Anirban Roy Choudhury

Dangal: Ruling The Heartland

To an entertainment loving Indian, the word ‘dangal’ is most freely associated with the Aamir Khan blockbuster about wrestling champions from rural India. The word is Hindi for wrestling, after all. In the world of Indian television, though, there’s another Dangal, that’s fuelled – in part, not wholly – by rural Indian audiences: free-to-air (FTA) Hindi general entertainment channel (GEC) Dangal from Enterr10 Television Network. It’s the object of our attention this fortnight because the channel has been topping the viewership charts almost every week since March 2019. Last week (Week 35), as per data by the Broadcast Audience Research Council (BARC) India, Dangal, with 905.52 million impressions, was the No.1 channel across genres, leaving behind contenders like Sun TV (871.63 million impressions) and Star Plus (795.44 million impressions).

Dangal is a free-to-air Hindi GEC. FTA channels don’t have a subscription fee. In other words, any licensed distributor, cable or DTH operator can downlink the signal and distribute it to their customers without paying any fee to the broadcasters. Advertising is the only source of revenue for these channels.

‘Mahima Shani Dev Ki’ and ‘Bandini’ are the two top shows on the free platform, and both air on Dangal. The former is a mythological show which first aired on NDTV Imagine (a discontinued GEC) in 2008, and the latter aired its last episode in 2011 on the same channel. Most of Dangal’s top shows are re-runs of shows acquired from other broadcasters. However, the broadcaster made a foray into original programming too. On September 7, 2019, it launched ‘CIF’, a crime investigation show with almost the same cast as Sony’s iconic ‘CID’.

In 2004, Manish Singhal (see box), designated as MD of the network, launched Enterr10 Television Network out of Indore. In 2006, he launched the flagship channel Enterr10, a Hindi movie channel, and subsequently expanded his network’s footprint with Dangal in 2009, Bhojpuri Cinema (Bhojpuri movie channel) in 2015, Fakt Marathi (a 24-hour Marathi movie channel) in 2016 and Enterr10 Bangla (a Bengali movie channel) in 2018. While all the channels fare well in their respective niches, Dangal has become the show-stopper by claiming the top spot consistently.

Interestingly enough, Dangal was launched as a Bhojpuri channel, but Singhal then decided to launch it in Hindi. By nature, Enterr10 Television Network – which reported an operational revenue of Rs 111 crore in FY 17-18 – is free-to-air. Following the implementation of TRAI’s new tariff order (NTO), which requires users to choose their channels/ packs as per their needs, Dangal started outshining others.

Here’s why: In a bid to woo subscribers, broadcasters started bundling channels and creating attractive packs. But the NTO prohibits clubbing of free and pay channels in the same bouquet. Consequently, most broadcasters converted their erstwhile FTAs (Zee Anmol, Star Utsav, Sony PAL, etc.) to pay. This left Dangal with hardly any competition in its space.

However, refer to Dangal as an FTA channel and the rebuttal from Joy Chakraborthy, CEO, Enterr10 Television Network, is instant. “Dangal is not the No.1 free channel… it’s the top channel across genres…” he says.

Chakraborthy insists nothing is ‘free’, because each kind of audience, in every market, has purchasing power. Besides, though the channel is free-to-air, cable TV subscribers do not get it for free. As per the NTO, each subscriber has to pay a base price of Rs 100 (excluding GST), which lets her choose 100 FTAs, and, mandatorily, at least 26 Doordarshan channels.

Dangal’s popularity defies conventional wisdom that advertising follows eyeballs. Chakraborthy says that advertisers consider free-to-air as ‘rural channels’. Therefore, unlike Sports or Hindi GECs, FTA channels aren’t considered in the ‘high value category’. In fact, Chakraborthy’s personal ‘dangal’ or fight is to change the way advertisers look at FTAs.

Former CEO of TV Today Network, Chakraborthy has over 25 years of experience in the media and entertainment industry. He has worked with Times Group, Star India, Zee, and most recently, Network18 as president – revenue and CEO, Forbes India.

Edited excerpts with Chakraborthy:

In March this year, you joined Enterr10 Television Network from Forbes – what was the one dent you set out to make straight away?

For me, the challenge is to correct the way FTA channels are perceived. They’re perceived in a certain way and FTA channels themselves are responsible for this. In the past, I don’t think the people running FTA channels made an effort to educate the industry about the many positives FTA offers. Because every bouquet had an FTA channel, people looked at it as a bundled offering. The benefits an FTA channel brings to the table were hardly ever communicated to advertisers and agencies.

What’s the problem with the way FTA channels are perceived? What kind of change would you like to see – and to what extent have you managed to change things?

The perception is – the vast majority of viewers (of FTA channels) come from the rural base. Actually, that’s not the case. Yes, a lot of our audience tunes in from the rural part of the country, but we also have an audience living in urban areas. We’re No.1 in the rural market as well as the Hindi speaking markets (HSM), which is rural plus urban. In urban India, we are in the top four. Clearly, people in urban markets are also watching Dangal.

Changing perception takes time and is an ongoing effort. Maximum clients in India identify their markets as urban and rural. The ones who target both markets were gradually moving towards us because of our ratings. The urbancentric clients were sceptical and we had to communicate to them that just because we are an FTA channel, it does not mean that no one in the urban areas watches us. Because of these efforts, we have seen the number of clients going up significantly.

Urban-centric clients were sceptical; we had to communicate to them that just because we’re an FTA channel, it doesn’t mean no one in urban areas watches us
Joy Chakraborthy

Which categories of advertisers are you are targeting? What’s the ambition on this front?

For Dangal, FMCG is our bread and butter. Newer categories like automobile and e-commerce are coming in.

