afaqs!

What forced Spark Punjabi to drift away from its core thought?

By Raushni Bhagia , afaqs!, New Delhi | In Media Publishing | June 13, 2012
Though the channel hasn't donned a new positioning, the change in content line up indicates that it is moving away from its original positioning. Did the international content fail to work? afaqs! finds out.

RBNL's regional channel Spark Punjabi was launched in January as the 'first international Punjabi channel' with dubbed content in Punjabi. Five months after the launch, the channel has already introduced two reality shows with local content, and six more reality shows are in the pipeline, set to be launched over the next two months.

The sudden directional change in the programming line up towards local content has raised several eyebrows. Though Spark Punjabi hasn't donned a new positioning, the change in content line up indicates that it is moving away from its original positioning. Did the international content fail to garner ratings, and hence, revenues?

Anand Chakravarthy

Anand Chakravarthy, executive vice-president and business head, Big Magic, says, "We still have a lot of international content on the channel through shows like America's Got Talent and Cheaters. It's just that we have realised that we need a variety of content to cater to the audiences. Hence, we have planned a mix of sitcoms, reality and Bollywood-based content on the channel. We are not changing its positioning."

However, the media experts strongly believe that for any channel catering to a specific geographical boundary in the country, it has to have a reasonable amount of local content for survival in the long run.

Consider this: the channel recently announced the launch of four local reality shows, of which two are already on air. It also plans to bring two more talent hunt shows, Giddiyan (name not finalised yet) and Coolest Fresher in the near future. Two Pakistan-based fiction shows, Naadaniyaan and Bulbulay (humour and satire combination) are tentatively scheduled for the 9 pm band. The two shows are already on air on the network's (RBNL's) Hindi channel, Big Magic.

Why the need for the change in line up?

Money earned from content is directly proportional to the attraction of eyeballs. Marketers believe that to bring in more of both, local content is a must.

Divya Radhakrishnan

Hariharan Vishwanath

Sejal Shah

Divya Radhakrishnan, managing director, Helios Media, says, "I feel that the probability of the international content being taken up on a regional channel is questionable in the first place. The broadcasters have to understand that even though a larger population of this region is connected to western countries (through NRIs), the Indian diaspora abroad is more Indian when it comes to tastes and culture. Even for them, the international content dubbed in Punjabi wouldn't be that relevant."

While Hariharan Vishwanath, national trading director, MEC opines that local content is more relatable anywhere in the country and that when anything else doesn't work up to the expectations, there is some guarantee attached to the local content. He adds, "Honestly, that's the way any channel can survive. To grab the pulses of the audiences, local content is a must. Dubbed content can attract eyeballs for a temporary period of time, but as a long-term plan, it can't drive viewership."

Industry experts also believe that the Punjabi genre has the highest number of music channels since that is the demand of the region. "Having said that, the region to which the channel caters to is highly music-oriented. Trying anything else in such a market is, as it is, a highly risky affair," adds Radhakrishnan.

Sejal Shah, national buying head, Starcom seconds this and adds that the region lacks a 'real GEC (general entertainment channel)'. "I believe that of late, the channel must have realised that there is a specific segment of the audience which is craving for a GEC. After showing the GEC kind of international content, the channel must now be trying out the same kind of content in Punjabi."

Marketers also suggest that the intention behind the shift of focus may be to increase market share and hence grab a larger share of the potential Rs 1,200 crore ad pie. Shah adds, "GECs always sell better than any other genre. It's quite possible that once the channel is able to establish itself as a successful regional GEC, it would garner better viewership and hence be able to monetise well, with a proper strategy."

It may be recalled that Spark Punjabi brought the Bollywood movie block, 'Superhit Cinemas', from Big Magic. About the extension of properties to the channel, Chakravarthy says, "The two channels cater to two different audiences and they have different footprints. After the success of a property in a specific region, the same property can be experimented with in other regions with more confidence and experience."

While most of the local content is fiction, the two new properties, Naadaniyaan and Bulbulay, are acquired from a Pakistani production house on an exclusivity deal. As per the deal, the network has bought the properties with all India rights.

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