The post-lunch session on Day 3 of FICCI Frames 2012/03 was about how India is poised for the growth of regional television.
Nachiket Pantvaidya, executive vice-president, STAR Pravah moderated a session that included two other eminent professionals from the regional TV industry - K Madhavan, managing director, Asianet; and Sharada Sunder, executive vice-president, regional channels, Zee.
Asianet's Madhavan, who optimistically stated, "Regional is the new national," quite ironically enumerated these challenges. They include the issue of monetisation of the distribution chain, uncertainty regarding how small towns will react to digitisation (set-top boxes), the ever-increasing tax on DTH connections (particularly in Tamil Nadu), the problem of getting better value for content on regional television and carriage fee issues.
Other pressing challenges include solving the problem of movie-driven GRPs (almost 30 per cent of regional GRPs comes from movies), non-availability of good content, the shortage of skilled and trained professionals and the issue of attracting and retaining talent (industry professionals tend to gravitate towards Hindi/English shows and show a clear preference for these over regional shows).
Even more crucial are the problems of increasing cost of production, coupled with inadequate advertising revenues. Almost 97 per cent of the regional segment comprises Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, Malayali, Bengali and Marathi markets. Of these, maximum ad revenue is raked in by Tamil channels, followed by Telugu, Bengali, Malayali and Kannada channels, in that order, with Marathi channels garnering least ad revenues.
STAR Pravah's Pantvaidya raised the most crucial of the aforementioned challenges, namely, the issue of ad revenues and the huge gap between ad revenues for regional and national players.
"There is appreciation for regional content but it is not converting into ratings and revenue," he said.
As the discussion progressed, several solutions surfaced, too. The biggest solution appeared to be an upgradation of the content being telecast on regional TV shows. "Content is the king," declared Madhavan. This could mean several things. Regional TV broadcasters need to ensure that the content aired is in no way regressive. The content has to keep evolving such that it stays relevant to the younger audiences.
To aid broadcasters' efforts to keep the content relevant to the emerging youth, parents should ensure that their children learn their regional languages. "We need to make our content more inclusive, keeping in mind today's teens. This will be a service to 'brand India'," said Zee's Sunder. These very teenagers will grow up and become adult consumers tomorrow, much to the interest of today's regional (and national) advertisers.
An immediate solution to the problem of poor ad revenues could be to focus on retail advertisers, educate them and establish direct partnerships with them, in the absence of too many middle-men.
Regarding the problem of sourcing talent, Madhavan simply said, "If you make big shows with big scale, you will find big talent."
Ultimately, though, it all boils down to core content as each of these solutions is rooted in the kind of content being broadcast on regional TV. Speaking of content, Sunder mentioned that regional synergy (especially in non-fiction formats) across languages could help the cause as well.
Clearly, regional TV channels compete not only with players within the genre but also at the national and international levels. Unlocking revenues in this space appears to be the biggest challenge for the people running these channels. Both, advertisers and broadcasters ought to nurture a focussed drive to address this challenge in the days ahead.