Channel Guide, a limited-hours satellite channel about TV shows and happenings in the Indian television industry, is preparing to beam into Indian homes by mid-April. The proposed free-to-air, digital channel is being launched by a Mumbai-based, mid-size, public limited company by the same name, Channel Guide India. Based broadly on the lines of America's Gemstar-TV Guide International, Inc, the television guide will beam from Thaicom-3 after uplinking from the satellite's Bangkok facility.
Channel Guide will broadcast anchored slots about daily programmes running on various channels and also provide broadcasters an opportunity to run promotions for their shows. "We will begin with in-house slots," says Ravi Deshmukh, chief operating officer. "Between the third and fifth month, the ratio of in-house content to channel promos should touch 50-50". Viewers can expect to keep pace with everything that's running on television between 9 am to 7 pm (to avoid competing with channels on prime-time).
Being a free channel for viewers, Channel Guide plans to earn money from broadcasters willing to run promos of their shows. But why would they? "Broadcasters realise that if they advertise on their time, they cannibalise their air-time," explains Deshmukh, who claims a mass media experience of "seven to eight years, primarily on the management side". "Plus, on their own, they are able to advertise only to existing viewers. It's like standing in front of a mirror and clicking yourself." Channels will be given time to promote their properties in "infocommercial spots of 10 minutes and multiples thereof".
As Deshmukh sees it, promotions on Channel Guide would encourage conversions from other channels. There will be no retail advertising. "I do not want to compete with my customer in earning money," reasons Deshmukh. Another big reason why channels would advertise their properties on his channel has to do with audience loyalty, he feels. "No serial today is sold on the name of the director, actor or writer. If the artistes are to be built, the programmes are to be syndicated and the channels therefore have to make more money, they have to go beyond the story and promote their properties better".
The weight being given by TV channels to promote their properties has assumed new proportions. More so because the market runs on programme loyalty, not channel loyalty. "The outdoor (advertising) industry was saved by TV channels once the dotcoms began going bust," remarks Anil Wanvari, founder, CEO and editor-in-chief, indiantelevision.com. "But most promotion vehicles have been static," argues Deshmukh. If you leave aside hoardings, newspapers are the only main source of television information. Magazines? "You hardly see them," counters Deshmukh.
That's a worrying thing for his channel too. Zee TV's TV World, which had tried encapsulating all such information, never took off. But Deshmukh's argument is that it has to do with the packaging. "They carry information on selective programmes and channels, and they present whole month's schedule. We believe that the audience would definitely welcome a service like this in an enjoyable environment." In fact, Deshmukh insists his company be seen being in the business of - not programming but - packaging and promotion. "That is our platform. Programming requires creative skills and a huge investment."
He hopes to cover 75 per cent of the existing channels in India by June 2001. But only if he can make sure it gets into Indian homes. Being digital makes it more attractive for the viewer, but a no-no for the cable operator who has to invest in a decoder. Aaj Tak, from the prestigious Living Media group, is a case in point. "We are doing something which a cable guy should be doing in the first place. We have been able to build a basic understanding and selective sharing of decoder costs," explains Deshmukh. "But right now, the operators are neither rejecting nor committing. It helps them too, because we do their work, and also promote them. We will even have a slot on what's happening in the cable industry."
On its part, Channel Guide has kept a modest target on reach - 3-4 million households by end 2001. "We are aiming for metros, mini metros and some new, emerging markets (beyond TRPs) like Itarasi and Khandwa (both in Madhya Pradesh)," says Deshmukh.
One of the factors that could affect Channel Guide's prospects is the company's lack of practical experience in media. The seven-year-old company has a background in automobile finance (earlier known as Bokadia Finance, with revenues of Rs 2 crore, according to an ET report of 1999). The company changed its name and business in late 2000. "We had looked at two sectors - media and IT," recounts Deshmukh. "After applying various parameters on the management (IT being knowledge-intensive and therefore requiring large software teams) and financial (long gestation periods) point of view, we decided to take the plunge into media."
Deshmukh hopes to make "reasonable revenues within a year" unlike software, he says, where it takes over a year and a half. The company is investing close to Rs 10 crore in the first year through internal accruals and equity. Considering the business model, overheads should be low (workforce of 12, of which seven are packagers). Like Gemstar-TV Guide, Channel Guide harbours substantial technology-based plans in media. Watch the Net for more news.
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