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FICCI Frames 2012: Is there anything known as 'niche programming' today?

By Devina Joshi , afaqs!, Mumbai | In Media Publishing | March 16, 2012
In a session moderated by Paritosh Joshi of STAR CJ, the whole concept of 'niche' programming was questioned and discussed.

On Day 2 of FICCI Frames 2012/03, the biggest problem of the session titled 'Building sustainable models for niche programming content' was that its panellists disagreed with the session title itself. Moderated by Paritosh Joshi, CEO, STAR CJ, the session had panellists such as Smeeta Chakrabarti, CEO, NDTV Lifestyle; Monica Tata, general manager, Entertainment Networks, South Asia for Turner International India; Ajay Chacko, president, A+E Networks ITV18 JV; Atul Pande, CEO, sports business, ZEE; and Rasika Tyagi, senior vice-president, English programming, STAR India.

Ajay Chacko

Monica Tata

Paritosh Joshi

Atul Pande

Smeeta Chakrabarti

Rasika Tyagi

Chacko was first to go and questioned the term 'niche'. Niche is a currency used not just by the consumer or the advertiser, but by the media buyer as well, he stated. "I think we should look at absolute numbers and not just percentages, and stop classifying content as niche."

CNBC-TV18 was classified as niche years ago, and the brand seems to be delivering good numbers in absolution, he said. "The power of so-called niche brands will be a force to reckon with in three years," added Chacko.

Tata agreed, saying that by definition, niche implies a crevice or a recess in a wall. "The term was concocted years ago, and is redundant now. The term I'd like to use instead is special interest channels," she said, "and these are created for discerning viewers that appreciate a particular kind of content."

She also busted the myth that GECs (general entertainment channels) dominate viewership, or represent 'masses', as their own pie is shrinking, with more and more special interest channels coming in.

Moderator Joshi then asked the panel whether there is a democratisation of content at play here, or an 'elitisation' of content?

Pande of ZEE's sports business said that recently, the channel sold football to its clients, as opposed to cricket. There were the usual slew of comments about football being 'niche' and the impossible task ahead to convince clients. However, in India, 40 million households tuned in to football in 2011.

"In sports particularly, a channel can command a premium because of discerning audiences that live and die for sports teams, and there is a very big market for niche content across all kinds of sports," Pande said.

Chakrabarti of NDTV Lifestyle said that it's almost questionable when people state that 'lifestyle' is niche content. "How can you say food is niche, or health is niche, when it affects everyone?" she asked. For instance, 'Highway on my Plate', a show on NDTV Lifestyle, fulfils the content hunger (no pun intended) of dhaba lovers in India.

"It's about asking for a premium from advertisers for reaching out to the viewer who is going to come back over and over again for rich quality differentiated content," she said.

Tyagi of STAR India said that this is the 20th year of Pay TV in India, but it is still at Rs 5 per day that the viewer enjoys his television experience, although he wouldn't mind spending hundreds over a single movie in a multiplex.

"Of course premium content should charge its discerning audiences in a premium manner, as this audience will be willing to pay separately for compelling content. It is sad that an average consumer pays Rs 5 per day to watch, say, a show that took Rs 1 million to complete," she stated.

To cite an example, Tyagi said that consumers would probably not mind paying a premium for a show such as 'Koffee with Karan'. "I see a lot of potential in original, high quality English programming in India of this kind, and the test for it is to ask whether it can be watched even 10 years from now. If the answer is yes, you have a winning show that commands a premium," said Tyagi.

Tata agreed, citing the example of a children's show called 'Kumbhkaran' that Turner shall make available in other parts of the world soon, due to its relevant entertainment and message value.

Joshi then spoke of how the NRS in the UK not only tracks the reach of any magazine, but also undertakes affinity measures. Perhaps a similar system ought to be developed for niche channels, where the deliverables are measured not only as per numbers (reach) but also the high affinity levels associated with their viewers. He concluded by saying that a few years ago, he had used the words 'fragmentation of television', which is now a dead term. "When any category, be it personal care or television, becomes sophisticated, it has to become differentiated if it needs to grow," he concluded.

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