The Rival Within

By Sumantha Rathore , afaqs!, New Delhi | In Media Publishing | October 27, 2010
The popularity of Bhojpuri channels is surging in Hindi speaking markets. Can they gain enough momentum to split the Hindi viewership over time?

Here's a loaded question: Can Bhojpuri television channels split the Hindi GEC market?

Two years ago, that query would have invited a sneer and comments about the sanity of the questioner before being dismissed summarily. Even today it may sound a bit preposterous, but the response might be measured. Rephrase that to - 'Is Bhojpuri creating a space and getting noticed?' - and you might get a different answer. afaqs! Reporter examines what has changed.

The accent thickens

Before Amitabh Bachchan (in Don, 1978) played a Bhojpuri-accented innocent exposed to the world of Bombay, Indian movies had a smattering of Bhojpuri going back to the '50s. It was Bachchan, probably, who made this local dialect of eastern Uttar Pradesh and western Bihar, 'popular' and went on to play more Bhojpuri characters in his films. The recent Salman Khan hit, Dabangg, too used the lingo extensively.

Cinema has been the main attraction for the Bhojpuri audience for long. Between 1962 and 2003, 200 Bhojpuri films were released. But since 2004, about 350 films have been made. And most of these were runaway hits in the region. Increasingly, however, these films began banking on the steamier - or seamier - side. In the process, local cinema lost touch with the urban population of the region, who wanted clean, up-market products. They migrated en masse to Hindi and English entertainment. It was this fact that gave P K Tewari, chairman and managing director of Mahuaa TV the idea of coming up with an exclusive Bhojpuri channel in 2008. Tewari stuck to two things - draw in the urban audience and have something for everyone.

Mahuaa magic

Tewari's un-researched gamble paid off. Even though it didn't create the 'ripples' he was expecting, media analysts say that the channel did raise a few interested eyebrows. Many shows on Hindi GECs - which till then had a tilt towards a Gujarati, Marathi and Rajasthani family setting - looked at Bhojpuri content with new respect.

Mahuaa made a smart move before it launched. It went ahead and quietly acquired the television rights for 150 Bhojpuri movies for just Rs 1.5-2 lakh each. Post the launch, the price of these movies is estimated to have gone up to Rs 30 lakh. "What will you show on a Bhojpuri channel if not local cinema, which is so popular?" asks Tewari.

Avijit Ghosh, the author of Cinema Bhojpuri, states that the arrival of Mahuaa TV was no accident. "Its entry is directly linked to the re-emergence of the Bhojpuri film industry with super hits like Sasura Bada Paisewala in 2004, Panditji Batain Naa Biyaah Kab Hoi (2005) and Nirahua Rickshawala (2007)," he points out.

Mahuaa TV started with six to eight hours of original programming and its flagship show was Bahubali produced by Prakash Jha. The show, which was in Hindi with a Bhojpuri twang, ran for 142 episodes. That, say many, changed the fate of the channel. "The serial had neatly etched characters and a very tight script. It, I think, helped Mahuaa become a talking point in the Bhojpuri-speaking region," reminisces Ghosh.

Other shows followed and Mahuaa became the toast of the Bhojpuri belt - and beyond. At the same time, Hindi GECs suddenly felt the need to showcase one or two shows based on Bihari culture. Shows such as Agle Janam Mohe Bitiya Hi Kijjo and Bhagyavidhata on Zee TV and Colors followed.

Proof of the pudding

No TV channel worth its salt would want to make claims without a measurement tool to back its efforts and claims or if it has not inspired others to compete with it. Mahuaa's launch was followed by Hamar TV (2009) and Maurya TV (2010). Today, the other channels in the dialect include Purva TV, Magik TV, Sangeet Bhojpuri and Mahuaa News.

TAM Media Research started measuring and tracking Bihar in 2009. "Implementation-related issues resulted in the delay," says L V Krishnan, CEO, TAM Media Research, adding, "advertisers are showing interest in this market and Bhojpuri channels are becoming an important medium for those looking at reaching this as the primary market. Hence the demand for metering has increased from the advertisers."

So, who watches a Bhojpuri channel? According to TAM, the male-female viewership is more or less equal (4+ years). According to the economic classification, SEC B commands the maximum share with 41.8 per cent, followed by SEC A contributing 29.3 per cent of the viewership. SEC D and E account for 13.9 per cent and SEC C for 13 per cent of the viewership.

"There has been an improvement in the packaging of Bhojpuri content," says Manas Mishra, executive vice-president and country head, Mudra Connext. He points out that in December 2009, Mahuaa's total viewership in Bihar was neck-to-neck with that of second-rung Hindi GECs. "There are 240 million Bhojpuri-speaking people. So far, there wasn't too much entertainment for them, except for some local cable channels," he explains. But even in UP and Bihar, Bhojpuri is not in a position to offer an advertiser reach beyond 60-70 per cent, which Hindi can.

