Television

Overseas market for Indian content and channels is very lucrative: Gaurav Gandhi

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MUMBAI: Imagine you’re in a far out place like Serbia and switch on the television to find Anandi of Balika Vadhu emoting in Serbian or in Hindi along with subtitles.  

It may come as a surprise to viewers but not to broadcasters and producers keen to tap into the nearly three crore and counting Indians settled across the globe. One such being IndiaCast - an alliance forged between TV 18 and Viacom 18 two years ago. Currently present across 90 countries through its channels including Colors, MTV, Nickelodeon, Rishtey, News 18 India and ETV, the broadcaster aims to reach at least 150 countries in future. Some of IndiaCast’s popular shows include Balika Vadhu, Uttaran and Lado

Indeed, pay-TV is a booming business outside of India with ARPUs at about $16 to $17 as compared to a measly $3 to $4 within the country. The roughly Rs 1,600 crore market has the potential to grow to more than Rs 3,000 crore in the next few years. 

While the market first opened up in the late 1990s, courtesy Hindi films, of late, television soaps are raking in the moolah for broadcasters.   

“A lot of markets originally opened up to Indian content through Bollywood such as Poland, Malaysia and Russia. But now these markets and many more in Eastern Europe, Central Asia and Africa are consuming a lot of our television fiction/drama content- in fact much more than Bollywood. One of the key reasons is that in some of these countries their local Television production is not so well established and so they import a lot of content of overseas markets – and sensibilities of Indian dramas work well in this context,” explains IndiaCast group COO Gaurav Gandhi. 

Broadly speaking, there are three to four large import hubs in the world - Latin America, Turkey and Egypt, Korea and India. Off late, Turkey has picked up the radar with it growing to an approximate Rs 900 crore business with shows such as The End and 1001 Nights. Turkey’s bordering with Asia as well as Europe makes its content click more with the people and next in line is India. However, the amount of content India creates is a lot more than what can be consumed with all the big GEC networks creating about 200 hours of content per week.

Apart from Indians settled abroad, content syndication now extends to local audiences as well. For instance, Zee Network has launched language - and area - specific channels like Zee Aflam and Zee Alwan in the Middle East and Veria Living in the USA. On the other hand, IndiaCast is building its own brands (more recently, Rishtey and News 18 India) across the world by making south Asian content available to everyone. 

Potential markets for Indian content include UK, the Middle East, Australia, Singapore and Canada. Canada and UK are home to older Indian migrants while USA is home to recent migrants. There are strict regulations on shows in Canada while USA has affluent people who can pay for high television rates.

“Distribution in the UK can be a challenge - with one large platform dominating the space. Also income disparities are huge when it comes to south Asians so pay-TV penetration at high rates is a deterrent to reach certain sections of the diaspora. We realised that there is an opportunity in the Free-to-air space and if we can offer a quality entertainment product, we can get a good share of eyeballs. That’s exactly what happened with Rishtey - which became an instant hit first and then we went and converted Colors to FTA. The model has turned out extremely beneficial commercially as we control two of the top three three slots on the Broadcasters’ Audience Research Board (BARB) rating charts for South Asian channels - which in turn have led to a big chunk of mainstream advertisers approaching us. These two along with News 18 India have made us the second largest South Asian network (in terms of advertising revenue) in the UK,” says Gandhi. For the record, BSkyB is the largestpay-TV broadcaster in the UK with News Corp (that also owns Star India) having a majority stake in it of 39.1 per cent.

Australia is an untapped market but one highly plagued by piracy; he adds. Pakistan too had a lot of piracy till Colors tied-up with Geo TV to air shows at the same time as their telecast in India. The APAC feed for Colors was launched last month. IndiaCast hopes to launch full-blown channels in future in the markets where it syndicates content.

