&TV pens successful opening story; industry reacts

MUMBAI: The past one year has seen oodles of action in the general entertainment channel (GEC) space. New programming, new channels, second and third channel launches from existing players - the highly competitive genre saw it all.  Viacom18 was the first off the blocks.  Just as 2014 was being rung in, it launched Rishtey - a channel it had flagged off in the UK earlier.


It was in June 2013 that Subhash Chandra's Zee Entertainment Enterprises (Zeel) adopted a new brand positioning with 'Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam - The World is My Family'. It was this message that the network wanted to spread which led to the launch of Zindagi, on 23 June 2014. With the best of content from Pakistan, the channel was for viewers with a progressive mindset.


A couple of months later, 1 September 2014 to be precise, Multi Screen Media (MSM) launched a third GEC - Sony Pal for the traditional, yet modern Indian woman. While Sony Pal appealed to certain quarters, it did not generate the viewership numbers that were expected. The Sony management reacted quickly, put the plug on the money drain, and repositioned it as a re-run channel airing older successful shows.


A further couple of months later, 19 November 2014, to be exact, came another launch - that of Epic TV, which had billionaires Mukesh Ambani and Anand Mahindra as backers.

Even as Indian audiences were still absorbing the content of Zindagi, Zeel unveiled a third massier appeal GEC on 2 March 2015. And it chose to deviate from the Zee branding for the new launch; opting for the '&' brand instead.  The choice of programming; the glitzy launch,  the depth of distribution, the marketing overdrive - all drew oohs and aahs from industry observers. The cynics, however, cluck-clucked from the sidelines and hurled gibes stating that  Zeel boss and chairman Subhash Chandra's son Punit Goenka was throwing away good money. (The group has set aside an estimated budget of Rs 500 crore for &TV).


Came the ratings on 12 March 2015, and the doubting Thomases and naysayers had to bite their tongues and swallow their barbed comments. Reason: &TV reported fabulous opening week viewership numbers of 90,612 GVTs, making it the year's most successful new channel launch - and that too in the hyper-competitive GEC space. What it made more remarkable is the fact that the first week in the channel's launch consisted of only five and a half days.


As compared to &TV's numbers the other debutantes during the year did not fare as well. Sony Pal generated opened with only 11,000 GVTs, as per TAM data. Zee Zindagi reported 28,700 GVTs in week one, overtaking even the 14-year old channel, Sahara One. Epic in its debut week garnered 1,240 GVTs (ratings of four days).


A bet that worked


The channel is the first GEC from Zee's sub-brand '&', after the launch of &Pictures in August 2013.


It was a challenge for the newbie to make its mark in the tough market where other big broadcasters are already ruling the roost. However, one man who took up the challenge and stood strong was Rajesh Iyer who quit Colors in March 2014 to join Zeel as business head, new initiatives, Hindi broadcast. It was after almost a year of brainstorming and  pitches from producers, management and research meetings on creatives, positioning and execution that &TV’s vision document was finally in place. Iyer’s aim was to further develop and strengthen the Zeel brand with a new offering and the bet has paid off well.


Zeel MD and CEO Punit Goenka had pinned high hopes on the new channel and it seems that his targets have been met. Expressing his happiness on Twitter, Goenka tweeted, “Congratulations team @AndTVOfficial for a successful opening week! First time that a GEC channel has opened at 90612 GVTs!”


With the philosophy 'Jashn Jeene Ka' (celebrating the spirit of life), &TV stands for binding people, ideologies and philosophies and aims to mirror the thinking and values of an evolved, 'new age' India.


Exploring the same lines, the content of the channel, according to the company, turned out to be contemporary and contextual, depicting viewers’ progressiveness. It started with three and a half hours of content on weekdays with the original programming starting at 7.30 pm.


