Aaj Tak in Punjabi. Well, that's how the STV Enterprises brass would like to describe its 24-hour Punjabi news channel, which debuted on January 14. The channel, branded Punjab Today, aims to bring "news about people to the people" (Lokan dian khabran lokan tak). A free-to-air channel, Punjab Today beams via Thaicom 3 satellite. Promoted by Delhi-based broadcast equipment service provider Jugal K. Jain, chairman and managing director, STV Enterprises Ltd, Punjab Today hopes to reach over 15 million Punjabis in over 100 countries.
To put things into perspective, STV started out as a broadcasting equipment support outfit in 1995. After five years, it set up a film and video production studio in Delhi. Top sports channels and production houses such as DD Sports, ESPN, Zee and TWI regularly use STV's studio facilities for post-production work. Sensing an opportunity in the regional news market, STV decided to venture into the business of producing news for the Punjabi community in India and abroad.
Jain sees a great demand for regional news in India. He says, "The future belongs to regional news channels. There is very little coverage of Punjab on any of the existing channels (including those in Punjabi); whereas it is the most progressive state and leads the others in per capita income."
STV's news production hub will be in India. It has set up 25 news bureaus in Punjab, two in Delhi and one each in Jalandhar, Chandigarh and Mumbai. In addition, it plans to have three studios abroad - one each in Toronto (Canada), South Hall (London) and Birmingham (the UK). The news stories would cover industry, agriculture, finance, Bollywood (the Indian film industry) and sports.
Punjab Today will feature eight news bulletins, of 30-minute each, through the day. On each 30-minute news capsule, the commercial break time would be of six minutes. Talking about the revenue model of the channel, Avinash Singh, COO, says, "A 10-second slab during prime time (7:00 pm to 10:00 pm) is priced at Rs 1,000. However, as an invitation offer, on taking a 10-second ad, an advertiser gets free airtime for two more ads. Thus, the money spent on each 10 second spot comes down to Rs 333." Already HLL and Himani have come on board as sponsors apart from a score of local advertisers. "More are to follow," adds Singh.
Talking about the focus of news coverage, Singh says issues related to the state of Punjab would get wider coverage compared to national and international news items. For national and international footage, Punjab Today has tied up with ANI (Asia News International). An added advantage of the tie-up is that Punjab Today will have access to Pakistan-related news. In fact, Punjab Today plans to produce programmes on the heritage and scientific breakthroughs in Pakistan. This is aimed at getting the Punjabi community in India closer to those settled in Pakistan. Officials at STV were quick to point that Punjab Today's stand remains 'apolitical'.
Currently, of the five Punjabi channels - DD 18, Alpha Punjabi, Tara, Lashkara and ETC Punjabi - only Alpha Punjabi airs news bulletins, which again, is not round the clock. Thus the only 24-hour news channels available to Punjabis are Aaj Tak and Zee news, which are Hindi channels.
A study by media portal exchange4media on the news viewership patterns in Delhi and Ludhiana for Aaj Tak and Zee (for the period June 18, 2001 to December 17, 2001) revealed that Aaj Tak and Zee News delivered more TRPs in Ludhiana compared to Delhi. And that Aak Tak was the most popular news channel in Punjab. Singh adds, "The average TRP of the news programme in Zee Alpha Punjabi currently is 3.8, which is higher than any other programme featured on the channel during the day. This clearly shows the need for a round-the-clock news channel."
But industry watchers do not share the same enthusiasm. According to a Delhi-based senior channel planning executive in a Top 10 agency, two factors are critical to the success of a regional news channel. First, the quality of news viwership and second the stickiness to regional news. These two factors go a long way in determining advertiser interest, which again is key to survival. He is of the view that while viewership of Ludhiana might be more than that of Delhi in sheer numbers, Delhiites are more serious viewers. That is they watch for a longer time than Punjabis do.
Elaborating on the second point, he says, "The other thing is regional channel viewers, especially in the north, actually enjoy Hindi soaps on major entertainment channels and take a break only to catch up with the news headlines in their respective languages. But they do not watch the entire bulletin. This is bad news for potential advertisers because their ads hardly get to be seen by the desired audience. "
All this isn't deterring STV from going ahead with its other plans. In six months time, STV hopes to launch a channel in Urdu for residents of Jammu & Kashmir. It may be called J&K Today.
The advertising campaign of Punjab Today coincided with the launch of the channel. Punjabi dailies such as Punjab Kesari, Tribune etc and national dailies are being used to drive the message home. While the mass media campaign would be low-key, a lot of the excitement is going to be generated through local events.
Whether Punjab Today will cut ice with the Punjabi community only time will tell. For starters, the Punjab elections (February 13) would be the litmus test. © 2002 agencyfaqs!