Marketing Nirvana for moolah!

*Religious channels don the mantle of commercialisation

*Target audience profile changed to include the younger ones

*Attempt to woo advertisers with the "value for money" promise

* New channels geared up for launch in 2003

Spiritual TV channels in 2002 took the commercialization route as nutrition for the soul coupled with fiscal salvation. Religious channels steadily picked up advertising revenues in the year and wooed textiles, FMCGs and consumer durables advertising even as they offered diverse fare for the spiritually inclined.           


"Our viewer is patient. You won't find him surfing channels even during the ad break."

Sanskar TV marketing director Dinesh Kabra

(The Economic Times 11 July 2002)         

Aastha and Sanskar ran neck to neck in a race to get the devout eyeballs. Both channels, after an initial lean run, started attracting ads steadily from the first quarter of 2002. While bigger media planners are yet to sit up and notice these niche channels, viewership figures have been silently on the rise. Blame it on the global recession and the consequent surge in interest in matters philosophical, but spirituality on the tube is increasing in its appeal..

The viewership profile also changed from a seemingly older age group to a slightly younger one. "We are no longer perceived as the channel for the 40 plus," said Aastha COO Mathew Scaria in April 2002. "With the introduction of yoga shows and programmes based on the Art of Living courses, our audience profile is now that of the C&S 4+ category." The lengthy discourses, which Aastha started off with nearly 18 months ago, have given way to more locally relevant content. Advertisers, sensing the change in viewer mood, also moved in for the kill. Brands like MDH spices, Kayam Churna, Videocon and assorted jewelry stores appeared regularly on the channel, which claimed to have a reach of 18 million households in India.

Sanskar, the other spiritual channel that made its debut two years ago in the country with a dedicated 24 hour programming, was more realistic in its approach. "We believe in operating on commercial principles, and giving advertisers value for money," marketing director Dinesh Kabra told indiantelevision earlier this year. Loath to revealing figures, Sanskar claimed to reach 95 per cent of Mumbai. Banking on the fact that spiritual channel viewers don't switch channels so easily, Sanskar adapted to viewer tastes with musical formats while wooing the advertiser with low tariffs (some as low as Rs 850 per 10 seconds).

Although it was Doordarshan which started the trend of airing spiritual discourses in the vacant early morning slots, it was the satellite channels that cottoned on to the growing popularity of spiritual programming in the last two years. One of Zee's advantages in acquiring ETC Punjabi earlier in 2002 was the live telecast of Gurbani from the Golden Temple in Amritsar, for which the channel is avidly followed even by expats in the UK and the US.

Maharishi Veda Vision, MiracleNet and the Eternal World Television Network (EWTN) Global Catholic Network were later entrants.

Media specialists were not impressed despite the seeming success of spiritual channels in 2002. Initiative Media associate V-P Partha Ghosh said he believed that an Aastha or a Sanskar could not match the reach a Zee or a Sony could offer and said he believed that advertising on niche spiritual channels was feasible only if it was part of a bouquet of channels.

Sanskar is a stand alone channel and is not part of any bouquet. Aastha is marketed with sister music channel CMM and is able to cash in on the fact. Zee, which had contemplated starting its own spiritual channel Chakra in mid 2001, scrapped the concept in the latter part of the year.

In April, Golden Age Television, promoted by a Chennai based religious group Human Upliftment Organisation (HUO) launched, claiming to be the only completely non-denominational channel on air today. The Syro Malabar Church promoted Jeevan TV, another channel dedicated to 'protecting morality in society', also made its appearance in the latter half of 2002.

Ahimsaa, a 24-hour global satellite television channel is all set for launch in 2003. The content will comprise social, environmental and women empowerment issues. The channel is promoted by the Kolkata based Santosh Kumar Jain who besides being a partner in Aastha Television and CMM Music has also promoted ATN World and ATN Bangla in West Bengal. Ahimsaa is backed by The Brahma Kumaris World Spiritual University (BKWSU) which is headquartered in Mount Abu, India.

Star, quick to realize the growing potential of spiritual programming, launched its own Sunday morning religious band Vandana in August this year. Sony dedicated its afternoon slot for mythological serials.

The question 'Does God need the media to reach the faithful or does the media need God because he makes a good story?' may call for sustained debate but as long as India's culture and traditions are invoked to stem the so-called Western invasion of our TV screens, no one is complaining!

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