Television

Marathi TV market: Expansion key to survival

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The Rs 750 million Marathi television market will have a new player as brothers Markand and Gautam Adhikari prepare for launch of their channel in December.

Markand says Mi Marathi, with its low-cost operations, will break even in six months. His reason: he already has a bank of 3000 hours of programming which ran on Doordarshan‘s Marathi channel with popular hits like Damini.

"For us, the running cost is the bare minimum. Even for the news content, we can amortise costs as we will be sharing the common infrastructure which we have created for the current affairs and news channel. Besides, our brand is already popular among Marathi viewers who have seen our shows on DD Marathi," he says.

Mi Marathi will be locking horns with three established regional channels - Zee Marathi, ETV Marathi and DD‘s Sahyadri. Besides, it will have to confront with strong market realities that have hindered the fast growth of Marathi channels.

NEWS GAINS FOCUS

News is a very crucial component to the success of a Marathi channel. This is where ETV laid focus early on and has scored over rivals.

Zee Marathi now is trying to hit back. The channel, for instance, recently introduced two extra half-hour news bulletins (5 pm and 12 am) to its line-up. And in the pipeline is an afternoon bulletin, targeted at women.

Zee Marathi has also spruced up its news infrastructure by connecting seven cities of Maharashtra live to Mumbai, apart from extending the coverage to neighbouring Goa. Besides, new regional studios have been set up in five cities: Nagpur, Pune, Aurangabad, Nasik and Kolhapur.

The channel has got a facelift, both in terms of content branding and channel design. Says Zee Marathi business head Nitin Vaidya, "The growing importance of news has inspired us to carry out these initiatives. We want to tap this market more seriously. We are localising our news content. While national news channels are concentrating on tabloid journalism, we want to provide news that is relevant to the local viewer."

No such expansion is planned by DD Sahyadri which already runs four news bulletins. Among its current affairs content offering, the talk show Maha Charcha is a long running property. The channel also caters to farmers and the Sindhi community with development news as the main focus.

DD Sahyadri director Mukesh Sharma doesn‘t think the channel‘s news strategy requires a review. "We have no plans to incease our news content," he says.

On the ratings front, as per Tam data (CS4+, 9 October to 5 November 2005), ETV‘s 10:30 news bulletin Aapli Mumbai is among the top 10 programme list with an average rating of 3 TVR in the Mumbai as well as all Maharashtra markets. Sahyadri‘s 7 pm bulletin Batmya is also popular in the CS4+ all Maharashtra market.

SOAPS: V‘SHIP UP, MATCHWINNER NOT YET

While news provide the cutting edge to Marathi channels, soaps are showing a slow rise in viewership. Says ETV chief producer Manvi, "Earlier the ratings stopped at 3 TVRs. Now soaps are throwing up ratings in the region of 6 TVRs."

The fight, though, is restricted to the prime time. And this is where the programming costs are going up. Admits Vaidya: "We have to raise the production quality as we are competing against the Hindi general entertainment channels to rope in viewers. Marathi producers are, thus, hiking the budgets."

Part of the hike is due to a higher remuneration which senior Marathi actors are demanding. These artistes have been playing roles in Hindi serials as well. "They prefer Hindi over Marathi soaps and you have to play the money card to attract them," says Vaidya.

The programming budget for Marathi soaps is approximately in the region of Rs 50,000 to Rs 75,000 per episode, according to industry estimates. But, as Vaidya says, there is no drastic increase in content costs.

DD Sahyadri‘s programming budgets, in fact, are comparatively smaller. "We spend about Rs. 40,000 per episode for our prime time shows. Soaps cost us about Rs 30,000 per episode," says Sharma.

Marathi channels have not found it feasible to expand the three-hour prime time block (7-10 pm) with high-cost programming. No channel has really invested in soaps to build blocks beyond the 10 pm slot.

Says Manvi, "After 10 pm, we have only low-cost programming. We haven‘t gone beyond our day one strategy of three soaps because we have realised that investing in more fiction content doesn‘t suit the market realities." ETV telecasts soaps till 9 pm, then breaks away to news, and at 9.30 pm shows a daily crime-based non fiction programme.

Zee Marathi, on the other hand, telecasts four prime time soaps (8 to 9:30 pm). Early this year the channel, in fact, replaced its 10 pm soap with weekly shows which is a mixed bag of fiction and non fiction content. Vaidya‘s argument: this was to have variety in programming and had nothing to do with lack of viewership.

"We had initiated an experiment in 2004 to evade the Hindi prime time band by launching a soap at 10 pm. We have gone back to our original strategy of having soaps till 9:30 pm. We needed to offer variety," he says.

The prime time for Zee Marathi, according to Vaidya, begins with the 7 pm bulletin. This is followed by an interactive game show Home Minister at 7:30 pm.

