New Age Entertainment, the nine-month-old company floated by ETC Networks and Suresh M Iyer to produce and sell programmes for the South Indian television market, has stepped into film production. It is also working on telecasting its first staged-for-television play in two months' time. These are part of the new growth initiatives undertaken by New Age to cater to one of India's more ravenous television markets, Tamil Nadu, explained Suresh M Iyer, managing director, New Age.
The first movie, Nesikkiran, went on air last Sunday (May 27) on Sun TV. Sold by New Age, Nesikkiran is produced by RPG Saregama. "The next films will be produced by New Age," confirms Iyer. It was shot in 15-20 days and was ready for telecast (after post-production) in 30 days, claims Iyer. It cost about Rs 25 lakh. "To survive, I need to sell it for Rs 30-35 lakh," says Iyer. Additionally, the films are being shot in 16 mm with the option of blowing them to 35 mm for theatre release later. Additionally, Iyer is looking for revenue options from music release and other merchandising. These movies will be shown on every fourth Sunday of the month on Sun TV.
This is New Age's first foray into film production. Iyer explains the logic in the context of the bigger picture thus: "Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu happen to be movie-crazy states. But there are four active channels in Tamil Nadu (Raj, Vijay, Jaya and Sun) which beam two films on an average each day. So eight films a day into 365 days," he muses. "There is very little left to differentiate and the number of repeats is very high." So New Age plans to pick up well-known artistes (not superstars) and family subjects and put it all together in a matter of a month or so. "The artistes will be your equivalents of a Juhi Chawla or Anupam Kher," says Iyer.
His logic for entering into staging plays for television is also similar. "There are more than 20 serials playing on Tamil screens between the four channels," explains Iyer. "We don't want to be looking like any other time-sales agency selling the usual soaps. We have to keep coming up with new concepts for advertisers." The first play, Pornnivinselyam, is a Tamil epic about the Chola dynasty, for instance. These events will be staged in plug-and-play theatres (contributing some ticket-sales too), worked upon later in post-production studios, and later broadcast on Sun TV. "These will be once-a-month events," says Iyer.
New Age has always been keen on marketing staged events. The first property that it marketed for Sun TV, late last year, was a music show - Queen in Concert. It featured S Janaki, the Tamil equivalent of Lata Mangeshkar, says Iyer. In the next three months, New Age is aiming to stage a similar concert in Hyderabad and Cochin (in Telugu and Malayalam respectively). It later sold air-time for Koteeswaran on Sun, but the show did not live up to expectations. "It ran for 41 episodes and as against Sun's usual rates of Rs 14,000 for a 10-seconder we managed rates of Rs 40,000 plus for 10 seconds," explains Iyer. "But later we found that with the ratings that it was giving it was not at all cost-effective for the advertiser."
On the other hand, its Malayalam version running on Surya (under the same name, five days a week, but only 30 minutes per episode) has been garnering a steady 20-22 TVRs, claims Iyer. "In Kerala people are watching it not for the money but the general knowledge. The level of questions is very high," he says. Iyer also adds that Koteeswaran has changed the fortunes of Surya in Kerala. "It has emerged ahead of Asianet," he claims. He also explains that the reason why the time was reduced to 30 minutes (from one hour) is to do with the anchor. "Nobody can hold a game-show for more than that time except Amitabh Bachchan," says Iyer. "We decided that if it were to make sense for both advertisers and viewers, it had to be a tight package."
Only recently, New Age had announced the launch of Tamil television's most expensive property on Sundays - Soolam - to replace an ailing Koteeswaran on Sun TV. Effectively, Koteeswaran, Sun's KBC equivalent, is reduced to a weekly (Saturdays, 9-10 pm). Soolam, touted as the biggest Tamil costume drama, is the story of Amman (Goddess Kali). For advertisers, more so FMCG marketers, Tamil Nadu is a huge market. It is helped by the extremely high levels of C&S penetration. TN has 6.8 million TV households, of which 4.41 million are C&S hosueholds. Compare it with, say, Kerala which has 2.73 million TV households and only 710,000 C&S. Or Maharashtra which has 10 million TV-owning households and 4.5 million C&S. That again, is a largely Mumbai-determined figure.
The Tamilian's fascination with televised content, and that too, in their own language, has helped New Age record a claimed Rs 14 crore of revenues. "More than revenues, I would like to have a better bottomline," says Iyer. "We should close this year at Rs 25 crore with a bottomline that's 3-4 per cent of that," he elaborates. Iyer is also actively chasing investors to bring in more funds.
Currently, the company also markets a daily soap on Sun TV called Krishna Dasi. It is learnt that Sun and New Age are working toward the first Sun TV Movie Awards and Sun TV Music Awards coming up in August.
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