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More than Hindi GECs, regional channels to drive growth in 2021

Amid the pandemic, regional channels had 3X ad volumes compared to national channels.

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MUMBAI: The beauty of India is in its diversity. There are 22 national languages and over 1,300 dialects spoken so much so that every 100 km the dialect, culture, tradition, clothing, eating habits and beliefs change. Indians have embraced this diversity for centuries and the world looks at it in awe.

This pluralism has presented a huge opportunity for media and entertainment platforms that have been offering content in regional languages. While OTTs have just begun to realise the potential of regional content, linear networks have leveraged it for a long time. Nearly every broadcast network in the general entertainment category has forayed into regional markets to tap their potential. A large number of them have been successful in their endeavours. This includes the likes of Star, Zee, Viacom, Sony, Enterr10, IN10 and others. Some of the top languages in which content has been created in huge volumes include Hindi, Bengali, Marathi, Tamil, Telugu, Marathi, and Punjabi (in no pecking order).

The rise of regional channels

In the last four to five years, the regional television entertainment market has witnessed significant growth in viewership and consequently ad spends.

Viacom18 network sales head Mahesh Shetty has identified several reasons for the growth of this segment. Firstly, there has been a significant rise in the availability of regional content on TV. It is a result of an increase in the number of channels as well as an increase in original programming hours on most channels. Secondly, all networks have made significant investments in regional content over the last few years, leading to an improvement in their quality. And lastly, there has been an addition of more non-metro audience to the TV universe who want to consume content in their own language.

Another testimony to the potential of the segment is that despite 2020 being a tough year, several networks either forayed or expanded their presence in the regional space. This includes Star and Disney India launching Vijay Music, targeting Tamil music lovers; Enterr10 debuted Dangal Kannada and Enterr10 Rangeela whereas IN10 Media introduced Filmachi.

“The breakeven for regional channels is much faster than Hindi GEC, because the potential is huge in terms of audience. Also, the content cost is much lower than Hindi,” stated Elara Capital VP Karan Taurani.

Star India is one of the oldest players in the regional game. From investing in Vijay in 2001 to launching Jalsha and Pravah in 2008, acquiring Asianet that same year, and then Maa in 2015 – the network has been consistent in its regional ambitions for 15+ years.

Star & Disney India infotainment kids and regional entertainment channels CEO Kevin Vaz highlighted that the region-specific content has evolved manifold in the past decade due to three main factors: content innovation across screens, growth of the M&E regional ecosystem, and expansion in hours of content which has led to higher consumption. Today, the top regional GECs each have about eight to nine hours of original content in a day.

Growth in ad volumes

Despite the advertising industry being in a rut for the most part of 2020, regional channels had 3X ad volumes in comparison to national channels, showed TAM data. Regional channels commanded a 77 per cent share in the overall ad volumes with all the top advertisers and brands present in the segment. This clearly reflects that apart from the regional brands, even the national ones are keenly concerned about their regional presence. It is estimated that the overall spending on regional channels has grown by nearly 25 per cent.

Apart from this, Docubay Media and Attica Gold Company were the top exclusive advertisers in national and regional GECs respectively. This is definitely good for the business in the long run.

Taurani mentioned that as all the pricing is going to come back on track, regional will gain both in terms of pricing and ad volumes. Said he: “I think local advertising was severely hit during the lockdown but it is slowly and steadily recovering. In terms of volumes, regional has a major share in local advertising than mainline Hindi GECs. The local advertising for regional is substantially higher because the pricing is lower. It is more affordable and they have a niche audience which brands want to target.”

BARC India also revealed that regional GECs saw a growth of eight per cent over 2019. West Bengal, Maharashtra, and south India are driving this momentum, because the consumption of television in these states is very huge, asserted Dabur India head of media Rajiv Dubey. “They watch TV like the good old days. Barring the Hindi belt which is very weak in terms of ratings, the regional markets have seen a lot of traction, with a new set of channels becoming number one every year,” he quipped.

