serious combat against Sun Network which has a fleet of four strong Tamil language channels - Sun TV, Sun News, movie channel KTV and Sun Music. Even Raj Television Network has two channels - Raj TV and Raj Digital Plus.
Jaya Plus will primarily be a news and current affairs channel but have small doses of talk shows and quiz programmes. And it will be politically aligned towards Jayalalitha. Admits Sunil, who will head the news channel: "No channel including CNN is neutral. The channel will be as politically neutral as Sun News or Doordarshan is."
Sunil believes the channel can have a different positioning and still gather in audiences. "We will have 7-8 fresh news bulletins. Unlike the other news channels, we will have no repeat telecast of the same news. In between, we will have district level news," he says.
How big will the team be? "We are already 150 people. We will add another 20 per cent staff," says Sunil.
The bouquet will not end there. Plans are on to apply uplinking permission for a third channel. "Once we have our teleport, it will be viable to have more channels in the bouquet," says Ranganathan.
The company is also pushing for growth in overseas markets. Recently, a deal was signed with Malaysia's Astro All Asia Network to provide programmes. ATN channel in Canada is also carrying Jaya TV's programmes. Besides, the channel is available on Pehla direct-to-home (DTH) platform since late last year. "We are likely to have more subscription revenues from overseas markets in future," says Ranganathan.
The company's earnings from advertising have grown by Rs 100 million last fiscal. Says Jaya TV vice president marketing K Balaswaminathan, "We touched Rs 600 million in the last financial year." But this is far below what Sun earns.
The challenge for flagship general entertainment channel Jaya TV is to grow the audience share. The channel is banking on a new SMS-based live interactive game show, which is likely to be launched in the prime time as a weekly in August.
Gameshows, in fact, have been Jaya's trumpcard. Jackpot, anchored by popular actress Khushbu, is the most successful show and has been running for the last three years. "Though the original Zee TV show Family Fortunes ran only for one year, we have the Tamil version delivering for us," says Balaswaminathan.
The production cost of Jackpot is in the range of Rs 80,000 to Rs 1,00,000, according to a source. The new gameshow will cost around that range, he adds.
Movies is another area where Jaya TV is planning to be aggressive. The company has acquired rights to two blockbuster movies released this year, Mumbai Xpress and Sachien. "The cost of movies has gone up while there is a limit on the revenue realisation. But we have got to run the race. Movies can be seen as investments," says Jaya TV vice president programmes and operations Murali Raman.
Adds Balaswaminathan: "We have a variety of programming. We have talk shows and game shows. We do not rely only on daily soaps." No wonder while Sun has 13 soaps daily, Jaya TV telecasts only six.
That is forced in a way, as Sun has a strong line-up of soaps. Jaya's strategy is to tap the viewer segment which is more bent on non-soap programmes like game shows and comedies. Last year, the channel launched a talk show Achamillai Achamillai with popular actress Lakshmi as anchor.
One major property added to the programming line up as part of Jaya TV's makeover last year was dubbed Hollywood movies. Jaya TV telecasts Hollywood blockbusters on Saturdays at 9:30 pm. For a 90-minute movie, Jaya TV's ad inventory could be approximately 1200 seconds. The channel charges Rs 4000 for a 10-second slot, says Balaswaminathan.
Events is something Jaya TV is planning to return to. Last year, the channel had no event-based programming line up.
For over five years, Jaya TV may have found the going tough as a lone channel. But will the task get easier even after forming a bouquet to take on Sun Network? A senior executive in the company sums it up the best way: "We will have to take a long and bumpy ride before we can even know the answer."