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Regional audiences are not second class

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MUMBAI: Two big regional broadcasters and two big production houses got together to discuss 'TV content ecosystem: Adapting and amalgamating the regional and the national’ at FICCI Frames 2014. The session started with a keynote by Asianet Managing director K Madhavan and was followed by a discussion among panelists that included Viacom18 regional channels EVP Anuj Poddar, Fremantle India MD Anupama Mandloi and BIG Synergy COO Indranil Chakraborty on the opportunities in the regional entertainment space. The discussion was anchored by indiantelevision.com Founder, CEO and editor-in-chief Anil Wanvari.

Madhavan started off by predicting that in three years, the ad revenue coming from regional channels will be equal to that of the national channels. He also highlighted that the biggest problem for regional broadcasters is carriage fees.

“The regional market is about Rs 5,000 crore in terms of advertising revenue and we are the second largest in ad revenue as well as viewership after the Hindi GEC genre,” said Poddar. He also stated that there is a misconception that regional means language while it actually is a reflection of the culture. "Even Hindi television has its stories based on regions - for instance Ballika Vadhu was based in Rajasthan but adapted for national Hindi television."

Chakraborty said BIG Synergy entered the regional space five years ago and found that the regional audience was considered as second class as against the Hindi GEC audience. But that mindset is changing. “The word ‘adaptation’ is wrong. You need to redefine content to make it relevant to that audience,” he said. 

He said he was happy that regional viewership that TV channels generate is getting its due in terms of ad rupees. “Earlier, regional TV channels had higher share of the overall  national viewership but the advertising expenditure on them was much less than that share. In 2013, ad expenditure on regional has gone up and and share of viewership is matching with share of advertising if you check out the latest Ficci report.”

Added Poddar:  “This change clearly shows that advertisers and media agencies have understood the value of regional television and are willing to pay more for air time as they get targeted viewers. Even the coming elections are seeing a large amount of political advertising expenditure being shifted towards regional TV.”

Regional channels seem to have taken the 12 minute ad cap very happily. “Sun raised its ad rates by 60 per cent and we (Asianet) raised it by about 20 per cent,” said Madhavan. He revealed that while earlier the ad rates of regional channels were one tenth of a national (read Hindi GEC) player, today they are up to about  25 per cent.

The good part about regional television is that budgets for shows are rising, explained Chakraborty. An example of this is the regional adaptation of Kaun Banega Crorepati, which saw its budget going up 10 times as compared to what was being invested in other regional non-fiction shows.  This happened at a time when the Hindi version was being subject to budget cuts.

As far as regional contributing to national and vice-versa in terms of show concepts, formats and storylines is concerned, Wanvari cited several instances where this has taken place in the Indian context.

Said he: "Dance India Dance that super franchise from the Zee Entertainment stable began from Dance Bangla Dance produced for Bengali audiences. Today it has spawned several sub-franchises - Dance India Dance Lil Champs, Dance India Dance Super Moms, Dance Maharashtra Dance. Similarly with Big Boss which began on Colors and has since then been produced on its sister ETV channels in  Bengali and Kannda. KBC gave birth to editions on Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam on the Star network even as it aired in Hindi on Sony Entertainment TV and in Marathi on ETV Marathi. Ballika Vadhu was remade by the Network 18 group in Tamil, Telugu and Kannada, even as Uttaran has been remade in Marathi."

Wanvari pointed out that the reverse has also happened with shows from regional television being adapted to Hindi TV. "The Telugu soap Shravanti came on air as Dil Se Di Dua Saubhagayvati Bhava; Tami serial Kolangal was remade as Maayke Se Bandhi Dor; Tamil soap Thirumathi Selvam gave birth to the long running Pavitra Rishta; Idhayam turned into Dil Se Diya Vachan; Telugu show Ratha Samptamai  resurfaced as Rakht Sambandh; Bengali series Khela as Badalte Rishtey Ki Dastaan and then of course  the Ravi Ojha produced super successful show Sasural Genda Phool which emerged from the Bengali series Ogo Bodho Sundari," highlighted Wanvari.

He went on to further state that Star India has been working on reaching out its Hindi productions  to regional audiences, by dubbing shows such as Satyamev Jayate, Mahabharat and Mahadev in other languages such as Tamil, Telugu, Bengali, Marathi, and Malayalam and airing them on its regional language channels under the Asianet group and Star Pravah.

“Taking a national product to regional is called revenue optimisation,” said Chakraborty talking about dubbing of national shows to regional languages."For an adapted  show to work it needs to be locally adapted to suit the culture. "

Poddar emphasised that it is not enough to dub regional shows, regional adaptations of Hindi national shows requires a lot of research and localisation to suit  cultural tastes and emotions. "When we had to remake Ballika Vadhu which is about a child bride for our Kannada channel, we looked around for a district in Karnataka where child marriage is prevalent and based our story there as the rest of the state does not have it as a practice as it is in Rajasthan. Also the pacing of the storyline in the Kannada version was faster.  Similarly, for the Marathi adaptation of KBC we went for a couple participant concept in the show and had Sachin Khedakar host it. "

Chakraborty highlighted that there are benefits which accrue from Hindi show adaptations to regional languages and the other way around too. "Initially, we had to instill best practices and skillsets we had picked up while producing the Hindi version when we decided to go regional. Now the best practices and skillsets we got while producing the regional shows are being brought to Mumbai and  instilled in our crew while producing the Hindi version."

Fremantle Media India MD Anupama Mandloi confessed that her production house - which produces the successful formats Indian Idol and India's Got Talent - has not yet taken the plunge into regional television but it is something which would be of great interest to her. "We have the experience of producing an international format and localising it in several countries, languages, cultures," she said. "And we have done it successfully. We would like to  make some further inroads in regional television soon."

Madhavan added that Star Plus’ show Satyamev Jayate had realised the potential of regional which is why it was dubbed in so many languages and regional stars were roped in to promote it. He pointed out that Mahabharat dubbed in different languages has not proved as popular as Mahadev. But he revealed that even then the show has been a profit generator for his network. 

“Simulcast is driven by commercial imperatives as a business model,” said Poddar.

When prompted by Wanvari as to why don’t regional channels add subtitles to their shows, he said it is an option he is willing to consider.

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