Time for global news in Marathi

With national news broadcasters feeling the need to expand into regional markets, it is the Marathi space that is grabbing their attention.Joining Zee 24-Taas and Star Majha in the fight for the 120 million TV viewers of Maharashtra will soon be IBN-Lokmat, the Marathi news channel from the GBN-Lokmat joint venture (JV) company.

So, is the Marathi TV news market getting cluttered or will there will be a slice of the cake big enough for them?

For starters, let us look at the fight between the two existing channels - Zee 24-Taas and Star Majha, the eight-month-old channel from the JV between the ABP group and Star.

Star Majha is leading the race by far, stepping ahead since its second month of launch (See table for channel share).

Channel Share 2007 (%)
Channel Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
Star Majha 30 56 56 58 59 63 58
Zee 24 Taas 70 44 44 42 41 37 42
Source: TAM Peoplemeter System, Maharashtra Market, CS 15+

The gap has widened in 2008 with Star Majha enjoying a higher channel share (See table).

Channel Share 2008 (%)
Channel WK 1 WK 2 WK 3 WK 4 WK 5 WK 6 WK 7
Star Majha 70 69 69 65 77 78 75
Zee 24 Taas 30 31 31 35 23 22 25
Source: TAM Peoplemeter System, Maharashtra Market, CS 15+

Zee 24-Taas explains its slip to distribution issues. "In terms of reach, we are less than half of that of Star Majha. There are issues that involve revamping the deals with cable operators," says Zee 24-Taas news head Ravikant Mittal.

Mittal, however, claims viewers spend more time on the channel than on Star Majha. "Though our reach is limited, a viewer spends about 33 minutes on our channel as compared to the 26 minutes on Star Majha. We have faith in our content," he adds.

In terms of content, Zee 24-Taas claims of being a regional channel with national outlook and an international look, whereas Star Majha says it is a national news channel in Marathi.

"The reason for our growth is that we know our viewers like to see global news in their mother tongue. That is what we are providing them - world-class news in their own language," maintains Star Majha editor Rajiv Khandekar.

IBN-Lokmat is looking at a different positioning. Says editorial director Nikhil Wagle, "Ours will be a global news channel in Marathi language; we are not regional players."

IBN-Lokmat is banking on a large infrastructure network to cover the state. Says Wagle, "We will have 13 bureaux spread across the state. We are also going to have the latest technology to support our news flow."

Zee 24-Taas has a network of eight bureaux and 30 stringers across Maharashtra while Star Majha has six bureaux. For news outside Maharashtra, both rely on their national news networks.

The Marathi news channels agree that the needs of the local viewers are different. They cannot be fobbed off with infotainment; what they look for is hardcore news - be it regional, national or international. For informative entertainment, they have the option of tuning in to other Marathi and Hindi general entertainment channels.

"More competition will prompt us to bring quality to our viewers," says Wagle.

As far as revenue is concerned, Zee 24-Taas and Star Majha claim to have roped in a long list of advertisers. Says Mittal, "We have every big advertiser with us. Maharashtra being a big and financially important state, it is natural to see ad growth."

Agrees Khandekar, "30 per cent of all the GRPs of national Hindi news channels come from Maharashtra. With the kind of ratings and programming we have, revenue is kicking in."

The climate may get spoilt with the entry of IBN-Lokmat. The size of the Marathi TV news market isn‘t big enough, with estimates putting it at under Rs 600 million. Besides the two dedicated satellite news channels, there is ETV Marathi which runs a popular band of news slots and DD Sahyadri.

The channels, however, feel that the size of the pie will only grow with more entrants. Says Mittal, "The space is not cluttered; it can fit in more players."

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