"We know we have to work on awareness level,” says Epic’s Mahesh Samat

One of the newest entrant in the Hindi general entertainment channel (GEC) space, Mahesh Samat's Epic, which was launched on 19 November, 2014 has been gaining momentum on the rating chart ever since.

“I would want my kid to watch Epic,” says a media planner when contacted to know how the channel has been performing.

The news of the former Disney executive launching Epic Television Network had first broken in 2012. Labeled as India’s first genre-specific Hindi entertainment channel, it was supposed  to be launched by August 2013. However, due to the delay in getting the licence from the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, the venture backed by Anand Mahindra, Mukesh Ambani and Rohit Khattar, focusing on Indian history, folklore and mythology, had to wait a long time to entertain the audiences.

Nonetheless, Samat is happy with the progress and the pace in which the channel is moving. “Ratings wise we are somewhat on track. And there is market for segmented content,” he says.

The channel, which shows finite weeklies, aims to change the way “entertainment” is categorised today. Samat believes that there are enough people in urban India who want to watch mythology and know about the historical aspects of the country. The channel, though slightly male skewed, while conventional GECs are heavily female skewed, aims to entertain the whole family.

With an array of fiction and non-fiction shows, all enlightening the viewer of the history gone by, the channel has got on board a new breed of producers and changed the way a story is told. Face Entertainment’s Monia Pinto, who has worked on numerous lifestyle shows, is producing non-fiction shows like Sanrachna and Lost Recipes for the channel.

Unlike the other shows she has worked on, the series on Epic intellectually stimulates her and her team, thanks to the research which goes into creating them. “We invest a lot of time in research so basically we have to study the subject thoroughly. The team at Epic also does its homework well on a subject so when we go back to them, we merge the ideas and studies to come up with a brilliant piece of work,” she says.

Speaking on Ekaant, which takes one through abandoned roads, alleys of some of India’s historic locations, Pinto highlights that two researchers work on a project and visit the place, speak to historians to get the facts and story right. “Sometimes it takes us even a month to just study about 2 or 3 monuments,” she says while adding that things have fasten as they are more adjusted with the work as compared to when the production house started off work for the channel. The most difficult part is to get the right people to talk about on the subject as everything has to be very authentic.

Happy with most production houses working with the channel, Samat believes the work which has been produced is better than what is already out there. Considering the shows are finite, Samat believes it is very difficult to tell a tale in limited episodes as the genre is vast. “There has to be passion for the work and the story else we won’t be able to differentiate from the rest,” he opines.

Shot on sets as well as on locations, the channel is not worried about the cost which has gone in producing the shows. “Both fiction and non-fiction have worked for us and for us the channel is a long term project as we have invested anything from six months to two years on the programmes,” states Samat.

Siyaasat which is based on Indu Sundaresan’s novel, ‘The Twentieth Wife,’ is the story of a pawn that charted Mehrunissa’s way to power to become Nur Jahan, the Mallikaa of Hindustan and was shot in Bikaner as well as sets in Mumbai. “Adoptions need research too; but for us the main approach lies in telling the story without being melodramatic,” says Green Light Productions Rishabh Sheth on what differentiates historical shows on Epic from the rest of the channels.

“Unlike other dailies, we are weekly which gives us enough time to work on pre and post production of an episode,” states Sheth who believes sometimes in a historical show liberties can be taken to make a character glossy to become more liked by the audience.

At the launch of Chakravartin Ashoka Samrat, Colors CEO Raj Nayak had said that historical and mythology as a genre has great potential. “One can tell a story from various perspectives and still not lose the essence of it if treated well,” he had said on the growth in the genre. For instance, Dharmakshetra, a courtroom drama, unearths the buried questions and allows the legendary characters of Mahabharata to justify their actions for the very first time.

Though all the blocks are fitting well for the channel, there is still a few missing links. “The content is good, but how many know of it is the question,” points out a media planner and adds, “The channel is not for family viewing as they prefer to watch dramas. It caters to a niche audience, which is interested in the content.”

Samat too agrees with the fact and says, “Yes, for us the fundamental issue is awareness as it is lower than what we would expect it to be.” With new shows coming up, the channel will start a massive second phase of marketing.

“Content is conventional and has created a lot of buzz for the channel on the social media, hence, again the focus of marketing will be digital,” says Samat and adds that unconventional route will also be taken. It is planning to launch school programmes across the country soon.

As for the inventory, the channel is still taking it slow. “The industry has given us positive response but we still want to give them a little more time. Another six months and I guess we should be able to talk on the subject,” answers Samat when asked about the response from the advertisers. The channel currently has Aquaguard, HP, Tata Motors and Foodpanda on board.

He, just like the others, is waiting for Broadcast Audience Research Council India (BARC) to start releasing data. “Things will change once BARC comes into play,” he opines.

Nonetheless, it will follow the two minute ad-cap. On Information and Broadcast Minister Arun Jailtey comment of not being in favour of ad cap, Samat says that which way the regulations go, the channel will follow them. However, for him, the audience will be the judge as he doesn’t want to spoil the television viewing for them.

Monetising through digital is also on Samat’s plan of action. “Our content is for the future and whenever we are ready for it, we will opt for digital subscription model,” says Samat, who is optimistic about the growth of the medium in the country with 4G coming in soon. That’s not all; he also believes that the content will be so rich and unique that it can be sold to the world.

With a reach of 35 million+ homes, the HD pay channel, also available in down-scaled SD version comes with a subscription rate of Rs 55 while SD is available at Rs 10.5. For planners, the cost is too much especially when audience is used to getting a number of channels at a very minimal rate. “In a country where one TV home still outdoes homes where there are more screens and popular GECs available on nominal cost, why would one pay that much?” asks a media analyst.

The analyst isn’t convinced that the channel will be able to monetise well on the digital platform.  

Listening to all the suggestions and working on the same, Samat believes that the channel has a long way to go and things will alter depending on the future.  The channel with the primetime slot of 8:30 pm to 11 pm, currently is focusing on the awareness of it in the Hindi speaking market (HSM).

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