Telugu TV Market: The Undercurrents

If 2004‘s big media story from the Telugu regional language broadcast space had been the market getting bullish on the news genre, this year the entertainment space has regained centrestage.

Ratings Performance: Tam data c&s15+ five metros paints an interesting picture. If one looks at the overall English entertainment picture, then Discovery is lying in third place behind Star Movies and HBO. Data for 1 January to 30 June 2005 prime time 8-11 pm shows that Discovery has a TVR of 0.08 and a share of 13.7. However, the time spent watching it has fallen from 5.11 minutes in the September to December 2004 period to 4.46 minutes in the January to April 2005 period.

The channel, eating into the market shares of ETV and other Sun channels Gemini TV and Teja TV, started off on a good note by recording 7 per cent share, as per Tam data for the period.

Adithya shook up the market, hastening the relaunch of Zee Telugu. Zee had already launched its Telugu channel in mid-2004 but it wasn‘t makng much headway. So in May the channel came with a new target audience in mind - the upwardly mobile 19 to 34 age group. This was not specifically addressed by the other mass channels. Zee thought with its slant on game shows and telefilms, it could win these audiences.

"We are looking at light-viewing younger audiences who are crucial to all advertisers," says Zee South business head Ajay Kumar, adding that the channel‘s strategy to fight established channels is by breaking the supremacy of soaps. "We are innovating with various new genres. We want to clear the fatigue factor present here. We are launching a reality as well as a chat show in the near future."

Zee Telugu unveiled a brand new line up, especially for the primetime, during the re-launch. In its efforts to bring in the female viewership, it launched a ladies only game show Goldrush and four daily soaps. The channel has also introduced various music and film based shows while knocking off some Hindi-dubbed shows in the process.

Now what do the numbers have to say? Pre-launch data --- 27 February 2005 to 26 March 2005 --- showed Alpha Telugu garnering a channel share of 1.2 per cent against heavyweights Gemini TV (38.9), ETV (24.3) and Teja TV (19.9). In fact, it stood in the second last position, just above an insignificant channel Manna Telugu in an eight-channel list.

Aditya‘s entry also shook Alpha Telugu slightly, bringing down its channel share further to 1 per cent. In the post re-launch phase, that is 1 May to 9 July, Zee Telugu has managed to slightly improve its position to 1.2 per cent.

According to Telugu TV market analysts, the space hasn‘t witnessed much of a change as far as the basic pattern of strategies is concerned. Films and film-based programmes continue to drive TRPs and now there is also an added stress on event programming.

There is a chase for new movies. The new trend, admits South-based production house Yantra Media head Shyamsundar, is to make a collection of new movies instead of going for the oldies.

"Nowadays, channels are most concerned about having new releases. You acquire about 30 per cent of the new movies released in a year and then you are in a good position," he says. Shyamsundar recently quit Sun Network to provide shows for Zee Telugu and Malayalam Network Asianet.

Sun Network acquires a majority of movies released in Telugu every year to telecast in its two channels Gemini and Teja, followed by ETV.

After Gemini and ETV, the channel which is banking heavily on movies is Maa TV. The channel is playing the movie card to fight the supremacy of soaps telecast by Gemini TV and ETV in primetime. The channel entered into a revenue sharing arrangement with Telugu film producers this year to telecast the latest blockbusters.

In a market where acquiring a blockbuster costs over Rs 10 million per film, Maa TV signed a minimum guarantee agreement with 12 Telugu film producers. The agreement is valid for a period of two to five years and the channel pays the producer Rs 2 to Rs 6 million, depending on the movie and the time period.

"Once the agreement expires, the producer can either renew the contract or go out of it. But if they decide to sell the movie rights, we have the first right of refusal," says Maa TV executive director Rajendra Prasad, adding that the channel has also acquired perpetual rights to some movies. As per the model, the channel has acquired rights to about 32 new as well as 90 old titles (maximum three years old).

