Why Viacom18's Ravish Kumar insists on innovation in non-fiction shows

Non-fiction gives variety and spice, whereas fiction is a staple diet, he says.

MUMBAI: When it comes to growing a brand with differentiated content or rejuvenating legacy brands, Ravish Kumar is a commanding voice in the game. In his role as the head of regional entertainment (Kannada and Marathi Cluster), Kumar works towards elevating the Viacom18 network’s regional broadcast portfolio consisting of Colors Kannada, Colors Super, Colors Kannada Cinema and Colors Marathi to the stature of Hindi mass entertainment channels. He also aims to drive industry trends through innovation and building a cost effective yet vibrant eco-system in the regional markets.

Under his leadership, Colors’ Marathi and Kannada offerings have a strong market presence. Colors Marathi has remained stable in past few months, and according to BARC India week nine data, is at the second spot in urban+rural market. The channel has launched three fiction shows and two non-fiction shows over the last two months. Despite strong competition in this space, shows like Shree Swami Samarth and Sundara are doing well for the channel, while Balumama still remains number one. Colors Kannada, too, is at the number two position; however, the top five programmes in the Kannada market are from the channel’s staunch competitor, Zee Kannada.

In a candid conversation with’s Shikha Singh, Kumar shared insights on both the Kannada and Marathi market, growth in these sectors, advertiser response and much more.

Edited excerpts:

On whether the ad market in Kannada and Marathi market recovered & have advertisers returned to TV

Yes, after we resumed original programming, we saw advertisers return to TV July-August onwards. This gained momentum during Diwali and after that advertising has only gotten stronger. I am happy to say that we are back to pre-Covid2019 level, there's not a hand-off record. So, advertisers are back, we also are back in a big way and the market is very robust right now.

On the important of local brands for regional channels

Local advertisers have been extremely important especially when it comes to reality shows. They are the one who show a tremendous amount of interest in sponsoring non-fiction properties. For example, the current season of Bigg Boss Kannada (launched about a week ago) has an equal mix of national and local advertisers. In Marathi, we are on the cusp of a few big launches and we are seeing very strong interest from the local advertising community as well. However, when it comes to fiction shows, national advertisers tend to be more in play, because their GRP requirement tends to be huge. Overall, when the lockdown was relaxed local advertisers were a little slow to come back, but then as the months progressed, they have returned stronger than before and are as robust as they can be. They tend to favour specific properties which air on weekends or for a certain duration of time, whereas national advertisers are present round the year and they tend to buy in bulk.

On content plan for both channels

In the Kannada market, we were a distant number four but now a strong number two. We are catching up with Zee Kannada and we hope to go past them soon. And from our mind map, we are lining up the best of fiction, non-fiction, events and movie premieres.

From a content line-up perspective, it is business as usual. Earlier people were holding back or were shifting stories or getting dubbed stories but now none of that is happening. We are racing back into original programming in a big way. We are focusing heavily on really strong stories that are relatable. We are focusing on non-fiction properties, many of which are in multiple seasons right now. For instance, Bigg Boss Kannada is in its eighth season, Majaa Bharatha is in its fourth season. These are our legacy properties which are demanded by both viewers and advertisers. From the movie premiere's point of view, things were a little slow during the lockdown, but we are happy to report that we are back in business.

As far as programming hours are concerned, on weekdays, we typically have a programming line-up that starts from 6.30 pm depending on the market, and goes on till about 10.30 pm or 11 pm. It is your base weekday programming. We recently opened up morning slots on Colors Kannada that have devotional content. We will continue to experiment with afternoon original programming as well in these markets. Currently, we are looking at five hours of original programming a day during weekdays. This increases by another four to five hours of programming during weekends.

On the level of interest for Bigg Boss Kannada

We launched Bigg Boss Kannada last Sunday, it overall rated 4.8 TVRs. If you start looking at Urban ratings, it was 6.8 TVRs. These are strong numbers for a five hour show. If you split it to half an hour slot, the level of time spent on any half hour slot was actually 16 to 17 minutes, which is kind of the level we see in a fiction show. To  see this for a non-fiction show is a strong sign. If you look at co-related viewership numbers on Voot I would say we are looking at very strong leadership there in line with  previous years as well. Additionally, we are doing a lot of new innovative tactics for the first time. There is live feed on Voot Select, additional footage, etc. Over and above our shows  are available on digital before it goes on television.

On the viability of remaking or adapting Hindi content for regional audiences

Whether it's Hindi or other Asian markets, I think the strategy is very fluid. Good content is working brilliantly across languages. In our experiences, good content made without significant deviation is the one that is really resonating with viewers. The setting can be localised for the broad stories, and in many cases, the scenes and the promos tend to remain similar. Earlier, it was a one way street. Hindi was giving shows to regional. Now the wheel has turned full circle, and regional is giving back stories. Irrespective of the channel, you have strong success stories across the board, where shows are remade not just in Hindi, but also in other languages. There is a tremendous amount of cross pollination happening. I believe the lockdown has accentuated the whole process.

On viewer consumption patterns post lockdown

Fiction shows have always been the backbone of any channel, while non-fiction is what gives it variety, spices it up, and brings a lot of star value. So, non-fiction is something different whereas fiction is a staple diet. I believe that remains unchanged. Post the lockdown we have seen a greater acceptance of dubbed shows or shows from other languages. We've also seen a great respect for cross pollination, shows brought in from one language remade into another. The definition of prime time has also changed. Now, late night shows are far more acceptable and more productive than it was earlier. There was a time when post 9 pm or 10 pm, we would hesitate to put out originals. We don’t hesitate anymore and our original shows are on all the way till 11 pm. Shows that are broadly appealing to all the sensibilities across age groups are the ones which are working brilliantly.

In terms of non-fiction, I definitely see a lot more innovation happening, rather than the same shows repeatedly happening over and over again. If the format becomes very predictable, I think that's when you start to see a steady decline over time on the ratings of the same show. So whether it's a new property over the existing one, there will be a great demand for non-fiction shows. Now the question is, how do we tap into that demand? And how do we continue to keep it relevant and continue to track viewers? The challenge before us is to keep the viewers hooked and the excitement alive.

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