Soaps, however, do not figure in DD Sahyadri‘s prime time. The channel has a line up of music shows, gameshows and film-based programmes in this block.

"Our prime time is from 7 pm to 8 pm. The 7 pm to 7:15 pm band belongs to our popular evening news bulletin Batmya. Music-based shows, gameshows and film-based programmes fill the remaining duration. We have kept soaps out of our evening prime time. We telecast them in the afternoon band, between 3:30 pm to 5:30 pm," says Sharma.

ETV soaps are ahead of competition in the market according to the last four month TAM data (CS 4+ Mumbai, Maharashtra markets excluding Mumbai, and all Maharashtra). While ETV‘s channel driver soap Char Divas Saasuche has been leading the race consistently with an average TVR of 5.5, Zee Marathi‘s driver show Vaadalwaat maintains an average rating of 3.3 TVR. The channel, though, is attempting to fight back with movies and events which are fairly successful on the rating charts.

Private Marathi channels have not put their focus on the afternoon band with fresh programming. Both Zee Marathi and ETV Marathi repeat their prime time properties in this band. DD Sahyardi, however, telecasts original programmes (soaps) in the 3:30 pm to 5:30 pm band, as it takes advantage of the terrestrial feed on the channel between 3 -8 pm.

EVENTS KEY TO REACH & INTERACTIVITY

Marathi channels use events as an important strategy to penetrate into the interiors of the state. Depending on the size of the event, the spends range from Rs 1 million to Rs 3 million.

DD Sahyadri offers about six to eight event properties a year with the big ones being the annual DD Awards, Hirkhani Awards (felicitating women achievers) and the Navaratan Awards.

Zee Marathi‘s strategy is to organise various on-ground activities, have reach-building programmes and line up small events. Zee Gaurav Awards is a top rated show in this segment.

"We have been using our Zee Gaurav Awards and the game show Home Minister as reach building programmes since the concepts require large scale viewer participation. We make it a point to plan our activities well in advance so that we can plan various things around the property. The entire schedule and event calendar for 2006 is already in place. The 2006 Zee Gaurav Awards will be held on 4 February," explains Vaidya.

Events also play a crucial role in ETV Marathi‘s strategy. According to Manvi, the channel conducts about six events per year. "The idea is to get different audiences from different parts of Maharashtra. We do festival as well as theme-based events," he says.

MOVIES: ZEE MARATHI MORE AGGRESSIVE

Zee Marathi has an edge over competition in the movie segment. The channel boasts of a collection of about 400 Marathi films. Every year, Vaidya says, it acquires most of the new movies released. "We acquired about 40 films in the last fiscal including the Oscar nominee Shwaas."

Zee Marathi recently created a monthly slot, Mahaa Cinema, to telecast popular Marathi movies. Looking at the last four month Tam data from all the three Marathi markets (CS4+), films telecast by Zee Marathi figure in the top ten list consistently. Films, according to Tam data, record about 3.5 TVRs on an average while the Oscar nominee Shwaas crossed ratings of 6 TVR.

ETV Marathi has created a bank of about 250 films. The channel telecasts films daily in the morning slot while Zee Marathi has devoted weekend slots in the evening.

DD Sahyadri has a Sunday afternoon slot for movies. According to Sharma, the channel will be acquiring movies and self-marketing them as per its newly introduced sponsorship arrangement.

According to industry estimates, ETV Marathi spends about Rs 4 to 5 million on movies per year. Vaidya, while not disclosing the rates, claims that the channel pays the best rates in the industry for acquisitions.

RATINGS: ETV MARATHI CLEAR LEADER

ETV Marathi is the most highly rated channel, according to the last seven-month Tam data (TG CS 4+) ended October 2005. ETV Marathi holds 52 per cent channel share in Mumbai while in all Maharashtra it is 51 per cent. The share is 49 per cent in rest of Maharashtra excluding Mumbai.

Compare this with Zee Marathi which holds 32 per cent channel share in Mumbai, 30 per cent in all Maharashtra and 27 per cent in the Non-Mumbai market (all Maharashtra excluding Mumbai). DD Sahyadri fares better in the non-Mumbai segment with 24.4 per cent while it holds 16 per cent share in Mumbai and 18.8 per cent in all Maharashtra.

WILL THE MARKET EXPAND?

The question that arises is: how will a slow-growing market accommodate a fourth player. As the gap between content cost and earnings is alarmingly close, Marathi channels who almost share the same advertising revenues realise that expansion of the market is key to their being profitable.

"A new player and fresh investments will definitely expand the market. Competition can also contribute significantly to raise the quality of content," says Vaidya.

Manvi agrees. "Initially, the size of the market was very small. Since the last four to five years, it has shown a gradual increase. There is potential to grow the market," he says.

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