Shetty opined that FMCG will continue to dominate the regional advertising space, followed by categories like e-commerce, auto, durables and handsets. Regional markets also get significant advertiser interest from local clients. “The local client contribution varies between 10 per cent to 20 per cent depending on the channels and seasonality,” he added.

Regional programming

Whether it’s West Bengal, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra or Andhra Pradesh, major content studios are generating fresh content and experimenting with concepts beyond traditional daily TV soaps. Zee, Sony Entertainment, Star India and Viacom18 sensed the shift in consumer preferences long back and have been focused on developing fiction and non-fiction properties for their regional bastions.

Shetty revealed that regional holds a strategic position within the organisation, from an audience connect as well as advertiser engagement perspective. The network has been investing strongly in its regional portfolio and believes it will be one of the important engines of growth in the times ahead.

Many experts are now considering regional GECs to be as big as Hindi GECs, since they’ve clearly established their significance in a national and regional media plan. While a lot of national shows are dubbed into regional languages but currently, several regional shows have also caught the attention of viewers and are now being remade into Hindi. For instance, Star Plus has been experimenting in this space - ongoing shows Anupama and Imlie are adaptations of Star Jalsha's popular Bengali shows Sreeymoye and Ishti Kutum respectively. Previously, Kulfi Kumar Bajewala was also a remake of a Bengali serial – Potol Kumar Gaanwala – and Gustakh Dil was inspired by Bou Kotha Kao. 

Brand solutions, reach and pricing

The regional channels have definitely managed to pique advertisers’ interest.

With a strong regional portfolio, a channel is able to offer more solutions to an advertiser for its national and regional plans under one single umbrella. It saves them the spill, offers better brand integrations, wider FCT presence, as well as the presence of digital assets. With multiple regional channels under a single portfolio, brands also have the flexibility of selecting the target audience’s region-wise in a cost-effective manner.

According to Shetty, when a brand invests in a national channel covering multiple markets, it gives them significant reach at a lower cost. However, when they want to do a single market activity, regional channels become a good proposition. It allows them better control and minimal spill-over in case of region-specific campaigns. With the distribution of brands getting wider and deeper, it also helps them give better cultural context in campaigns as well.

Currently, the number of regional channels is very small but in terms of viewership share, they are close to mainline channels’ numbers.

However, in terms of revenue and pricing, the scenario is quite different. Taurani revealed, “Hindi GEC is 65 per cent of the pie (in terms of revenue) whereas regional is at 25 per cent. The pricing is very less as compared to what Hindi GEC is. Even before Covid2019, it was known that regional GECs will grow fast because of lower pricing and pace effect.”

Carat India EVP Mayank Bhatnagar highlighted that the overall revenue contribution of regional channels is low and in 2020 most of regional genres/channel revenue has seen degrowth. Although, there are exceptions like Maharashtra, Punjab, Gujarat and Orrisa where revenue has increased, there contribution still remains very small.

"In 2020, overall TV revenue has dropped around 12-15 per cent, however, regional genre drop is higher around 16-18 per  cent. Largely, regional channels contributed around 40-45 per cent of total adex. Across all key regional genres, there is a drop. The most impacted genres are Bengali, Telegu & Tamil," he explained.

He further added that in FY 2023, if Hindi channels grow by 8 to 10 per cent, the growth of the regional channel will be 15 per cent. Pricing will be the most important metric in it.

At multiple Indiantelevision.com webinars, industry experts have underscored that the language market is where growth is coming from, and this will hold in the future. Indian audiences are more than willing to consume content in their respective vernacular languages. 

Madison Media Sigma CEO Vanita Keswani concluded by sharing her thoughts at a recent webinar. “I think three aspects – digital, rural and regionalisation are the major trends that will continue in 2021. Regionalisation is a trend that will be there in a big way in the coming years.”

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