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The Content Hub: Segmented channels predict good future for themselves

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MUMBAI: The Indian television industry is undergoing a sea change in terms of the content that is being created, both on television and online, long as well as short format. With an increasing need for dynamic creators and scriptwriters, Indiantelevision.com’s first edition of The Content Hub aims to bring together writers, creators, producers, artistes and broadcast executives to discuss with those involved in the content creation process.

Opening the session was Indiantelevision.com founder, CEO and editor in chief Anil Wanvari, who spoke about how current Indian shows run for more than 1000 episodes while the audience and time spent on digital is shooting up. “We need to create engaging content by rethinking whether we need a time shift, seasonal shows, social programmes or younger producers,” said Wanvari.

The first session dealt with the risk taking broadcasters of the industry in which Madison World chairman Sam Balsara spoke to Epic Television Networks CEO Mahesh Samat and Reliance Broadcast Network Tarun Katial.

Balsara started off the session by asking the two about their attempts to disrupt content in the traditional general entertainment channel (GEC) space. Samat said that over the years, the GECs have seen a very few changes and it is only in the last two or three years, due to some impact of digitisation, there has been a little shift.  He compared the current television industry scenario to the film industry where earlier only one type of movies were produced due to single screens and now due to proliferation of multiplexes there is a variety.

Balsara said that every GEC has the type of content that Epic is trying to segment into its channel. “I am told that people watch shows, not channels?” he questioned. To this Samat took up the example of the US where in the last 25 years all the channels that have come up are segmented. To this, Katial said that the top three GECs could afford to do general content while channels beyond that have to think differently. “Truly there are only three GECs in India- Star Plus, Zee TV and Colors while Sony is largely crime and similar to that is Life OK. Sab is segmented for comedy and so is Big Magic. A lot of our growth has come from geography segmentation,” said Katial.

Balsara pointed out that the time where people in India will pay to watch good content is still very distant, so what will be a viable model? Katial said that he doesn’t feel there is space for niche segmented content because the investment needs to be if not more then as much as what a Hindi GEC can put with also a good amount of distribution cost. “Abroad, large GECs are terrestrial and free to air. Here to create content that needs to fill three hours daily can hamper the economics and to reach 50-60 GRPs you have to play the lowest common denominator game. When you segment and get to 15-20 GRPs, no Madison will pay you the ER,” he pointed out.

Balsara with his years of experience said that ad revenue is limited due to limited viewership because while segmented channels ask for lakhs of rupees, GECs have a CPRP of about Rs 20000 to Rs 25000. “Why would a brand buy something at five times the cost if it is available at one fifth the price?” he questioned.

The way forward according to Katial is actually the viewership but if original content needs to be created then high investment is needed. “Channels such as FoodFood and Discovery have content with limited cost and limited distribution (restricted to urban areas) but for original content the P&L gets to Rs 300 crore,” said Katial. Answering Balsara’s question of high a-la-carte rates of channels, Samat said that a certain amount of reach and GRPs are needed before the channel can be made affordable.

“10 years ago people laughed at DTH and look at how things are now. So subscription isn’t far off. If you make the right content with limited episodes, syndication will get you money,” highlighted Samat. He added that current long format shows don’t allow syndication.

Balsara highlighted the language difference between English and Hindi wherein English papers command high ad revenue while English channels are almost inconsequential. To this Katial said that English papers create influence while English channels sell products. “The English viewer is hooked to other screens but not set for standard TV viewing format,” he stated.

With several growing mediums, Balsara asked if today content is created with only TV in mind to which Samat said, “We are developing content ‘forever’ that can make money even afterwards. More than screens, we should now look at longevity.”

In response to Balsara’s question of adapting several international formats Katial said that there is no shame in legally doing so since it has a success track record. “When you put Rs 1 crore or Rs 2 crore behind such shows, every management wants to see it has worked before and so do advertisers,” he said. Samat said that the option of creating or adapting a format lies totally on the economics of the channel.

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