Reality check

Experts point out that if Bhojpuri channels want to grow their viewership base and retain the audience, they need to produce high quality programmes. That could bring in more of the upper strata and youth into the fold. Reality shows are the flavour of the season for Bhojpuri channels and get a good price too. A 10-second ad spot rate for a reality show is as high as Rs 15,000. On the other hand, fiction commands anything in the range of Rs 700-1,000 while news channels get between Rs 200 and Rs 600.

For the Bhojpuri channels, there is a sizeable overlap in the cinema watchers and television audience. Tewari feels that one of the major problems facing Bhojpuri channels is that the 'language' has no official recognition. "Till then, advertisers won't start taking cognizance," he says.

Another factor is that Bhojpuri is not taught in schools nor ha it gained the status of a language like Maithili. The latter gained the status of a language in 2003. There are no Bhojpuri newspapers that connect the Bhojpuri-speaking population in India although there are a few Bhojpuri magazines published from UP, Bihar, West Bengal and Assam.

K Satyanarayana, vice president and communication partner, Media Direction, a specialist media services group of R K Swamy BBDO, says that Bhojpuri channels - particularly Mahuaa - have got some new viewers besides nibbling into the share of Hindi GECs. This is particularly high in Bihar than in UP.

In Bihar, the genre share of Bhojpuri channels is 3.1 per cent (apart from this, a sizeable chunk of the viewership comes from UP, Delhi, Mumbai and Kolkata). Hindi GECs command 43.9 per cent, Hindi movies, 20.5 per cent, kids, 6.6 per cent and Hindi news 4.6 per cent (Source: TAM Peoplemeter System, All India, CS 4+ yrs, from January to September 2010). The share of Bhojpuri channels in the total TV viewing pie is a mere 0.21 per cent for the same period, with only English business news, Hindi business news and English entertainment channels behind it. Even Punjabi and Gujarati channels, although they are way behind other regional channels like Bengali and Marathi (in the Hindi speaking markets) have genre shares of 0.53 and 0.34 per cent, respectively.

From films to TV

The decline of cinema viewing in the Bhojpuri region coincided with the arrival of DTH, especially DD Direct. That affected the business of single-screen theatres in the kasbahs. Every village had five to 10 dish antennas. "It is this family audience that both Bhojpuri and Hindi GECs are trying to woo. It is an audience made up of the families of traders, lawyers, government officers and clerks, rich farmers small corporate executives - and other professions that makes for small-town India's middle-class," points out Ghosh.

The major challenge faced by the Bhojpuri channels, believes Tewari, is that the advertisers don't treat them at par with the Hindi channels. "Advertisers are not ready to give us the money we command. We have large chunk of our viewership coming from Delhi, Mumbai and Kolkata and these are the markets where our channel does not even have a distribution. Things will only change when TAM recognises this and increases the weightage to this belt. Till then we have to struggle."

The fight for advertising

In the past, Bengali and Marathi channels have witnessed success by attracting viewers and gaining advertisers. Bhojpuri can replicate that, to a certain extent. Despite the overwhelming shadow of Hindi, they can tap local advertising. First-time advertisers, who otherwise could not have afforded to advertise on TV earlier because of huge wastage and unaffordability, are obvious targets. But it won't be so easy.

"The growth for Bhojpuri channels," says Krishnan of TAM, "will come from the local advertisers who are beginning to realise the importance of these channels while reaching the local population." Tewari says that local advertisers in the region don't have the money. They contribute less than 10 per cent of Mahuaa's advertising revenues. He adds that there has been an increase of 60 per cent in advertising revenue of Mahuaa since its launch, thanks to the national advertisers. In fact, quite a few national advertisers have started dubbing their advertisements in Bhojpuri to have a better connect with the audience. Mahuaa is hopeful that its turnover will cross Rs 100 crore mark.

According to TAM, there are over 300 advertisers (April-September) on Mahuaa during prime time. The total revenue potential of Bhojpuri channels is pegged to be in the range of about Rs 100 crore. Up until now, the channels have tapped around Rs 50-60 crore. It is the national advertisers that consume three-fourths of the airtime.

What now?

There is hope among the players. Tewari, for instance, is of the opinion that the trend that will dominate the Hindi speaking markets in future will be a healthy mix of Bhojpuri and Hindi. "Earlier the Hindi GECs focused on Gujarati families and their culture, then it shifted to Rajasthan and now it is shifting towards UP and Bihar," he says.

Satyanarayana predicts that Bhojpuri channels could split Hindi GEC market in Bihar and eastern UP "to some extent". The parallels are there in Marathi and Bengali channels. "But Bhojpuri channels cannot become primary channels and dominate viewership in these markets," he says. The other factor is that unlike the Marathi, Bengali or southern audiences, most of the Bhojpuri speaking people who have migrated and live in the middle class localities of Delhi, Kolkata and Mumbai, prefer Hindi and English channels.

It is the middle-class in the towns of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh and the lower middle-class migrants who have a strong association with the community and the language. The big question: is that enough for a channel to profit and prosper?

(This story is based on additional interviews with: Amin Lakhani, head (exchange), Mindshare India, Chetan Ahuja, media director, Media Direction and Sriram Sharma, general manager (Bengaluru), Starcom India.)

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