Be it &TV's flagship show hosted by Shah Rukh Khan, India Poochega – Sabse Shaana Kaun? or the strong fiction line up with shows like Razia Sultan, Bhaghyalakshmi, Gangaa, Begusarai, Bhabi Ji Ghar Par Hai!, and the weekend offerings with Killerr Karaoke and Tujhse Naaraaz Nahi Zindagi; the programming seems to have irked the curiosity of audiences enough to tune in and spend time on the channel's fare. 


Innovative ad strategies


The network strategized its ad sales differently for &TV. Rather than choosing to sell spots, the team roped in advertisers as "presenting" or "powered by" or "associate sponsors" for almost all of the new shows and allocated all the FCT to them, depending on the show. A media planner reveals that 40 per cent of ad inventory per episode was reserved for associate sponsors while the rest was for the title sponsor.


For instance, Unilever India's Rin was signed on as  the presenting sponsor for its flagship property, India Poochega- Sabse Shaana Kaun, while,  Pan Vilas and DHFL opted to become  'powered by' sponsors. Then for  Raziya Sultan, the channel got on board Venus as the presenting sponsor and Clean and Dry as the 'powered by' sponsor. Begusarai, meanwhile, is presented by Pan Bahar and powered by Quickheal and Ghadi Detergent. Vicco is the presenting sponsor for Gangaa and the show is powered by Libero and Ghadi.


On the social media front, the &TV team left no stones unturned to create the buzz. The &TV Facebook page had got over 133,253 likes, while its twitter handle @AndTVofficial had more than 11,000 followers, at the time of writing this article. The YouTube landing page had &TV splashed all over it; as did on 2 March.


Promos for its shows have been hitting sister channels &Pictures and Zee TV with high regularity. A high decibel out of home campaign across Hindi speaking markets has been working as a strong reminder medium for potential viewers.

With a distribution and marketing budget of around Rs 100 crore, Zeel managed to get great placement on almost all the major distribution platforms: DEN Networks, Siti Cable, Hathway, Incable, Tata Sky, Videocon d2h and Dish TV. In fact, on most networks it was placed even before Star Plus and Zee TV.




Industry reacts


Helios Media managing director Divya Radhakrishnan believes that &TV has got a decent combination of reality shows, mythology, regular fiction and comedy shows. “&TV ratings have been exactly what I forecasted. The channel managed to do well and the distribution was excellent. They launched a great marketing campaign and had a key differentiator in the Shah Rukh Khan show. For a person who is going to sample a new channel, there has to be something, which is compelling enough to switch on the TV and watch the new channel. Such experiments obviously bring them initial eyeballs,” Radhakrishnan says.


She further explains that in week 10 of TAM TV in 2015, the viewership ratings in the GEC space have grown by five per cent. According to Radhakrishnan, the channel has clocked around 42 GRPs on a five and a half day basis, which is roughly about 55 GRPs over a seven day prorata basis.



“That is exactly the same amount of GRPs the genre has grown by. GECs have grown by 55 GRPs. This doesn’t mean that people switched from one channel to another. It means they also have included 42 GRPs into the consumption and it is quiet acceptable in the GEC space, because the people who watch GECs are the ones who watch a lot of TV and they will happily include something new to their TV mix if the content interests them.”


A senior executive from a rival channel believes that 42 GRPs is a good number to open with. “This shows that there is more elasticity in the sector and it also opens it up  to newer players and gives them hope that the GEC space has legs,” the executive says.


It may be recalled that during the launch Goenka was confident that the channel would break even in three years if it does exceptionally well and five years if it does reasonably well. On the same lines, a senior executive from a rival channel feels that if the channel continues at the same pace it might break even in the next three years.


Going by its opening numbers, it looks like a success story is beginning to be penned in the  Indian television space. And as Colors CEO Raj Nayak puts it, that while the channel has had a decent launch, it is imperative that it builds from here on and carves a continuous mindspace for itself in the cluttered Hindi GEC space.

Well, that will be team &TV's next big challenge! Watch this space!

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