We have all seen & #BANNER1 & # that niche television channels such as STAR One, Sony SAB or even radio stations such as Radio One (earlier Go 92.5 FM) - which had successfully created distinct identities for themselves - are now making desperate attempts to broaden their audience base.
Even specialised channels such as Zoom and The History Channel are trying a similar route.
A section of close watchers of Indian media terms this trend as dangerous. As one of them says, "It is dangerous to go from being specialist to general."
According to him, it is certainly not a good idea to lose individuality. "The world is striving to become more focused and, in India, we are trying the very opposite," he says.
One major reason cited for the trend is the belief of broadcasters that big TVR numbers generate bigger revenue for the channel.
Contrary to this popular belief, the advertisers and their media planners say that quality of content is equally important.
As Punitha Arumugam, group CEO, Madison, says, "Advertisers look for qualitative benefits from niche channels, not just numbers."
A large section of senior media planners such as Ravi Kiran, CEO, South Asia, Starcom Mediavest, echoes Arumugam's sentiment: "Specialist stations appeal to consumer passions and they engage the consumer better. In general, these channels also have a lower clutter. These are all highly desirable attributes in a media plan."
So, what then is inspiring these channels to broad-base their content?
A senior media planner says, "At times, the promoters of these channels lose track of the original vision and are in a hurry to show quick results. This is what leads to such strategies."
According to Premjeet Sodhi, senior vice-president, Intellect (a division of the Lintas Media Group), for exclusive and specialised content, which caters to high-value customers, these channels can charge a premium per eyeball.
"But the irony is that there is not much that the channels can do in terms of substantiating this approach. The whole TV market structure is built to buy and sell eyeballs by number and not by quality. The revenue generated by a channel increases with the increase in number of eyeballs, which is certainly a desirable thing. This has led to a situation where most channels are trying to adopt the middle path of identifying specific content that cuts across target groups," he adds.
However, Kiran of Starcom blames the media planners equally for this trend. "We media planners ourselves have over-glamorised the words 'mass' and 'big' without realising that in the digital world, mass actually often means undifferentiated and waste," says Kiran of Starcom.
But does this mean that niche or specialised channels don't have a future at all in India? Especially in a situation where niche publications in the print media have managed both readership as well as advertiser interest? Not everyone is pessimistic.
As Sodhi of Intellect says, "I agree that there is much more appreciation of exclusive and targeted content in print than in television. However, TV genres are relatively new and it is a matter of time†before these also evolve."
He is of the opinion that any digital or addressable system has the potential to change the way television channels are bought, which will in turn bring about a revolutionary change in the industry.
He says, "This will provide an opportunity to build subscription revenues, where the premium is not because more people see it, but because the content is more valued by the viewers. This will lead to a healthier environment and a rationalisation of the advertising spend shares across channels."
A section of the media feels that the growth of DTH television in India will also boost the growth of niche or specialised content on television.
Others like Kiran of Starcom say, "Within the same TV set, it is possible to address different audience needs because viewership is reasonably spread out already by time band and will be more so in the future."
He is confident that there is a great future for specialist channels, with or without DTH. "As the market matures, planners and marketers will understand that overdependence on mass media and mass channels will make media ineffective. That's when they will change. Players that are around when this happens will benefit," he says.
He concludes with a piece of advice, "Those who have given up the 'specialist' position and become distracted will then need to figure out what to do next."
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