Regionalism Rules

There?s no business like news business. Or at least that?s what it appears given the way new players are surfacing with amazing regularity. The national news market is already packed with players besides new entrants still waiting in the wings. It doesn?t come as a surprise then that regional news channels too are hopping on to the bandwagon.

The growth in the regional news markets ? specifically Maharashtra, West Bengal and the Southern states of Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh ? is remarkable.

This is why even national news broadcasters are eyeing the regional spaces. Star and Zee already have a presence in West Bengal and Maharashtra. Network18 has just joined the party in Maharashtra with IBN Lokmat.

The regional news market, year-on-year basis, has grown 13.3 per cent in 2006 and 41.2 per cent in 2007. The first six months of 2008 have seen growth being pegged at 16.7 per cent, leading to the regional news audience share touching 2.8 - which is a doubling from 1.4 per cent in 2004.

Moreover, ad volume is also seeing exponential growth, according to Tam Adex. It says that ad volume on regional news channels (combined Marathi, Bengali, Southern) in 2006 was 17,682 seconds.The amount virtually doubled in 2007 to touch 31,167 seconds. Even in the first five months of 2008, the ad volume was 18,843 seconds.

South Rules!

The southern broadcast news market is the most lucrative amongst Indian regional plays. Apart from the subcontinent, the channels have viewership in Sri Lanka, China, the Middle East, UK, Canada, Europe, Australia and parts of South Africa and the United States.

Recently, the southern market has seen much activity: launches, announcements of launches, changes in political equations and an increased intensity of competition in almost every language segment ?Tamil, Malayalam, Kannada or Telugu.

The Tamil news segment for instance is just opening up following the public parting of ways between Kalanidhi Maran?s Sun Network and his grand-uncle and Tamil Nadu chief minister M Karunanidhi.

As of now, Tamil Nadu has three major players: Sun News from Sun Network, Jaya Plus from the AIADMK backed Jaya TV and

Raj News from Raj TV. The DMK backed Kalaignar TV also runs its own news bulletins. The free-to-air Mega TV, a 24-Tamil news, current affairs and entertainment channel, promoted by State Congress MP KV Thangabalu, completes the Tamil news pack.

An interesting point to note is that the market is nascent and players are taking it easy: Raj News, for instance, has invested Rs 300 million, but has yet to start generating revenues. ?Our investment is about Rs 300 million, and break even will be in three years. From next year we will start billing,? says Raj TV Network promoter Rajendran.

The other large southern language news segment is Telugu with competition intense in Andhra Pradesh. The Telugu news leader TV9 (backed by Associated Broadcasting Corporation) appears to have ambitions to launch news channels in almost every language segment. It is followed by ETV2 - the news channel from ETV. The other big players are NTV News, TV5 News and Sun?s Gemini News.

Even Zee News Limited is planning its own Telugu offering Zee 24-Ghantalu, following its Bangla and Marathi launches.

TV9, meanwhile, has shown incredible growth in Karnataka, where it is much ahead of Sun?s Udaya Varthegalu and Suvarna News.

In Kerala, Manorama News is leading the comparatively smaller market. Among other players are Asianet News, People TV and India Vision. Even the state unit of the Congress recently launched Jai Hind TV with much fanfare.

Jai Maharashtra

The Marathi news market is a little less than Rs 80 million in ad revenues with three 24-hour news channels, Star Majha, Zee 24-Taas and IBN Lokmat. ETV Marathi, Mi Marathi, and state broadcaster DD Sahyadri also produce news but they are part of what are essentially Marathi entertainment channels.

Industry observers say that the Marathi news segment is still in the teething stage as it accounts for a measely 5 per cent of the entire Marathi advertising market (including entertainment television) estimnated at Rs 2 billion. ?It is yet to get over its initial hiccups and grow to achieve its true potential,? says an observer.

With the launch of more Marathi news channels, the category will possibly have better representation and may lead to more moolah.

?I see a huge growth potential in the Marathi news segment,? says Zee News CEO Barun Das. ?Marathi 24-hour news channels are now gaining acceptance among viewers as well as advertisers. The future of this market seems far better than what it is now.?

Tam data suggests that Star Majha was the Marathi news leader (in terms of relative share) before the launch of Global Broadcast News? IBN Lokmat.

Within three months of its launch, IBN Lokmat has captured a significant market share. Star Majha and Zee 24-Taas are running neck-and-neck with IBN Lokmat not lagging far behind.

Marathi news channels agree that content-wise the needs of 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 GECs.

A major chunk of the news, around 70 per cent comes from the region or state, while national news share is 20 per cent. The balance 10-odd per cent is from international developments.

Aamar Shonaar Bangla

The Bangla news market is much bigger than its Marathi counterpart with media analysts pegging it at more than Rs 600 million. The reason lies in the common belief that the Bengali channels targeting West Bengal are also watched in neighbouring Bangladesh, making it lucrative for broadcasters.

?The Bengalis? appetite for news in the mother tongue is higher than that in Maharashtra. Also, Kolkata is less cosmopolitan as compared to Mumbai,? points out Das.

Interestingly, Bengalis tend to have a penchant for news rather than general entertainment. That?s why Tara Bangla split itself into two channels - Tara Newz and Tara Muzik (a music entertainment channel).

The other players in the arena are Star Ananda, Zee 24-Ghanta, Kolkata TV and the recently launched NE News. Star Ananda clearly is leading the pack in this market.

Even ETV, for instance, has dedicated 20 per cent of its programming to news on the Bengali channel.

Apart from that, state broadcaster DD7, or DD Bangla channel delivers news.

Media Content and Communications Services (MCCS), the company that runs Star Ananda, is bullish about the future. And what about the space getting crowed?

?In fact, I see competition helping the market to expand even further,? says MCCS CEO Ashok Venkataramani. That perhaps is the dictum across all the channel segments.

The story first appeared in The NT Magazine. The PDF of the magazine can be accessed at

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