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'Get real' to succeed, is the new mantra

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While the spotlight remained on Hindi entertainment channels, a tough fight continued to be fought on the sidelines for the discerning English speaking audience in 2002.

Prior to 9/11, thrillers and comedies ruled the roost on niche English channels. 2002 however witnessed the term 'action adventure' acquiring a new meaning in India with a conscious attempt made to ensure that the 'young-at-hearts' in India were motivated by a driving passion to try something that would give that extra meaning to their daily lives.

In 2002, finally, Indian viewers were updated with programming enjoyed by their overseas counterparts, instead of having to make do with back episodes of Baywatch, even though most English entertainment channels continue to dish out slightly dated fare. The battle for the prime 9 pm slot hotted up with niche English channels offering competition to movie channels. According to a study of the Top 25 ratings (see below) put out by emediaplan.com and sourced from TAM Media, action channel AXN appeared to have beaten Star World as well as Zee English in the stakes. AXN had 10 programmes on the list, including the reality themed programmes Guinness World Records, Fear Factor and The Amazing Race, while Star World and Zee English managed one show each in the top 10.

EMEDIAPLAN RESULT FOR TOP 15 PROGRAMMES ON AXN, STAR WORLD, & ZEE ENGLISH IN MUMBAI & DELHI FOR WEEK STARTING 29 SEPTEMBER 2002

Star World's best performance came from The Things People Do at number three while critically acclaimed shows like The Practice or Ally McBeal did not show up in the list. Also, despite an arguably better line-up of shows (Friends, ER, Sopranos, The West Wing) Zee English figured nowhere.

The much neglected channel (head Ajay Trigunayat himself admitted in an interview with indiantelevision.com that the channel suffered from an image problem), emerged in late 2002 in a refurbished avatar, ready to take the competition head on. A host of critically acclaimed series, massive promotions and slick packaging are now being put into place for making up for lost space.

Star World isn't about to just sit back without giving the rivals a serious fight either. Series like the Dark Angel and Titus woo in the elusive viewer, helped along by Star's vigorous promotional strategy.

It was AXN however, which set a good example in 2002. Shuffling its mix of international programming, creating new niche audience tastes and backing these initiatives with on-ground promotions, AXN cleverly gauged viewer pulse and moved in for the kill. Previously perceived as a 'blood-n-gore' channel, AXN donned a new mantle of being the sole one dedicated to the genre of reality shows. Shrewdly, the channel also offered new opportunities for sports marketers, setting the ground for a sound business model. The idea has paid off, with the 9 pm slot on AXN now commanding a stronger viewerbase than any of the rival English niche channels.

The "attitudinally 20-something" Indian viewers (essentially urban, with English still the prerogative of the city dweller) have been given a chance to indulge in their action fantasies. The potent mix of action, reality, escapism, daring and irreverence has appealed to both men and women. The 60:40 male/female ratio, a consistent pattern across all of AXN's Asian feeds, has been replicated in India. However, another study on the SEC A 25 years plus audience claims AXN on the one hand has predominantly male viewers; Star World on the other draws in female audiences as well.

AXN also moved off the beaten track with 'action animation', targeting the 15-21 years age group with Dual and Excalibur, a CGI fantasy series. The novel concept of the World Stunt Awards premiered on AXN; rating-wise a better bet than the telecast of the Miss World and Miss Universe pageants by its rivals.

Not surprisingly, around 30 per cent of AXN Asia's viewers currently come from India. In the last 18 months, business has jumped 300 to 400 per cent, claims the channel that is part of the Sony Entertainment Television-led One Alliance.

Action however is likely to pick up in 2003 when Zee's Realty TV launches. The Zee-Turner distribution agreement with Zone Broadcasting (Maximum Realty) Ltd for distribution of the channel devoted solely to reality television programming is expected to shake up the competition some more. Zee English has already announced plans to screen shows on advertising, showcasing case studies on the most successful advertising campaigns in India, in a probable move to counter growing clamour for eyeballs among the niche channels. Star World has tried its own effort at reality television with When Seconds Count: How To Survive A Disaster and The World's Wildest Police Videos, apart from variations like Imposters or Rendezvous with Simi Garewal.

Advertising rather than subscription revenue has been guiding these niche channels thus far, a scenario that could well undergo a sea change with conditional access making its appearance in the latter half of 2003. Niche positioning and attractive content is what will drive the segment in the year ahead.

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