"This way, we are building a library of relatively new movies. On an aggressive note, we have decided to telecast two blockbusters every month with a gap of 15 days starting August," he says.

Zee Telugu‘s focus, though, will be to groom non-movie properties since Gemini and ETV are far ahead in a market where films are obscenely expensive. Not that Zee Telugu is totally abandoning this policy. The channel, which already holds a library of about 400 old titles, is now ready to procure some new movies.

The strategy, however, will be to mix it up with telefilms. It has already produced 12 telefilms of 100 minute duration each.

"We are not desperate about procuring movie rights. Our effort is strengthen the basic programming. Then gradually, we will strengthen out movie programming," says Ajay Kumar.

The dubbed movie properties also drive channel strategies here. Maa TV occasionally telecast Hindi movies dubbed in Telugu. Zee Telugu, which is also following a similar strategy, will launch its Telugu dubbed Hindi movie property with the blockbuster movie Sholay in September. Maa TV is planning to introduce Hollywood movies dubbed in Telugu next

After movies, the next big investment for Telugu channels is events. Maa TV, which makes investments in the range of Rs 1.2 million to Rs 8 million per event, is planning four projects this fiscal.

In its turn, Zee Telugu is working on three events, among which one will be a stand-out property, according to Ajay Kumar. "We may not necessarily do film awards. With our event properties, we are targeting viewership across the social strata. We will have class and mass events," he says.

Speaking about the Telugu news channel market, Maa TV‘s plans to launch a news channel is yet to materialise while the uplinking issues affected Raj TV Network‘s plans to launch a Telugu news channel.

In its second year, a succsssful run it has been enjoying uptil now has inspired TV9 to plan a Kannada news channel.

"In Telugu, our experiment with a dedicated news channel is a success. Now we want to take this good show forward by launching a Kannada news channel," says TV9 CEO V Ravi Prakash.

Presently, as per Tam ratings, TV9 and ETV2 lead the news channel pack and Teja News is in the last spot. Both ETV2 and TV9 were launched ahead elections which helped the channels to get established to a great extent. At the same time, Teja News didn‘t have any major news properties to cash-in on during its launch.

"As far as news channels are concerned, you need strong news driven properties such as elections to create a buzz. Teja News, which missed such an advantage, might take its time to stabilise," points out an industry observer.

Be it news or entertainment, new entrants and second line players attempt everything possible to make their presence felt in the Rs 3 billion market. At the same time, it continues to attract new players. According to a market source, Star India is seriously looking at entering Telugu next. TV9 is also planning a Telugu entertainment channel.

According to Prakash, it would be subscription revenues that would drive growth in the coming days. "Returns from advertising are going to get stagnant now. The stress will be on subscription revenues. I think encrypted channels will drive the market‘s growth in the coming days," he says.

The time chosen by Maran to launch Adithya had disturbed Zee Telugu‘s distribution ramp-up strategies to an extent. The channel, distributed by Hathway, faced an allocation problem since Adithya overtook it in the launch.

"The market is already cluttered. When we re-launched the channel, we had to deal with an allocation problem because of another channel launch. Now it is being resolved and we are getting a vantage position since there is a demand for the channel among viewers," says Zee South senior vice-president and business head Ajay Kumar.

Ajay Kumar adds that, in Hyderabad, InCable, Siti Cable and Lifestyle Communication are carrying it in the prime band while Hathway has it in the S9 band. In the Vizag market, it is a combination of S9 and prime band.

"We are re-working our distribution set up in some of the 100,000 to 1 million (population) markets and getting the channel into prime band. In the Vijayawada market, where Siti Cable has almost 90 per cent hold, Zee Telugu is positioned in the prime band," he explains of the progress being made.

Shyamsundar says there is always a hope for new players in Telugu since Andhra Pradesh is a vulnerable market. "Sun doesn‘t enjoy the same cable supremacy which it enjoys there in Tamil Nadu. Hence, lot depends on the kind of content you have."

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