Television

Raj TV: Fighting odds

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Sun Network continues to hold supremacy in the southern region and is on a major expansion spree to build a pan India empire.

In an exclusive interview with Indiantelevision.com, CMD Kalanithi Maran had spelt out his plans to acquire cable networks, set up a direct-to-home platform and launch channels in the non south market.

Indiantelevision.com now takes a close look at how the three competing networks are gearing up for battle. The first of a three-part series examines Raj Television Network?s turnaround plans after its uplinking licence was revoked by the government.

Just over a week ago, Raj Television Network (RTN) chief executive officer Rajeev Nambiar sprung into action. Hoping to uplink the channels once again from India, he applied for Wireless Protocol Clearance (c) approval from the ministry of communications.

Only last month he had got the nod from the information and broadcasting (I&B) ministry, allowing for uplinking from a commercial teleport in India. This spell of good news came after a long period of stress and strain with the ministry which had terminated the company?s teleport licence.

Nambiar badly needed this respite, as he was trying to put the company back on a growth path. For most of last year, he was facing a difficult and testing time. Trouble started brewing in July and the company was locked in a series of legal battles against the I&B ministry. The issue at question: How could RTN uplink the two new channels - VISSA TV and Raj Musix - while approval was pending from the ministry?

The ministry took action, stopping broadcast of the two channels. Subsequently, the teleport licence was terminated and the other two old channels - Raj TV and Raj Digital Plus - were not allowed to uplink from the company?s own facility at Chennai as well as from any alternate commercial uplinking centre in India.

RTN had no other choice but to move out of the country and uplink from Bangkok late last year. This meant additional costs and unnecessary delays as tapes had to physically travel out.

Worse, it prevented RTN from broadcasting live programmes and news. With rivals Sun Network and Jaya TV having their own political inclinations, Raj TV was seen as a relatively neutral channel in news coverage. The timing also proved bad for Raj; during the time it was being forced to uplink out of India, the state was witness to two big events that were drawing in audiences: Tsunami and the controversy over Kanchi seer Jayendra Saraswathi.

"News is our strength and the brand doesn?t have a complete feel without that. But we couldn?t provide live news at this crucial time," says a senior executive in the organisation.

Subscription revenues also began to hurt. For over three months RTN couldn?t set up the encryption of the channels at the new uplinking centre. Admits Nambiar: "Our pay revenues were directly affected. We have about 1.5 million subscribers and charge Rs 12 per subscriber a month for Raj TV and Raj Digital Plus."

Nambiar set out cleaning the mess. He had the encryption system in place by February-end.

The cases against the I&B ministry were withdrawn late last year and reconciliatory talks were initiated. A request application was made to allow RTN to operate its own teleport. Though the I&B ministry has not yet given approval to that, RTN has got the nod for uplinking from India through a commercial teleport.

Nambiar is preparing the company for better days. Uplinking will be from the Essel Shyam teleport at Noida once the clearance is obtained. And there will be an increase in programming budget. Nambiar says the spend will increase by Rs 100 million to Rs 300 million this fiscal.

Raj TV will undergo a complete makeover in terms of look and feel of the channel in the coming weeks. This will include a new logo, new graphics and new colour schemes. The changes will be complete by mid May.

New content is being planned. To focus on this, the company has created a new post and appointed former Min Bimbangal director, operations, V Chandrasekhar as the head of programming and production.

Part of the new strategy will be to build long-term deals with prominent production houses. Such turnover deals with content companies, according to Nambiar, will allow sourcing of content at lower rates as they are allowed ownership of bands over a longer stretch of time. Among those considered are Citadel Videos, Min Bimbangal, AVM and Hansa Vision.

The channel will be experimenting with certain time bands. The evening primetime band - 7 pm to 10:30 pm - is being reserved exclusively for soaps. To start with, Raj TV is launching a soap titled Mundani Mudichu in the first week of May for the 9 pm slot, which will replace a film-based show.

"The shift in strategy is based on a market study we had conducted. The aim is to target different niche Tamil markets. We will be launching more daily soaps in the May-June period," says Chandrasekhar.

The channel has also dedicated its 6:00 pm slot for kids. Currently, Hansa Vision is doing a half-an-hour show in this slot. "This is the time kids watch cartoon films. The idea is to attract this segment to Raj TV with an innovative programme," says Nambiar.

The "people?s channel" is looking at the interactive programming genre to deliver across all SECs. One of the big properties the channel has in this section is the Suhasini Maniratnam anchored show, Ladies Junction. The on-ground show, which has already crossed 150 episodes, provides visibility to the channel across Tamil Nadu. Ladies Junction has covered 36 towns in six months and plan is on to cover another 40 towns in less than seven months.

Says Nambiar, "The effort is to move out of studios and look at ideas and opportunities for larger interface interaction with audiences. This way footfalls can also be showcased as selling opportunities. It is an arsenal in our marketing kitty. These kind of shows also help in the distribution of our channel."

Still, RTN is not completely out of trouble. The ministry has not yet allowed the company to operate its own teleport. Uplinking from another centre in India is also yet to begin. But, as Nambiar says, the company is "on course for staging a comeback."

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