Television

Mumbai production houses look to cash in on South programming churn

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The Southern television space, which is second only to the Hindi space in viewership and ad spend, has been a key market for the country‘s prominent production houses including UTV, Creative Eye and Balaji Telefilms. Now these producers are getting more aggressive in this region as the leading Southern networks have intensified their activities in terms of channel launches and programming innovations.

Speaking about the kind of churn happening in the South, this year, the region has already witnessed the launch of four channels: entertainment and music channel Tamil Thirai, Sun Network‘s movies and music channels Aditya in Telugu and Kiran in Malayalam and Amrita TV, a general entertainment channel again in Malayalam.

And we have more channels in the pipeline. As reported by indiantelevision.com, Sun will be launching four Telugu channels this year, including the satellite version of its cable channel Gemini Cable Vision. Malayalam channel Asianet is ready with its movies and lifestyle channel Asianet.

DTH is also an area where production houses look to cash in.

"Regional language programming will continue to play a significant role in television content scenario for us. The arrival of DTH platforms will also spruce up the demand for quality content in Hindi as well as regional language segments," points out UTV director operations & finance Ronald D‘Mello.

For the uninitiated, UTV has just started producing shows for the Sun Network. The first show, a daily titled Gee Boomba is for the network‘s Telugu channel Gemini. Apart from this, the company has also acquired rights to market a Tamil sitcom Ali Rajyam airing on Sun TV. UTV has already been selling airtime for Sun and its producers in the South. On Sun, It also sells exclusive airtime on Kolangal and Nijam.

D‘Mello says, all put together - including production and airtime sales - UTV contributes four to five hours per week for Southern television.

"We have various projects in discussion stage with Sun TV Group for their Tamil, Kannada, Telugu and Malayalam channels. We may do a show for the soon-to-be launched satellite cable channel GCV also. Speaking about airtime sales, more such opportunities are being discussed with various South based producers," he offers on the future plans.

While UTV and Balaji have an exclusive deal with Sun Network, Creative Eye is associated with Vijay TV. Creative Eye is currently producing a Monday - Thursday show Kanmani on the channel. The production house says its forte - mythology - is also in good demand among regional channels.

"Our Mythological serials like Om Namah Shivay and Shree Ganesh dubbed in regional languages are in demand for a re-run by the channels. Till recently Om namah Shivay was being telecast over Asianet in Malayalam," says Creative Eye director Devendra Dass.

Early this year, Creative Eye had signed a deal with ETV to telecast Om Namah Shivay five days a week (Monday - Friday) at 6:30 pm on ETV‘s four Hindi channels ETV-MP, ETV-UP, ETV-Bihar and ETV-Rajasthan.

Speaking on the future projects, Dass says the company is currently negotiating with various networks in the South.

"Our proposals are in pipeline with various players in the South including Sun Network, Vijay TV and Raj TV."

A source close to Creative Eye adds that if the production house lands a deal with Sun, it would kick off its airtime marketing activities also in the South.

The basic strategy being followed by these production houses to make inroads in the Southern market is by having a strong local presence. This is in addition to taking care to maintain that local flavour in their regional programmes. Apart from having their offices down South, the production houses rope in local people to also to handle key marketing responsibilities.

Creative Eye‘s Dass feels that, irrespective of all these, Southern channels are still partial to local producers. "There is a bias towards locally available talents which have proven track records," he says. To counter this, the best strategy, as per Dass, is to have a tie-up with big producers there.

"You should get into tie-ups with bigwigs, who have a clout in the leading channels. Most of them wouldn‘t be having a strong financial back up. This is where we can score. So, these producers will naturally look for someone who is strong in finance as well as content. This is a new idea we are exploring currently and we have already started pitching," explains Dass.

According to D‘Mello, production houses including Radaan and Vikatan offer tough competition down South. But, since UTV is in exclusive contract with Sun, it is not facing any pricing war or undercutting. "There is competition, but content is the king. Sun focuses on quality and we are happy with our present system," he says.

TWO BUSINESS MODELS

The South television space follows two business models:

1) The commissioned programming model wherein the producer produces for a channel with pre-fixed price and

2) Slot sale model (followed by DD and Sun Network) where the producer buys the slot from the channel and produces for that slot. In the former case copyright passes on to the channel and in the latter, copyright remains with the producer.

Dass says Creative Eye has been generating about 15 per cent of its total revenue from the south while D‘Mello claims that its returns from the region has been steadily growing. According to Dass, there are advantages as well as disadvantages when it comes doing production for Southern channels.

The advantages he lists out are: a) Retention of Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) with producers permitted by certain channels (including Sun) in south, (b) comparatively higher profit margins because of low production cost and (c) adds considerably to company revenues.

"On the other hand, the content has almost nil repeat value. The overseas demand is very limited. Also, the production house doesn‘t get noticed in a pan-Indian scenario," says Dass of the downside.

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