Television

Epic set to build 10 pm slot with second phase of programming

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MUMBAI: “Given the kind of content we are doing, we are never going to be at the level of a general entertainment channel (GEC), but a segmented one,” says Epic Television Networks managing director Mahesh Samat.

Launched on 19 November, 2014, the channel offers content set against the backdrop of Indian history, folklore and mythology, in a contemporary format.

Mukesh Ambani, Anand Mahindra and Rohit Khattar are the three promoters of the company.

Mahindra & Mahindra chairman and managing director Anand Mahindra, during the launch of the channel had said, “The landscape of Hindi entertainment is undergoing a dramatic transformation and in order to appeal to an evolved audience, and to sustain their engagement, there is a need for a revolution in the broadcast space.”

The pay channel, available in down-scaled SD version, aimed to change the way entertainment is currently categorised.

After successfully running the first phase of programming with new-breed of producers like Bolt Media, Green Light Production and Pride Rock Television among others giving their take on the contemporary age-old stories, the channel is now set to roll out its second phase of new programming.

Epic launched with shows like Dariba Diaries, Siyaasat, Dharmakshetra, Yam Kisi Se Kam Nahin, Ekaant and Raja Rasoi Aur Anya Kahaniyaan among others.

A journey with highs & lows

According to Samat, the seven months journey while has been through its ups and downs but is satisfactory. He says that when he started Epic, the objective was to set up a segmented channel in the space of history and mythology to make viewers believe that there is an alternative in television that they could include in the basket of their favourite channels.

It can be noted that Epic garnered 1,240 GVTs in its debut week (ratings of four days) and later saw an improvement till a few weeks but then started dipping in viewership.

However, the social media has attracted good eyeballs with close to 165,000 likes on Facebook and Twitter with close to 4,000 followers.

“To a fair degree we have achieved that because we have a core group of users and viewers who are fans of the channel. The nice thing is if you see the social chatter, the amount of support and likes we are getting is sometimes overwhelming,” says Samat.

The ascending social media traction has however failed to make the same impact on ratings. “It’s not yet reflected in the ratings because our awareness level is still low but we hope to correct that with this campaign and we hope the awareness level goes up.”

At the time of the launch, the channel had set a target to reach 35 million homes and to go up to 45-50 million homes in a few months and it is pretty much on target.

According to Samat, distribution has not been an issue. “Distribution platforms have been very supportive and they see the differentiation. They see in Epic an opportunity to grow their Average Revenue Per User (ARPUs) which is really important for them and we also recognise that,” he informs.  

The channel aims to launch its High Definition (HD) version soon. “We feel that the quality of what we have done does full justice in HD. But we understand that there are bandwidth constraints and as soon as those constraints are over, we will be happy to show the product in HD,” reasons Samat.

Building 10 pm slot

Sticking to its two-hour original programming per day, the channel is set to launch close to eight new shows in the second phase and will stay with its positioning of producing history and mythology content.

This new season of programming is more relevant and connected as it talks about topics which are culturally in the mainstream like Bollywood, cricket and old stories of Tagore.

To start with, India has two religion- Bollywood and cricket. When these two collide, magic fills up the stage. With this in mind, the channel is set to launch Mid-Wicket Tales with Naseeruddin Shah as the host. The show will launch on 10 July and will air every Friday at 10 pm.

This 26 episode series will focus on the yesteryears of the game- match highlights, sportsmanship within the game, stadiums, hits and misses and much more, attempting to re-visit all the wonderful memories of the nation’s first love.

The show recounts the cricketing saga that begins in the dusty fields of colonial 19th century India and ends with India as the epicenter of cricket in the world through old footage, witnesses and newspaper archives. It even talks about the torch that was first carried by Maharaja Ranjitsinghji to present-day hero Mahendra Singh Dhoni.

“We felt that here is an opportunity to expand our awareness, expand the understanding of Epic through these celebrities who are either anchors or producing these shows,” informs Samat.

Secondly, veteran Bollywood scriptwriter and lyricist Javed Akhtar will be hosting the new show, Jaane Pehchaane with Javed Akhtar. It is slated to launch on 8 July and will be aired every Wednesday and Thursday at 10 pm.

It is a show about the trajectory of characters within films and not the history of actors or other film personalities. In this, Javed Akhtar explores iconic themes of Bollywood cinema, from vamps to villains, friends to family and their relations, and more.  Akhtar known to create magic with his play of words, shares insightful opinions, anecdotes as well as his experience about the most powerful characters of Indian cinema on the show.

