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BAG Networks plans to tap spiritual TV genre with Darshan24

By Anindita Sarkar , afaqs!, Mumbai | In Media Publishing | September 26, 2011
The religious channel will focus on promoting all forms of religions in India.

Spirituality is a rising phenomenon across the urban Indian viewer segment. As a result, there has been a spurt in religious channels. In line with this development, BAG Networks is gearing up to add a 24-hour free-to-air religious channel to its television bouquet to tap the Rs 60 crore (industry estimate) spiritual TV market.

On September 28, BAG Networks will launch Darshan24, a channel that will not specialise in promoting any particular religion or sect, but focus on all forms of religions existing in India.

R K Arora, chief executive officer, broadcasting, BAG Newsline Network, says, "Currently, the programming of all devotional channels are only limited to a particular religion. However, our channel will showcase all forms of religions and sects, wherein the content mix will include live aarti (a ritual of worship), live darshan, and religious songs and astrology from across the country."

As per industry estimates, BAG is investing Rs 15-20 crore in Darshan24. The channel will take at least a year to break even.

On the distribution front, the network is optimistic that despite bandwidth issues, there will not be many hurdles faced since its content will be a package across a variety of religions.

Also, since BAG Networks already operates Hindi news channel News24 and entertainment news channel E24, the network claims that the addition of the new channel will further add strength to the network's pan-India distribution.

So, is there a big enough market for spiritual channels to grow in India?

The rise in stress levels amongst urban youth, thereby leading to depressions and other health issues, have led the genre to expand its viewership profile. Therefore, the genre, which once targeted the above 35-year-olds, is now also being viewed by the 25-year-olds. Consequently, the scope for the spiritual television genre in this country is immense, believe many.

"India is a land of multiple religions and sects, and everyone is eager to propagate and spread their own form of faith. Therefore, there is a rising demand for TV channels wholly devoted to religion and spirituality, 24 hours a day, seven days a week," says Amit Ray, former president, LMG, and now, an independent consultant.

But, the range to capture disciplined revenue by such channels is not much. "This is because the genre lacks a strong business model and quality content. Also, the players do not have enough money to invest in distribution," says Prabhakar, head, CMS Media.

In fact, industry insiders state that people (read preachers) buy slots on various channels and are a source of revenue, apart from branded content promotions.

"Therefore, while there is an audience set sitting there to be tapped, the growth of the genre will only come when there are improved investments in manpower, content and distribution, along with a more transparent business model," says a top media observer.

For the record, there are approximately 12 spiritual channels in India, which include names such as Aastha TV, Sanskar TV, MH1 Shraddha, Sadhana TV, Om Television, Pragya, Dharm TV, Paras TV and Sanatan TV.

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