"The target is to get advertisers to switch from print to TV": Ravish Kumar, Viacom18

By Anirban Roy Choudhury, afaqs!, Mumbai | February 13, 2018
We spoke to the regional head of the network on the sidelines of its Colors Tamil launch event in Chennai. The channel goes live on February 19, 2018.
Ravish Kumar

Ravish Kumar

Head, regional entertainment, Viacom18

Viacom18, one of the fastest growing media conglomerates in India, has, over the last decade, widened and deepened its presence in India. But huge and diverse market that it is, India has plenty of need gaps that still need filling; the network, a JV between Viacom Inc. and TV18, attempts to plug one such gap in the Tamil Market by launching General Entertainment Channel, Colors Tamil.

The Tamil-speaking market is the biggest market when it comes to content consumption and production. Every year, the largest number of feature films in India are produced and released in the Tamil market. In terms of viewership, Sun TV is undisputedly the No.1 channel 'Across Genres' on TV. The size of the Tamil television market is estimated to be around Rs. 2000 crore.

Sun TV, clear dominant across genres Sun TV, clear dominant across genres

Sure, the Tamil market is lucrative, but it's not without its challenges. Sun TV enjoys about 65 per cent of the market share, which means others (Star Vijay, Zee Tamil, KTV, Adithya TV and now Colors Tamil) have a relatively smaller share of the pie to fight for. Also, Sun TV follows a very different business model - most of the content is licensed to producers and not commissioned. They believe in the volume game; the channel starts airing original content in the morning and continues till the prime-time slot at night (11:30 pm), whereas others in the ecosystem follow the traditional prime-time programming model.

Sun TV gets three times the viewership of Star Vijay, number two in the market Sun TV gets three times the viewership of Star Vijay, number two in the market

Viacom18 started its regional expansion by acquiring the ETV bouquet (2014-15) and has since enjoyed a successful journey in regional markets. In Kannada, it established Colors Kannada as an undisputed leader and then launched a second Kannada GEC called Colors Super, last year which has managed to infiltrate the list of top five channels in the Kannada Market.

Colors Tamil will launch with both, Standard Definition and High Definition feeds, on February 19, 2018. The network has roped in Anup Chandrasekharan as business head.

(L- R) Sudhanshu Vats, Group CEO, Viacom18; Ravish Kumar, Head, Regional Entertainment, Viacom18 and Anup Chandrasekharan, Business Head, Colors Tamil, unveiling the logo of Colors Tamil (L- R) Sudhanshu Vats, Group CEO, Viacom18; Ravish Kumar, Head, Regional Entertainment, Viacom18 and Anup Chandrasekharan, Business Head, Colors Tamil, unveiling the logo of Colors Tamil

How will Colors Tamil manage to take on the mammoth, Sun TV? What does the channel's content strategy look like? How will it distribute its content to the mass? On the sidelines of the launch of Colors Tamil in Chennai, we spoke to Ravish Kumar, head, regional entertainment, Viacom18.

Edited Excerpts

You mentioned conducting research for a year before launching Colors Tamil. Tell us more about that...

We did qualitative research. This was over a year ago. We studied 18 markets across the length and breadth of the state (Tamil Nadu) and Chennai was not a part of it. The research gave us an idea of who a Tamilian woman is and what she represents. Based on that insight we planned our content...

You understand the Kannada market well. How is the Tamil market different from the Kannada market?

Fundamentally, the two markets are not that different. I believe concepts which are successful there can be translated and brought to this market too. The people have the same aspirations; it's just the setting that differs.

In your promo for Colors Tamil, you talk about shooting with the Alexa camera, recording in Dolby 5.1 - why is it important for you to communicate these technicalities; something we don't usually hear a channel promote?

We wanted to let people know the kind of production value we bring to the table... about how it is different from others. The Tamil ecosystem is very evolved when it comes to movies and devolved when it comes to TV! To me, that's a pity. We intend to change that.

Your competition airs original programming from early morning to late at night. What will your programming strategy be like?

So there's Sun TV with original programming throughout the day. The other two - Star and Zee - still follow conventional prime-time programming... we are also starting with that. We will have three-and-a-half-hours of original programming daily, during the weekdays and two hours of programming on Saturday and Sunday. So, overall, we'll have 21-and-a-half-hours of original programming every week. Do we have plans to expand this? Yes, but will we have programs from morning to evening? No, we won't.

Star Vijay is the No.2 channel in the Tamil market and Sun TV is three times (parameter: viewership) bigger than Star Vijay. How challenging is it when you enter a market like this?

(laughs) If you recall, not very long ago, there was a time when Sun TV was eight times the size of Star Vijay.... (He laughs).

So, if we look at the numbers, Sun is coming down marginally; the overall viewership has gone up because of the expansion of the TV universe. Star Vijay and Zee have gained viewership simply because of the content they are putting out. So I see enough opportunity for a GEC in the Tamil market. What we are also seeing is a share going away from the bottom players, which are heavily dependent on dubbed content.

What is your ratio of dubbed versus original content?

On weekdays, of the three-and-a-half-hours of original programming, we have an hour of dubbed content. On the weekend, of the two hours, we have an hour of dubbed content. As we progress, this hour-long segment of dubbed content will be replaced with locally made shows. Our strategy is to build a local ecosystem which can produce content keeping local interests at heart.

Do feature films also fit into your programming lineup?

Well, I would like to give talented filmmakers an opportunity to showcase their talent. ETV, which we acquired, was a pioneer when it came to telefilms. These days, we are also seeing a lot of short-form content being made; most of it on digital platforms... I see no reason why it cannot be on our channel as well. We would like to pioneer something in the movie format instead of going after satellite rights of big budget, big star, three-hour-long feature films. I would rather invest that money in creating fiction shows and other non-fiction assets.

When it comes to promoting a new channel, what's the media plan usually like? Which medium are you spending on most?

Spends-wise, print is a huge part of the mix, followed by cross-channel promotions and then outdoor. We are present on almost all the radio channels and we have a digital plan as well. We have a Chennai-based agency called, 'Mind Your Language' which handles the creative mandate. Our preference is to find homegrown talent and give them the opportunity.

Let's talk about the economics - regional is under-indexed; how do you plan to tackle this challenge?

Like other regional markets, Tamil is also under-indexed. If we look at the economics, we should index ourselves more to print because on a cost per thousand/mille (CPT/M) basis; TV is, by far, the cheapest medium available in any market. Our goal is to actually highlight that to the advertisers and make them realise that television is a far more cost-effective medium than print.

Also, TV is measured every single week while you get to see print numbers once every six months. So yes, there are opportunities to take our rates up and that will happen as advertisers and agencies see the value we bring in terms of ratings and GRPs. But the initial target is to get brands to switch from print to TV.

Shows that Colors Tamil is launching with:

Shows that Colors Tamil is launching with

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