Viacom18’s Nikhil Sane on Colors Marathi content play, TRAI tariff order & Marathi GEC market

Colors Marathi will launch season two of Bigg Boss Marathi on 26 May

MUMBAI: These are exciting times at Colors Marathi. The spirited team at Viacom18’s family entertainment channel is set to unveil season two of its marquee show Bigg Boss. Following the success of the debut edition, Viacom18 Marathi Entertainment Business Head Nikhil Sane is confident of raising the bar in terms of the entertainment value for the audience. Ahead of the big bang launch of the immensely popular show, caught up with Sane. The veteran media professional delved into a range of topics from the Marathi GEC market to Colors Marathi’s content strategy for the fiscal year.

Bigg Boss is obviously a flagship show for the network. How does it play out across that network, that is, on TV and digital?

Yeah, so obviously, the TV ratings witness a jump and that is a phenomenon for every region. So the reach numbers increase phenomenally for Colors Marathi. The exciting factor for us was the Voot numbers with a peak of 55 lakh users and a weekly average of 46 lakh viewers. BB witnessed a 26 per cent growth in viewership post the IPL. Another important factor was that last year the show was available on Voot the next day. However, this time we will stream it on Voot immediately after the show is aired on TV because the kind of response that we have been able to generate, I think it makes sense to have a digital connect with Voot on the same night. Who knows, probably next year we could offer it at the same time on TV and digital.

You’re launching the show on 26 May. There’s the cricket World Cup starting on the 30 May. Do you see that as a potential problem?

Going by our experience from last year, IPL, I thought was a real challenge, especially in terms of high decibel matches like that of Mumbai or Chennai. I see the World Cup differently. India is playing nine league matches and the key games will be played on Sunday. You cannot wait for an ideal time because there is no ideal time. All of us are operating in a multi-dimensional environment with multi entry and access points. I think you have to go with your own plans. From day one, we’ve been thinking of the month of May (to launch Bigg Boss). I think the election was one of the very important factors. So we waited for it to get over. There is always going to be cricket in some form or the other so you cannot base your plans on that.

Marathi television has this challenge. There is going to be cricket and there is also going to be a Hindi overlap. So, we have to operate and we’ve to stand and we have to carve out our own space. At Colors Marathi we have managed to do that with a 50 per cent growth. People have shown that they trust us for our content.

Do you see a challenge on the distribution front with the implementation of the TRAI’s new tariff order?

We are confident when it comes to our performance and that’s also reflected in the BARC numbers, our own ground research and the advertisers’ response. It has probably strengthened our own conviction in terms of the programming we have been offering. We have delivered some good stuff in fiction and non-fiction shows and we have continued to do so in the last three-four months. It has been reflecting very consistently on our ratings. So, although there could be a transitional phase (with the tariff order implementation), we are confident that the response of viewers to Colors Marathi as a channel or Viacom18 as a bouquet will be fantastic. We are offering great value for money. In fact, I’ll say that Bigg Boss will be a key driver in terms of the channel and package uptake.

What has been the response from advertisers?

There is still time to go, but we already have a lot of sponsors. Rin is the presenting sponsor, while Puraniks and Helo App have joined as special partners. I think by the end of this week, we should have the entire list.

What has been the increase in percentage of ad rates?

Holistically I can say that the channels GVMs have grown by 49 per cent and the topline by 42 per cent year-on-year.

Let’s talk about the channel overall. Any new shows in the pipeline and could you elaborate a bit on the content strategy for the fiscal year?

There is already a leader in the market and there is already a great overlap of Hindi channels. In order to overcome these hurdles, you have to come up with a strategy which is unique to the Maharashtrian viewer. I have to really stand out and fight for my voice.

However, in last 12 months we have been successful in building fantastic fiction and non-fiction programming Apart from Bigg Boss we did a show called Balu Mamachya Navan Changbhal, which has really given us a spike and is a number one show in the slot.

