Biprorshee Das

TV.NXT: It is possible to reach out using only specialty channels and not a single GEC

In one of the panel discussions at TV.NXT, experts from the media fraternity discussed the challenges before specialty channels and how to nurture them further

While general entertainment channels remain popular for the sole purpose provided by them, the loyalty commanded by specialty channels cannot be ignored. In the post lunch panel discussion at TV.NXT held in Mumbai, experts discussed the way ahead for specialty channels and the challenges that need to be tackled.

TV.NXT: It is possible to reach out using only specialty channels and not a single GEC
On the panel were Markand Adhikari, vice-chairperson and managing director, SAB Group; Satyanarayana Kornepati, vice-president, Media Direction; Atul Das, president, corporate strategy and business director, Zee Entertainment Enterprises; Zarina Mehta, chief creative officer, UTV Global Broadcasting; Sunil Lulla, managing director and chief executive officer, Times Global Broadcasting and Ravi Kiran, CEO, South Asia, Starcom MediaVest Group.
TV.NXT: It is possible to reach out using only specialty channels and not a single GEC
TV.NXT: It is possible to reach out using only specialty channels and not a single GEC
TV.NXT: It is possible to reach out using only specialty channels and not a single GEC
TV.NXT: It is possible to reach out using only specialty channels and not a single GEC
TV.NXT: It is possible to reach out using only specialty channels and not a single GEC
TV.NXT: It is possible to reach out using only specialty channels and not a single GEC
TV.NXT: It is possible to reach out using only specialty channels and not a single GEC
The session, titled 'How to nurture specialty channels', was anchored by Sudha Sadanand, an independent media consultant.

Opening the discussion, Adhikari began by saying how there are innumerable GECs, regional channels and news channels. In a cluttered market such as this, according to Adhikari, a specialty channel is a must.

However, he sees many challenges ahead, especially with digitisation still not being as widespread.

"Our ground is not disciplined. We are still not in a 100 per cent digitised mode. We still have to depend on analogue system. It is further difficult for specialty TV with the high carriage fee that prevails in the market," Adhikari said.

Amidst this, it gets tough for specialty channels to survive on subscription and not advertising revenue.

Kornepati then remarked how specialty television is here to stay. He, however, brought forward the point of how bodies such as TAM do not throw up any numbers for specialty channels to notice and that there is too much fragmentation.

"Recognition of specialty television to build reach is not there. There should be a separate panel to track specialty channels. Channels themselves are not doing enough," he said.

In the way forward, Kornepati said, specialty channels must assert themselves as ambience providers.

Following Kornepati, Das of Zee TV spoke of how one must first define what exactly is specialty in the Indian context. He defined specialty channels as the ones that have a smaller set of loyal audiences.

Das pointed out how average revenue per user in DTH India is way too low. "When ARPU in the DTH space doubles up, it will benefit specialty channels," he said.

Channels need to keep their cost of operations and distribution costs low, said Das, and also remarked that the digitisation, though low, is happening at a rapid pace and is showing good progress.

"Specialty channels need focussed innovative content and must connect with the audience," said Das.

Talking of the philosophy at UTV, Mehta said how the company believes in mass specialty play and does not see any niche.

"They are extremely powerful and disruptive, targeting a focused audience. UTV Bindass and UTV Action are mass specialty plays," said Mehta.

She spoke of how one must start with the consumer and better understand the consumer needs. Once again, citing the UTV example, she said how UTV is particularly focused on the youth. Mind mapping the youth, gaps in the market are looked for.

"For advertisers, too, it is high engagement. Yes - specialty channels might not have massive but a rather decent reach," Mehta exclaimed.

Lulla, on a lighter note, stated how India is obsessed with being the 'world's largest' in a lot of things. "It is really important to understand the demographics of the nation. You are talking to a nation where the majority is below 25 years of age. We have to understand behavioural tools - the tools that would sell," he said.

According to him, one must stop measuring television as television alone because the audience's attention is not merely restricted to the medium.

"There is a lot to unlearn and restart. Specialty does not necessarily need to be small. It just means you have to be the best," Lulla said.

The final speaker on the panel, Kiran, too, began his discourse on a lighter note, saying how most points that needed to be stated had already been said and being from the agency side and in a minority in the panel, he must exercise caution.

Kiran said that a channel must redefine itself from niche to special interest and till the time that happens, the going could be tough."The first battle has to be won in the mind," he exclaimed.

"The whole mass market hysteria has to give in to how to find the right number of people and every marketer must work at putting the consumer first," added Kiran.

According to Kiran, clubbing and segregating consumers as per the genre of the channel is a mistake because the audience would switch channels and move from GECs to news to sports and so on, according to his/her choice.

He also noted that it would be a mistake to restrict the debate of specialty versus GECs only on the television platform. "Today's youth, who are going to be tomorrow's big consumers, are not married to a single platform. They want to be visually engaged irrespective of the medium. The more we discuss and compare on a single platform, the more will we be stuck in the past," said Kiran.

In the discussion that followed the individual remarks, Adhikari was asked how a channel such as Mastiii stands out, with even news channels these days devoting significant time to comedy shows.

Adhikari responded that the content on such news channels are usually picked up from various shows from other channels and such entertainment capsules are a platform to further promote specialty channels like Mastiii.

Mehta hailed the entry of more focused channels, saying that the more the merrier as it would only expand the market. She said that the one point to watch out for would be how to create cutting edge content.

She said that UTV considers mobile to be a great platform to monetise compared to online.

Das took on Lulla's statement of India being obsessed with large numbers, saying that while that may be true, it is also true that India is indeed a country with a large population. "We need focused investment into defining what specialty is. The genre has to be looked at differently," he said.

Kornepati further discussed the point of revenue coming from subscription, the reliance on advertising revenue and how it is tough in India with the high carrier fee. Citing the example of the large number of news channels in Andhra Pradesh, he raised doubts over whether the channels would ever be able to handle distribution.

Kiran then exclaimed that one does not need to voice out to a billion people to reach the desired customer.

"We do not see specialty channels as frequency channels. It is indeed possible to reach your customer using only specialty channels and not a single GEC," he said towards the end of the discussion.

The event was organised by afaqs! in association with Big CBS (main sponsor) and STAR News (associate sponsor). The other sponsors include UTV Action, Bloomberg UTV, Sony PIX, Sahara Samay and Mastiii TV.

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