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Vijay TV scripts a turnaround tale

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Star Group owned Vijay TV has turned around, putting behind a history of losses over the years.

"We have, for the first time, made a small profit in the fiscal. It is a promising start," says Vijay TV deputy general manager Harsh Rohatgi.

Getting to such a situation wasn‘t easy, particularly in a market where Sun Network held complete control while Raj TV and Jaya TV were smaller players but firmly entrenched in the state. Vijay TV, in fact, had a net loss of 85 million for the year ended 31 March 2003, on a revenue of Rs 402.9 million.

So how was this achieved? "We rationalised costs and also grew in revenues," says Rohatgi.

Inching closer to Sun is not Vijay TV‘s strategy. The plan is to carve out a separate space for itself rather than confront the other networks directly. Lacking the ammunition of a strong Tamil movie line up and unwilling to invest heavily on them, the channel chalked out a different approach: leverage content of Star Group channels and dub them into Tamil.

It was Vijay TV which kicked off the Hollywood dub movie campaign in Tamil. That was in February 2003 and Jaya TV followed suit in 2004. The first Sunday Hollywood blockbuster to be aired was Titanic. The line up was strengthened last year with more and better movies. Presently, Vijay TV has two dubbed English movie slots: It telecasts martial arts movies in the 9:00 pm slot on Saturdays and Hollywood dubbed movies in the 11 am slot on Sundays.

Vijay TV is targeting the family audience with its Sunday morning slot. "Family television viewing is high on Sunday mornings and Vijay has been synonymous with Hollywood movies," says Rohatgi.

Sun Network also took to this route but Vijay TV had movies like Titanic, the Jurassic Park series, Gladiator and Terminator. Rohatgi admits such movies have really helped the channel gain a foothold. "The ratings in this band have been consistent with TVRs in the range of 6-10," he says.

Speaking about the returns in ad revenues, Rohatgi points out that Vijay TV has been getting good response from national as well as regional advertisers for the Hollywood segment. "We have an equal mix of national as well as regional advertisers on these movies," he offers. "The national advertisers the channel has roped in include Britannia,LG, Cadburys, HLL, Hutch. The line up of regional advertisers for the Hollywood property include Goldwinner and Univercell."

The martial arts movie segment Adhiradi Thiruvizha is also getting decent ratings as the Tamil audiences are passionate about action-oriented films, says Rohatgi. The property has given the channel an average TVR of 4 in the CS ABC4+ Chennai market from January 2005 to February 2005.

So will Vijay TV also dub other language movies into Tamil? Rohatgi doesn‘t rule that out. "Language has never been a barrier for good entertainment and the Hollywood movie success is proof of the same," he says. The channel, in fact, has already made some movements on this front. It has telecast the Tamil dubbed versions of Hindi blockbusters Satya and Rangeela.

Vijay TV also decided to pump in content from Star Plus. Kids programming like Shakalaka Boom Boom and Hatim were dubbed in Tamil and brought on air from August 2004. Having seen a surge in audience share among the kids, the plan is to soon launch Khulja Sim Sim on the channel.

Says Rohatgi, "Fantasy shows from the Star stable have worked wonders for us in the kids band. Shares are in excess of 40 per cent and ratings for these shows average around 7-8 among kids."

Putting in internally produced shows also formed part of the strategy. All the 9 pm shows (Mon-Thurs 21.00-21.45), comprising innovative formats and film-based content to form part of the comedy genre, were produced in house. These include Idhu Eppadi Iruku (a standup comedy), Kadavul Padhi Mirugam Padhi, Vandu (Devil), Lollu Sabha (a film-based satire) and Cinema Karam Kappi (a weekly roundup featuring everything that you will find in theatres and the scoop on up coming films).

The agenda for the next four months is to launch shows in prime time and the afternoon band. The big one: a game show exclusively for woman titled Vasool Rani in the afternoon band (Mon-Thu 12.00-12.30 pm). "Our focus is to do the scheduling in such a way so that we do not take Sun TV head on. The game show involves high risks, high gains and the winner can gratify herself and keep the prizes or gratify her greed by giving up her stakes and participate further to win the mega prize," says Rohatgi.

Acquisition of Tamil movies is not something Vijay TV will be aggressive on. The focus, says Rohatgi, will be on dailies before we decide to get into high investment mode on movies. "As a policy, we have decided to stay away from expensive acquisitions. The revenue realisation doesn‘t justify the investments. After the success of our dubbed movies, Sun, in fact, put a cap on the price they would be paying for acquiring the movies. That has brought about some sanity in the market," he adds.

While streamlining costs, Vijay TV has been making efforts to exploit revenue opportunities from new streams. The channel was made available in the United States on DirecTV along with group channels Star Plus, Star One and Star News on 2 November 2004. The TamilDirect residential package is $14.99 per month.

"Part of the turnaround story came on the back of growth in revenues. There are upsides across many revenue streams including content syndication. We also started beaming the channel in the US and will be looking at other territories," says Rohatgi.

For more focus on Vijay TV, an independent ad sales team was set up last year with K Sriram as the head. He reports to Star India ad sales head Kevin Vaz.

For Star India which bought out UTV‘s stake in Vijay TV last year, it is crucial to succeed in the Tamil market before it decides to march across the other southern language states. The accumulated losses of Vijay TV were as high as Rs 794 million till 31 March 2003. Bringing this down will take a longer period and will require more investments and revenue drivers.

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