Sun shines through; rivals gear up

The regional television space recorded a growth of 4.8 per cent in revenues, according to Tam. The major action, obviously came from the South which witnessed a remarkable number of channel launches in 2005 across languages in various genres.

Like 2004, the Sun Network dominated the Southern belt in 2005 also, except for the Malayalam market where its Surya TV had to deal with its rejuvenated arch rival Asianet. Kalanidhi Maran had a comparatively silent year, except for the DTH licence and then the reported IPO plans. Some setbacks also came his way. The Sun Network's efforts to expand its cable TV presence and set up an outpost in the East came to naught when the Essel group's Siticable came in from nowhere and took over the RPG Cable TV Network. And then there was the continuous resistance it encountered from the unyielding cable TV operators of Andhra Pradesh.

On the programming front all the southern channels - especially the Sun Network - played the game show card at the fag end of 2005. While the Sun Network launched a gold hunt quiz show Thanga Vettai in Tamil and Malayalam to fight Vijay TV's Tamil version of KBC2, Jaya TV concentrated on its popular game show brand Jackpot.

Vijay TV launched its second game show Vasool Rani, targeted at the female audience. Sun is now planning to launch Thanga Vettai in Telugu and Kannada also. Zee Telugu launched an interactive game show Gold Rush while, in Malayalam, Asianet is going the Indian Idol way to launch a mobile-based talent hunt.

Tamil language TV: Sun TV's domination continues

According to market sources, the Tamil language market recorded approximately Rs 2.8 billion in terms of advertising revenue. Obviously a lion's share, which is about Rs 1.8 billion, went to the Sun kitty. However, a senior television executive from the South points out that, advertisers were seen experimenting a lot in Tamil.

"In 2005, it was observed that, advertisers who normally preferred Sun channels, showed the guts to experiment with other channels also. Jaya TV, Vijay TV and Raj TV welcomed some new advertisers," he says.

Still, Sun channels Sun TV and KTV continued to dominate the market. According to Tam, the flagship channel Sun TV improved its market share to 52 per cent on an average from 2004's average figure of 48 per cent (CS4+ all day, including weekends). Sun's movie channel KTV also continued the good show by giving a consistent performance.

Among Sun's rivals, Vijay TV, Jaya TV and Raj TV spent the year forging new programming strategies and implementing a few initiatives. Star`s Vijay TV dubbed episodes of KBC2, and The Great Indian Laughter Challenge in Tamil, bringing two successful properties from its Hindi channel Star Plus to Tamil viewers. As the year ended both shows were raking up good viewership numbers.

Jaya TV, on its part, shed any inhibitions it had about big movie acquisitions this year. Some of the blockbusters the channel acquired include Mumbai Xpress and Sachien. This was seen as a deliberate move on Jaya TV'as part to shake off its underdog image.

Raj TV, which spent most of 2004 grappling with uplinking issues, went for a makeover in 2005. The channel, which initiated a lot of strategy shifts this year -- including getting into long-term deals with production houses -- is expecting 2006 to deliver results.

Telugu TV: the jostling continues

The Telugu market, which possibly overtook Tamil as the biggest Southern television market revenue-wise, recorded approximately Rs 3 billion in advertising revenues and Rs 1 billion in subscription revenues.

A market source informs that, Sun's Telugu bouquet led by Gemini TV grabbed the maximum share followed by ETV.

"Sun channels altogether have gorwn by about 15 per cent revenue wise, but still, ETV Telugu picked up nicely this year. Maa TV also gave a good show compared to 2004," says the source.

The Telugu TV market didn't offer any variations in the rating picture in 2005 as well. The Sun Network channels Gemini and Teja continued to hog the first and third positions as far as channel share was concerned, while ETV maintained its second position.

Sun added another channel to its Telugu offering by launching a music channel Aditya this year. A good move content wise, but one which is giving the management some amount of heartburn. Cable operators have been incensed that the Sun Network has been demanding pay channel fees equal to what it charges for Teja and Gemini for Aditya Music and Teja News.

Obviously, Telugu holds a lot of promise. And not wanting to let go of any of that, the Zee Network re-launched Alpha Telugu as Zee Telugu with a shift in positioning -- from being mass general entertainment-based it transformed itself into a channel offering programming with a young upwardly mobile touch. Though the channel is yet to 'arrive', it has at last reached a position to identify and groom some of its shows as the future channel drivers. An example is the game show Gold Rush.

Maa TV 'nursed' rumours of partial or complete sell-off as it revamped the channel and went for more movie acquisitions. The channel also brought in lot of interactive shows to its kitty in 2005.

DD Telugu has been drifting and the year 2005 did not see it do any better.

Kannada TV: ETV betters position

The Rs 1.4 billion Kannada television ad market didn't attract any new entrants, unlike the other Southern markets. Udaya TV continued to dominate, grabbing about Rs 650 million in terms of ad revenues, according to sources. However, ETV Kannada gave a good fight this year and recorded almost Rs 450 million in terms of advertising revenues.

Malayalam TV: tough fight, more channels

Malayalam satellite television market, which contributes about Rs 1 billion in terms of ad revenue, witnessed the most number of channel launches for any regional market in India; as many as five channels were launched.

Sun's movies and music channel Kiran TV, Asianet's youth & lifestyle channel Asianet Plus, Kairali TV's news channel People TV, general entertainment channel Amrita TV and the Christian spiritual channel Shalom TV debuted in Kerala in 2005. The market is awaiting more launches in 2006 which include print major Malayala Manorama's news channel MM TV, the state Congress party channel and then a multi-lingual channel Bhaarath TV. With People TV now there to take care of the non-fiction wing, Kairali TV safely joined the General Entertainment Channel (GEC) bandagon by launching two soaps in its prime time band.

One of the most interesting channel fights the Southern television space witnessed in 2005 also comes from Kerala. That is the story of the battle royale waged between Asianet and the Sun general entertainment channel Surya TV.

Surya TV kicked off the year by employing a flanking strategy as it launched a 24-hour movie and music channel Kiran TV. The strategy worked really well for Sun as the new channel brought down the channel shares of competitors Asianet and Kairali TV. Kiran actually replaced Kairali from the third spot. The Sun launch shook Asianet terribly because even the network was planning to launch a movie and music channel, but had to surrender the first mover's advantage to Sun.

Asianet quickly recovered from the jolt and re-strategised its proposed channel Asianet Plus focusing it as to a youth-oriented movie and lifestyle service.

Meanwhile, Kiran slowly started slipping as it couldn't provide its viewers interesting movies on a daily basis, round the clock. Asianet Plus used the golden opportunity to establish itself in the market with some low-budget studio-based programmes and some innovative youth shows.

The main channel Asianet, on the other hand, completely revamped its programming, understanding the seriousness of the situation. The channel successfully established some of its soaps and the strategy also relied on a lot of big movie acquisitions. Yantra Media, a Sun Network-aligned production house, shifted loyalty to Asianet this year and launched the second edition of Sthree, Malayalam TV's most successful soap.

Another genre Asianet hared into was comedy, mainly to strengthen its weekend band. Comedy hitherto had been Surya TV's forte but end 2005 saw it yielding its grip on this genre to Asianet. Asianet successfully established some of its comedy shows like Life is Beautiful, Five Star Thattukada and Comedy Cousins. It should be noted that, the success didn't happen overnight for Asianet, but through trial and error.

However, as the year ended Surya TV was looking aggressive and ready to recapture lost ground. It revamped its weekend programming band, taking off some of its unsuccessful soaps and introducing a Malayalam version of its game show Tanga Vettai.

Fortune surely favours the adventurous and the brave.

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