Television woos Marathi Manus

SABTNL vice chairman and managing director Markand Adhikari assures us that his long-in-the-pipeline channel 'Mi Marathi' will finally be making its appearance in February 2007.

With just two players in the GEC market - Zee Marathi and ETV Marathi - and one public broadcaster - DD Sahyadri - struggling to keep up with the onslaught of private players, the time is just right for more players to enter the niche Marathi regional market.

It's an open field and almost every television network has set sights on it. Like one industry gentleman mentions, "We've looked and looked until our eyes have watered."

That's one of the more cautious players checking the scene. But what catches our interest is the launch of two new channels on the anvil. Zee News Limited is about to launch Chouvees Tas (25 January is the date that is doing the rounds), a 24 hour news channel in Marathi while Adhikari brothers Mi Marathi should launch soon too.

Other players who are evaluating the market include TV18 and Star, although both networks declined to make any specific comment, insisting that the regional market is an unexplored territory, whether in Maharashtra or the other regional segment fast gaining interest - the south.


This is not the first time that channels have wooed the Marathi Manus. The first wave of Marathi channels saw DD Sahyadri, Zee Marathi, ETV Marathi, Tara Marathi and Prabhat fighting for eyeballs. DD Sahyadri was launched in 1998 and was followed by Zee Marathi in 1999. ETV Marathi, Tara and Prabhat were launched in the period between 2001-02.

While the Rathikant Basu led Tara Marathi and Prabhat channels have long since shut shop, Zee Marathi and ETV have not only managed to hold on but have since established themselves, pushing DD Sahyadri to the third position.

DD Sahyadri tried to resurrect itself in 2003 and even raced ahead of the two private players for a brief period. But recent figures suggest another role reversal.


Take into account the figures for last the three months (Oct-Dec 2006), in the CS + 4 Yrs by Tam. ETV Marathi is leading the channel share in Maharashtra by a narrow margin ahead of Zee Marathi, while DD Sahyadri is lagging behind with just 11 per cent share.

In Mumbai, however, Zee Marathi pipped ETV Marathi to the post with a 50 per cent share.

Two weeks into the new year (with CAS having been implemented in south Mumbai and Tam introducing its new, expanded peoplemeter panel), the data throws up a few surprises. And this time Zee Marathi is seen beating ETV Marathi by a high margin. In fact, it competes with Star Plus in the Hindi GEC and emerges a winner.

Channels GRP
ZEE Marathi 351
Star Plus 319
ETV Marathi 258

Channel GRP in GEC

Market:All India

TG: CS 15+Yrs

Source: TAM Peoplemeter

Zee Marathi business head Nitin Vaidya is elated as he brings out the week two results. "Zee Marathi has surpassed Star Plus in the overall channel market share. Both Mumbai and all Maharastra categories show a significant lead for Zee Marathi," says Vaidya. The data he details is clearly reflective of the channel's hold over its Marathi speaking audiences; whether during prime time viewing or the afternoon band with a predominance of women oriented programming.

"I'm not bothered about the Kyunki's and Kahaani's of the world. My competition is not restricted to the Marathi market. I want to compete at equal par with all other entertainment channels. For instance; Sa Re Ga Ma Pa hosted by Pallavi Joshi on Zee Marathi is as popular as the one on our Hindi network," reiterates Vaidya. In fact, the channel is so confident about its show that the time slot of 10 pm coincides with Star Plus' popular K-sagas. Despite this, the channel claims to have wide viewership amongst its Marathi viewers. While one of the reasons for Star's slump could be attributed to Tam having increased its peoplemeter sample size to more cities and updating the number of C&S homes, the interest in Marathi market by established networks is an indicator of its mass appeal.

The numbers also show that Marathi channels, once considered a slow moving market, are undergoing a paradigm shift. The competition is no longer restricted within the niche Marathi channel market but has spilt over to all GECs. According to industry sources, the Marathi market growth rate in 2003 was a modest 8 per cent. Compare that to the 13 to 14 per cent growth rate touted today and we get an idea of why other channels are waiting to jump into the fray.

The general bonhomie over the Marathi market growth is also shared by other industry watchers. Vaidya estimates that the size of the Marathi regional market is Rs1 billion and will be about Rs1.2 billion by year end.


Zee Marathi has clearly ridden the success wave on the back of its programming. Zee Marathi spruced up its programming act last year with the introduction of many new shows. Currently, 11 of the top 15 shows on Marathi regional channels is by Zee Marathi. Zee Telefilms head network sales Joy Chakraborthy believes that the Zee Marathi success was due to its shift from a 'cost centric' to a 'content and marketing centric' strategy.

Doordarshan director Satish Sonkar, who has recently replaced an unceremoniously transferred Mukesh Sharma, is confident about DD Sahyadri. "Our terrestrial reach cannot be duplicated by the private channels. Hence the CAS situation does not bother us too much."

DD Sahyadri:Losing the numbers game?

Sonkar is also gearing up to revive the sagging fortunes of Doordarshan. "Plans are on to launch a new breakfast show in the time slot between 7 to 8 in the morning moulded on the popular Subah Savere format. The emphasis throughout our programming content will be on infotainment." The channel also wants to experiment with 'parallel programming'; although current infrastructure does not permit it do so. Sonkar is also eager to do away with repeats on the channel and replace them with documentaries or feature shows "showcasing cultural aspects of Marathi culture like the history of Lavani".

