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Home > Business > Special

Small screen, big battles

Anusha S | June 07, 2003

Should it be called the CAS Effect? Or, is it just that India's television channels are pulling out all the stops in the battle for ratings and advertisers.

One way or another, one thing is certain -- Indian television is moving from the saas-bahu era into an action-packed new viewing season.

Take Star TV, which is brushing up its line-up with a whole new range of programmes. In mid-May it launched Josh, which is rumoured to be the costliest serial ever made in India.

Industry analysts reckon that each episode costs about Rs 30 lakh (Rs 3 million) though Star executives refuse to comment on programming figures.

Says Sameer Nair, COO, Star India: "Josh is an attempt to do something daring, bold and different. It has been a dream project for all of us at Star."

Or, look at Zee which has just launched Vishwas a new Monday-Thursday serial that runs at prime time and which is aimed at housewives. The channel has also just launched Astitva -- Ek Prem Kahani, a 64-episode serial with a slightly daring theme about an older woman falling in love with a younger man. The series is expected to run for about four months. Similarly, there's Chausath Panne which is also expected to run for a four-month stretch.

Pick up the remote and channel surf to Sony Entertainment Television and its the same story of change. SET has just launched six new prime time shows.

There is a daily soap and Ab Ayega Mazzaa, Kuch Kehti Hai Yeh Dhun, Sambhav Asambhav, Naam Gum Jayega and Boogie Woogie (in its new avatar) are weeklies. All these shows are being introduced to spruce up the 8 pm to 9 pm slot.

Another show, Crime Patrol, a half hour live action series is slotted at 10.30 pm.

Says Sunil Lulla, executive vice president, SET: "Sony is aiming to establish itself as distinct viewing alternative by moving away from the kitchen politics of the saas-bahu formula."

The fast-paced action indicates how competition is heating up to even greater levels in the television industry. Whether CAS (conditional access systems) comes into operation or not in July, broadcasters are nervous and they are suddenly willing to experiment with new serials and programme formats.

Says Shobha Kapoor, managing director and CEO, Balaji Telefilms: "Programming will be the key in the post-CAS scenario since the viewers will pay for the channels they want to watch and advertisers will pay to advertise on channels that are watched. Advertisement and subscription revenues will be inextricably linked to the content quality."

Adds Ronnie Screwvala, chief executive officer, UTV: "Compelling content will entice consumers and make them invest in the set-top boxes."

But it isn't only the arrival of CAS that is forcing broadcasters to investigate newer options. Each channel is determined to create a new unique identity that will make it stand out in the crowd.

Says Lulla: "We are creating a different viewing alternative -- programming differentiated in content, style and format."

The fact is that every broadcaster is looking for ways to stand out in the crowd. Everyone is looking at soaps, adventures and thrillers along with kids programming.

Says Aditya Singh, director, Contiloe Films: "Typically in a CAS environment, specialised programming is what will appeal to people for which they would be willing to pay." Contiloe Films currently has Krishna Arjun and Ssh...Koi Hai airing on Star Plus.

Even Star India is rumoured to be looking for new format programmes. It has already launched a children's show Shaka Laka Boom Boom produced by UTV and comedy shows such as Khichdi. It has also created a children's band on its channel at 7.30 pm which it considers a prime time slot.

Industry sources say that Star has stopped commissioning new soaps and it's worried about viewer fatigue. A lot of its new programmes will, apparently, be targeted at children and teenagers and there will also be a large dose of comedy.

Star executives however deny that there will be big changes. Says Tarun Katiyal, senior vice president, content & communication, Star India: "We are not going to change from our winning formula."

Media watchers says that the new strategy, while helping Star de-risk its content profile which was earlier heavily skewed in favour of programmes from the Balaji stable, has lead to a mushrooming of new content providers for its channel.

It isn't only the content that is about to change. There will be changes in the way programmes are brought onto the screen.

SET, for instance, is taking a seasonal approach to launching programmes, which is a common practice internationally.

For its next season it has already drawn up plans to launch a Spanish soap Betty La Fea which has had succesful runs in over 25 countries across the globe.

Says Lulla: "We will go by the different seasons in a year to showcase our products and the turnaround time for programmes is that much faster."

SET's gameplan is to focus on men and women, between the ages of 25 and 34 who belong to the upper middle and higher income groups.

Says Lulla; "It is the most significant target market in terms of consumption and TV viewing. They account for 22 per cent of general entertainment viewing and 67 per cent of their TV viewing is in prime time."

By contrast, Zee says it will continue to focus on wholesome entertainment for the entire family. This means shows that appeal to everyone at home.

"In the current line-up, programmes like The Good Health Show, Sa Re Ga Ma Pa, Antakshari, and for that matter even prime time shows like Astitva, have got good response from viewers," says Apurva Purohit, president, Zee Telfilms.

While, the post CAS scenario and channel plans are throwing open opportunities, there will also be huge problems ahead. If the television industry finds revenues shrinking that will leave less money to make programmes.

Kapoor believes that tent-pole programming where one or two blockbuster programmes are used to hold viewers will still be very important in the future scenario.

"I think the broadcaster would ideally look at this as an opportunity to invest in programming for better and longer period of run amongst the viewers," she says.

"As a production house, we will be following the wait-and-watch procedure as we did not have much time to mull over it and chalk out a strategy," she adds.

"Although the CAS implementation is early and should have been thought over thoroughly, nevertheless it is a step in the right direction," says Singh of Contiloe Films.

Whichever ways the CAS drama turns out, it's sure that better programmes will be the need of the hour to keep viewers hooked. Says Manish Popat, COO, programming at UTV: "Content has always been king. In the post-CAS scenario it will be the emperor."

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