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North or South, TV viewers speak one language

November 30, 2009 12:38 IST

Are Hindi-speaking markets and the four southern states really poles apart on TV viewing habits?

It wouldn't seem so, according to research showcased by TAM Media Research CEO L V Krishnan at Ficci's southern version of FRAMEs in Chennai last week.

Both markets consume TV in roughly the same way - lots of soaps, an increasing appetite for reality shows combined with a ravenous hunger for films.

One big change in the South is the rising viewership of what TAM defines as "national channels" (largely Hindi and English).

From about seven per cent of the total viewership in the South in 2005, the share of "national channels" has gone up to 14 per cent in 2009. Some of this rise is clearly because of migration.

With a booming economy, Tamil Nadu attracts a lot more outsiders - foreigners and Indians - than it did earlier.

During the conference, much of the discussion in the television sessions and otherwise focused on the differences between Hindi-speaking audiences and the southern ones.

Radhikaa Sarath Kumar, Chairperson, Radaan Media Works, a television software company, kept emphasising on how the South prefers well-scripted, cause-based, strong characters unlike the weepy ones on Hindi channels.

G K Mohan, an independent TV producer from Andhra Pradesh, was emphatic that unlike Hindi channels, soaps, not reality shows, were the staple (the sambar-rice) of television in the four southern states.

That is true for Hindi-speaking audiences, too. Over the last 10 years they have shown an overwhelming preference for strong characters who can break out of societally impossible situations, going by the shows that topped the charts. So, for every Chitti in Tamil there is a Saat Phere in Hindi.

Having said that, there are some interesting variations in the two markets. The film craze in the South is twice as strong as that in the North. The TV craze too seems stronger. Southern audiences spend half an hour more than Hindi-speaking ones before the TV (2 hours 50 minutes a day to the North's 2 hours 20 minutes). That is strange considering that they go to bed early.

Viewership after 10 pm in the four southern states is just about half of that in Hindi speaking markets.

There is, however, one very important difference in the two markets. Southern audiences do not watch repeats; it is a completely original content market. That logically would mean higher operating costs for the broadcaster.

But costs for South Indian broadcasters remain lower, that is because buying non-Hindi content is four-six times cheaper than Hindi.

This also makes the southern market a more profitable one for programme producers. That is because many southern channels, especially the dominant Sun Network, rent out airtime slots. So, a Balaji Telefilms, for instance, buys a slot on the (Tamil) Sun TV and then markets some proportion of the airtime.

Under this arrangement it owns the intellectual property. It can then syndicate the show to other markets, countries or channels. So, from a margin perspective the south is, arguably, a better market for TV content makers. It is on volumes that the Hindi speaking markets, where broadcasters buy content outright, make up.

Vanita Kohli-Khandekar in New Delhi