Award events like Zee Gaurav Puraskar on Zee Marathi to be held on 3 February will see over 10,000 people in attendace. Sahyadri's Hirkani Puraskar also claims a loyal viewership every year.

Adhikari's 'Mi Marathi' is likely to give the general entertainment channels a run for its collective money with its 'bank of 3,000 programmes'. "With a tagline of Aaplya Maansanchi Aapli Vahini (our channel for our own people) and the experience of producing the most popular shows on Doordarshan we will certainly do well," maintains Adhikari.


On a rough estimate, Zee Marathi takes in ad revenues to the tune of Rs 400 million to Rs 450 million while ETV Marathi would be in a similar range. DD Sahyadri claims to have already raked in Rs 300 million, the target set for 2006-2007.

Sahyadri also switched from a sponsored to commissioned model starting Oct '06 to eliminate the middle man. While this is on an experimental basis right now across its regional kendras, the Sahyadri channel has started this on 3-4 of its programmes and aims to extend it to all its programming by the end of this fiscal. The channel is confident that this policy called SFS (self financing scheme) will bring in the much needed ad revenue.

But Marathi channels will have to woo the advertisers more intently. Most of the biggies in terms of advertising in Marathi channels are the FMCG companies like HLL, Reckitt, J&J, Marico, Wipro and they continue to dominate the top advertisers list over the last three years. Most of the new entrants are also from the same category with players like ITC & L'Oreal.


The general news market will see the addition of a new player as Zee News' Chouvees Tas. Zee News Limited CEO Harish Doraiswamy says, 'Unless someone else pips us to the post, we are all set to become the first 24-hour Marathi news channel. There is certainly an equity in the Marathi news market since what is now available to a Marathi viewer is only hour on hour news at Zee Marathi, ETV Marathi and DD Sahyadri.' The channel, which will be launched in a phased manner, is slated to cover all Maharashtra and will enter the market as a free-to-air channel.

Does the rural- urban divide amongst Marathi viewers still exist and will this be a critical factor for Marathi channels? Doraiswamy says, "The content on the news channel will have to be tweaked to suit different categories of Marathi viewership. But by and large, the aspirations of the Marathi people are similar across geographical boundaries. In India, we may call a Latur or Sangli a small city, but judging by the population size these would be large cities had they been in the States. Going by the argument, we don't see a disparity in our viewership. We will have agri-based programming or news specific to the community. The genres of programming will however be consistent throughout."

ETV Marathi focus on news

ETV Marathi first saw the potential of well packaged news and has three news bulletins - ETV Marathi news, Maharashtra Maaza and Aapli Mumbai. The channel also has an issue based talk show Vrutt Vaidh. Sahyadri also has a news bulletin in the evening called Batmya. Zee Marathi's Zee News Marathi is now airing at regular intervals during the day along with hour-on-hour headlines, which will also be withdrawn in the run up to its 24 hour news channel.

Clearly, the latest battle lines amongst these channels will be drawn around news since most of these channels agree that they can never match the programming budgets of some of the bigger channels. Roping in the Marathi viewer through events, awards shows, interactive game shows can be seen across the channels already.


Starcom India's Girish Upadhyay brings in the media planner's perspective when he says, "If we just see the one week data we have post CAS implementation one sees regional channel shares increasing by 20-25 per cent whereas some of the big mass channels have reduced in terms of share, but still these are early days."

He further states, "The general understanding is that niche & local regional channels do well in a CAS environment, since in such an environment people take channels which they are passionate about. But there won't be space for too many channels to survive because a consumer ultimately has to shed money for every extra channel he takes.

"This could give rise to two scenarios: The first entrant in the market would have an upper hand, since viewers have a habit of sticking to whatever they start watching first.

"Consumers will also be tempted to buy a bouquet which has a mix of everything-news, movies, mass, regional. So these smaller news channels will do well if they become part of a good well-rounded bouquet of channels."


What is clear is that the ad revenue pie of the news market, with the entry of these players, is not going to increase much; in fact it will fragment the market further. Also, the big players are entering into news not because of revenue but more because they want to create an impact. Under the Cas regime, the network that offers the most variety in its bouquet is likely to win. That is precisely why one sees some of the news channels nowadays getting into the entertainment channel space which could be an added source of revenue.

So is there room for more regional news channels? The language preference by the masses could just tip the scale in its favour. It is similar to newspaper readership across markets where vernacular is preferred over English/Hindi publications. The fact remains that in Mumbai, many of the Marathi households buy two newspapers - an English daily and a Marathi newspaper.

Upadhyay does a comparative on the Bengali news market, which has Star and Zee amongst its players. "If we had to take the West Bengal a figure in terms of news, Star Ananda is currently ruling with a share in the range of 3 per cent while Zee's Choubees Ghanta is in the range of 1.5 per cent, followed by the other all India players."

Although it would be tough to judge the Marathi market on the same basis, regional channels do have an upper edge purely due to language and cultural preferences.

This could very well mark the second wave of Marathi regional channels and news will be the genre to watch out for.

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