Niche channels bank on differentiated content in new TRAI tariff regime

Ad rates will not see any sudden change in rates.

MUMBAI: One worry that broadcasters seem to have from the impending TRAI tariff scheme that will commence from 1 February 2019 is the reception of their niche and differentiated channels. While GECs, sports and news channels don’t have much to worry, the others will have to fight for TV space.

Here, differentiated content will play a role in ensuring genres like kids, infotainment and lifestyle are picked by viewers. 9x Media chief business officer and group business head Punit Pandey explained that out of 100 FTA channels, 26 are Doordarshan (DD) channels that are mandatory and the remaining are left with cable operators to choose. This choice depends on consumer pull and commercial deals with broadcasters. “I have commercial deals with almost all the big operators, where there is no reason for them not to give my channel. Music as a category is something that people like to have. So my commercial deal, consumer pull and music as a genre are the three reasons that will help us get in the 74 slots. But, according to me, a commercial deal is enough to get listed in the slot of 74 because I’ve paid to get in there,” he said.

About the music genre’s content strategy, Pandey said that the cluster, except for 9xo that plays English songs, plays popular Bollywood songs which cut across divisions. He said, “As a Bollywood channel, our reach is far more than a non-film music channel, which is typically niche. For 9xm, we continue playing popular hit music. What adds to our advantage is our footprint in the regional market. Regional is going to grow and we are already there.”

Viacom18, which has youth and a music channels MTV and MTV Beats, claims to not fall under the niche category.Viacom18 youth music and English entertainment head Ferzad Palia claims that it caters to a wide audience of 309 million viewers. He said that broadcasters who have not invested in differentiated content or have not found a clear way to differentiate themselves are the ones who may face the pressure of being selected or rather not being selected.

MTV claims to follow a content-focused strategy while having differentiated product. Palia feels that if you have become an integral part of someone’s viewing habit, they will select you anyway. The channel also recently informed that the time spent on its channel had doubled. “Therefore, if our time spent has doubled that means we are doing something right because more people are watching us and we are becoming closer to the audience. I think we are in this advantageous position because of the unique offering that we have for the youth’s life,” he said.

Zee TV business head Aparna Bhosle expects this order to usher in good days for the industry. Being a leader in the GEC category, it doesn’t have to worry much but she expects significant changes in viewing patterns to take place. According to her, people consume at max 130 channels when surfing. So, some channels may not make it to a viewer's list.

Sony Sab, Pal business head Neeraj Vyas firmly believes that segmentation of audiences will be a reality. Till now, people were copying mass-pulling shows from competitors, but now each will have to focus and create for their own audience.

Meanwhile, Disney India revamped its Disney XD channel to Marvel HQ. It is pertinent for one to assume that it might be its strategy due to the new tariff regime. The Walt Disney Company (India) executive director and head of product media networks Devika Prabhu said that the channel was creating a base so that it is ready by summer and kids would be habituated to it.

Apart from content, bundling of the channels also plays a major role which is done by the broadcasters, cable and DTH operators. Apparently, Sony pulled the plug from a few of its channels—Sony Le Plex HD, Sony ROX HD and Sony Ten Golf HD since it didn’t rake in sufficient viewership. Simultaneously, others are converting to FTA channels. Recently, Business Television India (BTVI), an English business news channel, converted to FTA following the new regime. This could be a sigh of relief for the advertisers where their reach would be higher. FTA channels have the advantage of having advertising revenue because of higher reach.

As far as ad rates are concerned, Pandey is confident it won’t be impacted while Vyas prefers to wait and watch for the MRP to unfold and the consumers' response. It will take four to five months for the regime to settle and advertisers, according to Pandey, are likely to wait and watch before changing pricing. He said, “Ad rates are not increased or decreased by one month’s performance. The advertisers or the agencies look at consistency; they do not change rates in a month’s time till the time it settles. Moreover, there are big events such as IPL, and the elections which will have serious pull.”

Broadcasters have taken it upon themselves to educate consumers about the new tariff regime and also hinting at picking their own packs and channels. Pandey is bullish about the reach of his network and does not feel the need for full-page ads or outdoor hoardings.

Palia replied that Viacom18 has been informing the consumers because it’s the network’s duty to educate consumers on how they can access their channels and their favourite shows under the new tariff order. “We are not trying to hard sell our channels to anyone,” he clarified.

We are inching closer to the D-date and hoping that TRAI does not give in to another extension demand, as it has been prone to do previously. By early or mid-February, we are likely to get a sense of direction that the industry will be taking.

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