Close to half of the UAE population is of South Asian origin market. The advantage here is that all the mainstream brands target the South Asian diaspora and IndiaCast has global brands like Pepsi, Jeep, Toyota, Emirates, Kraft, Ford, GM etc advertising with its channels. “It is a buzzing ad market. Our ad portfolio is similar to any Arabic or English channel in the Middle East (ME). The majority brand and media decision making for the ME region happens out of Dubai and Abu Dhabi,” he says. Meanwhile, Singapore is a relatively smaller market but with a good amount of Indian population; thus, leading to launch News 18 India in Singapore and the ME last week. 

While USA and UK remain conventional markets, there’s an emerging tail of countries hungry for Indian content including Georgia, Croatia, Uzbekistan, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Poland and Greece. 

Just last year, IndiaCast inked a deal with Tata Communications to simulcast its popular Colors’ shows in Pakistan. Also, reaching out to this growing consumer base is proving to be more cost-effective for the broadcasters. “Cloud delivery systems are providing cheaper transport solutions but many DTH and cable platforms in key markets are still hesitant to accept this as an alternative. IP platforms and OTT services have a far cheaper infrastructural set up compared to a DTH platform. Also there are minimal issues of capacity constraints on them,” he highlights.  

IndiaCast segments the international markets in three parts. First, are the markets where it can fully reach with its linear full time channels and alongside do marketing, distribution and ad sales. The second set of markets are where it finds it difficult to land full channels for either regulatory (Pakistan) or capacity (Malaysia/South Africa) issues , but these markets have high demand for Hindi content. Here the focus is to do output deals for syndication as well as branded blocks of our content. The third set of markets is where the target is the locals (and not south Asians) with its content by dubbing or subtitling the same. “This third set of markets has been growing extensively for us and includes markets - like Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina,  Romania, Macedonia, Kosovo, Georgia, Croatia, Bulgaria, CIS countries (Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan etc), Uganda, Kenya, Senegal, Mali, Togo among others. This third set of markets is growing really fast and can be a big market in the future,” says he optimistically.

IndiaCast has syndicated shows such as Balika Vadhu, Uttaran, Sasural Simar Ka, Laagi Tujhse Lagan and Madhubala to Eastern Europe while in Pakistan shows such as Bigg Boss, Khatron Ke Khiladi, Comedy Nights with Kapil and Jhalak Dikhhla Jaa have proved to be quite popular. The channels in Pakistan that get IndiaCast channels are Geo TV, Apna TV, Hum TV, ARY Digita, Urdu TV and A Plus TV. In Eastern Europe it reaches to Serbia (Pink TV, Prva Srpska Televizija), Bosnia (OBN, Pink TV), Macedonia (Sitel TV, Alsat, Kanal 5), Montenegro (Pink M), Croatia (Doma TV, RTL Televizija), Bulgaria (Nova TV) and in CIS countries channels such as Kazak TV.

“If we look at our content sales/syndication revenues outside India, I can say that 50 per cent of that revenue comes from targeting locals/mainstream audiences (not south Asian) - and most of this is from our drama series. That’s a big change over the last two to three years,” Gandhi adds. 

Market sources peg IndiaCast’s revenue from international distribution and syndication to be approximately Rs 250 to Rs 275 crore. “The overseas market for Indian content and channels is very lucrative - it’s already at Rs 1600 to Rs 1700 crore market and growing steadily. Three crore Indians overseas is a huge number and for them the Indian content is not just about entertainment - it’s an emotional connect with home,” points out Gandhi. 

IndiaCast’s smaller but most rapidly growing business is its digital distribution through syndication of content to online platforms. Gandhi claims that the broadcaster’s digital business has grown four times in the last year with money made through OTT platforms such as Netflix and iTunes; through VODs such as YouTube; and through telco partnerships.  

Speaking of competing broadcasters in the pay-TV market outside India, Gandhi says, “There is enough headroom for all four big players to grow and I firmly believe to expand the market we need to work together in certain areas even though we compete amongst us. If a new platform is coming up then it needs to have channels from multiple broadcasting groups and not just one of us.”

At the same time with digitisation at a steady pace in the country, Gandhi hopes that someday soon, the ARPUs here will be Rs 500 that will bring profit to most in this business.

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