Thirdly, it will launch Stories By Rabindranath Tagore directed by Anurag Basu that will launch on 6 July and will air every Monday and Tuesday at 10 pm. The series will depict the literary, somewhat imagined world of Tagore's novels and short stories. It is set in a politically volatile period, constantly shifting social world of the early twentieth century undivided.  The novels will be approximately two-three episodes and the short stories will be of a single episode. Each story will follow the other in a seamless way, before one story ends the other will begin from the narration of the previous story itself.

Samat reveals that it took 18 months from planning to execute of Rabindranath Tagore show. The other two series mentioned above, were developed in close to six months.

Samat believes it is a very organic way of using celebrities. The channel during the research realised that while there is a large chunk of audience available at the 10 pm slot, they are very experimental. “The 10 pm slot is the most experimental slot, so we decided to take serious note of that. We are trying to get consumers through our actions, making them aware of programming and positioning of Epic and directing them to the 10 pm slot.”

Moreover, it will be launching second season of three of its successful shows, Ekaant, Raja Rasoi Aur Anya Kahaniyaan and Epic Ke Dus. It is also launching Time Machine, a show where three invitees living on the wrong side of the law, find themselves being blackmailed by a mysterious genius. It starts from 8 July, airing every Wednesday at 9 pm.

The channel has also locked a concept with dancer-actor Javed Jafrey. Christened Back to Flashback, Jafrey will be seen giving his take on the songs of 90s.

For Samat, it was two like-minded groups meeting which ensured there were no challenges in getting the celebrities on-board. “They all were interested in the subject. In fact, Basu was wanting to do Rabindranath Tagore stories for a long time on television and Epic gave him the platform to do it,” says Samat.

On the other hand, he strongly believes that there is an advantage in doing limited number of episodes. “This made getting great talents on-board even easier,” he adds.  

According to Samat, television in India is a mass medium and as makers one needs to create content that caters to the entire family. But for this segmented channel, it the secondary level of filter: audience aged between 24-44 years, which is important.

“A lot of research was done when we launched. What we found was that we are very emotionally attached to our history and mythology and that’s unique to us as Indians. This is why when we put up these stories, there is a pride which comes with it and that’s what our mission is-- to deliver pride through our storytelling,” asserts Samat.

The idea for the channel is to provide an alternative form of entertainment. According to Samat, consumers are not watching only one or two channels, but a basket of channels; some are appointment viewing, while some come when they are in the mood to watch. “For us, it is really important to be in that basket of channels,” states Samat.  

GECs have a ‘soapification’ of mythology

Samat feels that historical and mythological shows have always been a part of the general entertainment channels offering. Even four-five years ago, one-sixth of the shows were historical and mythological ones. So, he believes the genre is here to stay and is not going anywhere.

He feels that the GECs’ take on the genre is quite different than that of a segmented one. “Their take is still in the realms of relationships or what one can call as ‘soapification’ of mythology. What we are trying to do is using a different kind of storytelling with limited number of episodes which by definition therefore will be narrative rhythm.”

The reality is that people like soaps. He feels that urban India is walking away from television as a concept because they see sameness.

Samat believes that digitisation in television is like the multiplexing of cinemas. “With digitisation, we are also going to see an expansion in the kind of television channels and content that can be shown. I feel that while soaps are liked by a large majority of Indians, the same people don’t always want to see only soaps,” opines Samat.

Multi-dimensional campaign

To promote the second run of the programming, the channel has used digital medium aggressively. With the #DoThe10, it generated decent responses and a lot of involvement from the users. Apart from this, promos of the shows have hit the television screens.

As was first reported by Indiantelevision.com, the channel an app to cater to international markets. “There’s lot of discussion around it, we don’t know how things will fall out. Through the app, we are pointing out to the Indian diaspora, living abroad. Our broadband infrastructure is still limited and so the focus we will have of our app will be for outside India.”

A lot of the channel’s content has a great library value. For example, Epic ran the repeat episodes of Raja Rasoi and Ekaant and kept repeating the episodes for the result. “Every single time, the channel aired repeats of these shows, it garnered a better viewership than previous telecast. While that helped increase our reach, we also understood that people don’t mind watching it again and again. For a lot of content we do, we keep in mind the importance of our library value. It should be like show today and not worth tomorrow, which is why, none of our content is available on YouTube,’ says Samat.  

Overall, between the advertisers and media agencies, Samat says that while all have liked the channel, they are now waiting to see the viewership pattern with the second phase of programming. “We are currently not approaching advertisers heavily, because we want our numbers to improve so that we get better advertising rates,” he informs.

With digitisation, he feels there will be more transparency, which is important for an independent channel like Epic. “We don’t have any analogue distribution. We are focused only on digital and as digital grows, we will grow. The channels that are on analogue won’t see much growth but only transparency, we will see both,” concludes Samat. 

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