We have a singing show called Sur Nava Dhyas Nava. It has become a cult show. Singing shows had been missing on Marathi television for the last 8 years. No channel had tried it, not even the leader. We got Bigg Boss. Crime genre was missing on TV, it had been 15 years. So three months ago we launched a show called Maharashtra Jagte Raho. We will have to wind it up because it clashes with Bigg Boss.

A big-ticket show Shree Laxminarayan is slated for the launch on 27 May, a day after Bigg Boss. Going forward, by the end of July there are a couple of more shows coming up. So, our prime time right now has a couple of old shows running, but by the end of July, we will have a completely refreshed FPC riding on a wave of Bigg Boss.

Post Bigg Boss, we want to get back either to singing or we’ll introduce another genre. We will continue experimenting. So, we have to keep riding and identifying those need gaps. We cannot rely on one or two shows.

How do you see the Marathi GEC space now? Sony launched its Marathi channel last year, Sun TV is set to launch its Marathi offering soon. There’s obviously a very strong leader in the market. How do you see this play out?

Look at the growth of other markets like Tamil, Telugu, Kannada as well and Bangla. Tamil is at 90 per cent, and Bangla is in the range of 60 per cent and Kannada are Telugu are also pretty strong. Until a few years ago, the Marathi share was not even 10 per cent. Now, however, the Marathi category has grown. However, you have to look at it in two ways.

The region we operate in has a strong Hindi overlap and that is probably going to continue. The entire category today is worth about Rs 900 crore. So, this speaks for the strength of the region and its appetite for content.

Comparing this with other markets, I think there is scope to grow. Today we are not even at 30 per cent in terms of the overall market. So, there is a long way to go. In the state of Maharashtra, there is a Marathi population of 9 crore. There is ample scope to improve.

The biggest challenge that I’ll face is the content we provide because every year there is going to be a Naagin that is consumed first by this market. We all have to evolve to compete against that. Marathi audience is very intelligent when it comes to picking between Hindi and Marathi shows, and therein lies my big opportunity and also my challenge. I have to provide something substantial to the viewer in order for her to choose me over a Hindi channel.

I don’t think more number of channels will fuel the growth of the category, the premium-ness of content will. We are 12 months old and our success stems from our content. Today there are 18 channels but only the top two or three channels dominate the space. I think going ahead there is a great opportunity and a challenge.

Earlier in the year, Sudhanshu Vats had stated that Viacom18 would be investing a lot more in Marathi films. Is there a plan to synergise that with a Marathi movie channel?

Since last February, over a period of 14 to 15 months, we have put out 15 films. These included Nana Patekar’s Aapla Manus, Ani... Dr. Kashinath Ghanekar, biopic of PL Deshpande and the most important one Thackeray. I think, as far as films, film content production or distribution is concerned, we have become the most important player in the market. We are strong and confident that we will be a leader in this field within one year. Now to compliment this is obviously the question you’ve asked on the film channel. So, yes it is in the pipeline and you will probably hear about it very soon.

Until you have a dedicated movie channel, what is the content strategy for movies on Colors Marathi?

So, typically, how it will move is that the moment you get a substantial slate, it starts increasing. Compared to the competition, we have delivered seven films. How it goes on Colors Marathi you’ll come to know in another six months. Reason being the frequency in which we’ll be able to air will differ as compared to the leader. So when Bigg Boss is on, we won’t be able to air any high-ticket premium events or movies.

The cycle with which the competition is moving and we are moving is quite different. However, going by Aapla Manus numbers in terms of advertising and viewership response, I think we have done well.

What is the medium-term objective for the channel?

The numbers is one story, and all of us are aware of them, but I can tell you that the most talked-about channel of Maharashtra is Colors Marathi. The kind of programming, the kind of line up, the kind of films that we have, there is a great momentum on our side. We have to be innovative and creative going forward. Films will obviously be an important play for us. So, I think, the next 12 months are going to be very crucial. We are also going to do Marathi plays, and already have a tie-up in place for that. So, while the aspiration is to be number one, in the next two months we want to be Maharashtra’s strongest number two channel.

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