In the pre-NTO period, pay GECs roughly had about 200 advertisers each, per year, whereas FTAs were getting around 60-80. The challenge is to take the number to 150-200… we’re in the right direction.

Today, my challenge is not just getting business, but getting it at the right rate. I have taken a conscious call not to sell below a particular rate. Due to the perception that the audience is rural, there is a lot of hesitation. First, it’s a mix of both urban and rural, and the people who watch FTA channels also have purchasing power. Roughly, about 80 per cent of advertising money spent on television is dished out by FMCG brands. FTA channels are a goldmine for them.

What does Dangal have that other GECs don’t, when it comes to giving advertisers value?

You can reach the metro audience, in say, Mumbai and Delhi, through various media vehicles, but you cannot reach the core heartland – Bihar, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan – without us. Dangal delivers superb numbers when it comes to what is called the Hindi heartland of India.

Sports and general entertainment are high involvement channels; advertisers and agencies get very involved while planning and buying media because the value is very high. I would like to make FTA a highinvolvement space too, given the value it delivers to advertisers. If I am delivering better ratings than the top GECs, then you’ve got to take me seriously. Compared to pay GECs, we are way too under-priced, but in the last five months, we have come a long way.

Coming to programming, most of your shows are re-runs of already-aired titles from other channels. How do you decide which shows to acquire?

We go through a lot of historical data before acquiring the license for any show. The media today is very fortunate to have access to this huge pool of (viewership) data. We go through TAM and BARC data to understand how the shows did when they originally aired, what channel they were put on and at what time slot.

So, do you only select the hit shows? Your line up is a mix, actually…

It’s not that we cherry pick shows that did well, put them on our channel and become the No.1 GEC… no. We also look at shows that did not do well and analyse why it happened. Maybe it was a good show on a bad distribution landscape, or had too tough a competitor, or was probably on the wrong channel. A lot goes into deciding what to put on air.

For Dangal, FMCG advertisers are our bread and butter; there are new categories coming in too, like automobile, e-commerce...
Joy Chakraborthy

Tell us more about your viewers – are they new to TV or are they ‘repeat viewers’ catching re-runs of their favourite shows on Dangal?

The television universe has expanded significantly; the number of television households has increased manifold. So, many of the shows never got exposed to the audience that we have today. Mostly, these are new audiences watching the shows for the first time.

Mythology has a lot of repeat value; we have a strong portfolio of mythological content. The best way to judge the programming line-up of a GEC is by analysing the time spent on the channel. Time spent on Dangal is very high… this shows the audience is loyal to our programming at this stage.

What is your strategy when it comes to original programming? And what about new shows?

We have some original shows and will have more of them going forward. We are the only GEC with a Monday to Sunday FPC (fixed point chart, which means a fixed schedule).

Because all our shows are doing well, it becomes difficult for us to slot new ones in. That is why despite being ready with new shows, we’re still trying to figure out how to fit them in.

Is it fair to say Dangal competes not just with other FTAs, but with GECs too?

In the FMCG world, just because one shampoo brand prices a variant at Re 1 and another one prices a similar product at Rs 5, it does not mean both of them aren’t in the same space. Just because my pricing is different, it does not mean I am not competing for the same audience. A viewer is a viewer; it does not matter if he or she is watching pay GEC or a free one.

So, yes we are competing with other GECs out there. This concept of FTAs needs to go for good. Nothing is free. Brands do not have infinite advertising money. Whatever advertising money Dangal is getting today, is coming out of some other channel’s pie. Dangal is competition for them, as they are for us.

The Birth of Dangal, as shared by Manish Singhal, MD, Enterr10 Television Network

“It was in 2000 that I first thought of entering the television business. Before that, I used to be a distributor of electronic appliances in my home town Indore, something I began doing in 1997. That’ s when I realised the potential of teleshopping. In 2001, I launched a teleshopping company; we used to run programmes on local cable channels in Indore. That was my first stint with television. Gradually, my interest in this business grew. I was inspired by what Zee was d doing, I also met the team at Dainik Bhaskar Group a couple of times while they were planning to start a television journey.

This willingness to get into the TV business is what led to the launch of Enterr10 Television Network. In 2003, I applied to the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, for a license. In 2006, Enterr10 was launched as a music channel. Within a year, we made it a movie channel - this, I believe, was the first free-to-air movie channel in India.

In 2009, because I wanted to grow the network beyond one entity, we launched Dangal as a Bhojpuri channel; it was a very well planned launch. We acquired content and inked deals with most of the cable and DTH players to have a good distribution system. Soon after the launch, though, we realised our mistake: the Bhojpuri distribution market back then was not at all mature. And because we were already running Enterr10, a Hindi movie channel, all our distributing partners were in Hindi speaking markets. So, effectively, we had a Bhojpuri channel running on a Hindi distribution network.

We understood that immediate course correction was required; we just couldn’t keep running a regional channel with a national distribution plan. And that’s how, within months of its launch, by 2010, Dangal became our second Hindi channel - a GEC.

To be honest, the reason Dangal worked is not because we did something drastically different; rather, it’s the result of a strategy that worked better than that of others, be it on the programming or distribution front.

Presently, we have six channels across four languages - Hindi, Bangla, Marathi and Bhojpuri. We’re planning to expand our footprint to other markets. Initially, I had no knowledge about the rating game and the television market, so we did whatever our friends suggested or things we thought would work. Now we have become a data-driven organisation. Our expansion plans are all strategic investments driven by data. While television continues to be our core business, we are evaluating options in the digital space too. Reliance Jio has changed the digital landscape of the country and OTT is a great opportunity. We plan to launch a subscription-based, video-on-demand platform soon.”

This interview was first published in our magazine afaqs! Reporter on September 15, 2019