Panellists discussed the potential impact of increasingly popular Bhojpuri content on the viewership and ad revenues of Hindi GECs
The second day of TV.NXT saw an interesting debate on a possible threat to Hindi's strong dominance over TV audiences and advertising revenue -- Bhojpuri television channels.
The panel debating the topic comprised PK Tiwari, chairman, Century Communication (Mahuaa); LV Krishnan, CEO, TAM Media Research; Sameer Nair, CEO, Turner General Entertainment Networks; Avijit Ghosh, author, Cinema Bhojpuri and Satyanarayana Kornepati, vice-president, Media Direction.
The moderator shared a few developments witnessed in the Bhojpuri market in the recent past. She said that it was only in 2008 that the first mainstream Bhojpuri channel made its debut in Bihar. The launch of the channel came after nearly five years of the revival of Bhojpuri cinema.
She went on to state that half of India's population speaks Bhojpuri. And of late, Hindi GECs (general entertainment channels) have also reacted to this reality by mounting shows with a Bhojpuri flavour, such as Agle Janam Mohe Bitiya Hi Kijyo and Bhagyavidhata on Zee TV and Colors, respectively.
Tiwari of Mahuaa TV took up the question by first driving home the impact and influence of Bhojpuri in the TV space.
He was of the view that Bhojpuri has already split the Hindi GEC market. This, he said, was evident, with most Hindi channels showcasing one or two shows based on Bhojpuri culture and language. The reason why Bhojpuri has fallen short of making a mark so far, he added, is because it's the language of the poor.
He stated that about 200 million people speak the language in India alone. According to Tiwari, "Bhojpuri is not only a strong language back home; rather, it's an international language, given that there are 100 million Bhojpuri speakers in countries such as Mauritius, Fiji and Surinam. TAM Media Research data shows that Mahuaa has more viewers in Delhi, Mumbai and Kolkata, compared to Bihar. Interestingly, these are the markets where our channel does not even have a distribution."
He argued that Bhojpuri language and culture dominates our society.
Kohli-Khandekar next took up the issue of the lack of metering in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh.
Krishnan said that the statement was a misnomer, because UP is being measured by TAM Media Research since the year 2000. He added, "We started measuring and tracking Bihar only in 2009. Since then, there has been a tremendous explosion in this space. With measurement coming in, there has been great advancement in the packaging of Bhojpuri content. Bhojpuri channels have done well to push the language content."
He pointed out that people began to take notice of the Bhojpuri genre after the arrival of the reality show, Sur Sangram. As per Krishnan, the Bhojpuri genre is currently going through a transition similar to that witnessed in 2005 by other regional language channels, including Bengali and Marathi.
He said, "Bhojpuri's rise as a strong genre is part and parcel of the constant evolution of Indian TV's menu card."
Another panellist, Nair began by accepting the fact that Bhojpuri has the support and backing of a big community. But he differed from the opinion that it had the capacity to hurt the leadership status of Hindi GECs.
Nair argued, "Bhojpuri as a language is largely similar to Hindi; and thus, the two languages are nothing but brothers. And out of the two, Hindi is the bigger brother. Second, Hindi GECs have recognized and identified Bhojpuri's potential power as content on TV. That's the reason why shows on GECs carry a strong Bhojpuri flavour."
He observed that the industry was moving towards homogenization. He added that Hindi, as a language, has an advantage, as it caters to audience's needs at various levels; and Bhojpuri eclipsing Hindi is a far-fetched idea.
Ghosh urged fellow panellists to examine the issue at hand, by first visiting the backdrop and locating circumstances responsible for the emergence of Bhojpuri as a popular language.
"One has to recognize that there exists a gap between the India that we know sitting here in metros, and the other India that exists out there," Ghosh said.
He emphasised, "It was not long ago that Bhojpuri films once again stepped in to fill the gap caused by the multiplex growth. Bhojpuri films earlier catered to underclass audience. Ramshackle cinema halls and lack of quality content forced the audience to abandon cinema halls. This resulted in a larger mass of audience staying indoors for a longer period of time. And this is the middle-class viewers, who are spending more time watching TV. "
He added that the sensibilities of this middle class, in respect to what they wanted to watch, turned out to be vastly different from what was being captured and reflected by Bhojpuri films. It is here that upscale, appealing TV content stepped in to attract the audience.
Ghosh elaborated, "The Bhojpuri show, Bahubali perhaps deserves to be counted amongst the top 10 shows on Indian TV. But the question is: how many people watched it? This show very well could have been made in Hindi. The recent blockbuster, Dabbang is a Bhojpuri film made in Hindi. We have to figure out interesting ways of locating the mindscape of the audience and see what they want to watch."
The next speaker, Kornepati began by saying that it was a welcome change to see a new language creating a market for itself. He added that Bhojpuri has the capability to replicate the success witnessed in the past by Bengali and Marathi channels in West Bengal and Maharashtra, respectively. However, he felt that Bhojpuri was not in a position to replicate the huge success enjoyed by, say, SUN or Gemini.
He observed, "Bhojpuri channels in Bihar might be looked upon as supplementary and support channels, but they cannot replace Hindi channels. It's a choice of picking up a programme, which best appeals to my audience, either in their mother tongue or Hindi -- the language in which the audience is comfortable making a conversation. Also, Bhojpuri per se is not in a position to offer advertiser reach beyond 60-70 per cent, which Hindi is able to do."
Krishnan stepped in to say that local advertising needs to be tapped for local content. In Bihar, more channels are coming in and expanding the market. This transition would be easy, and would enable more focused targeting for advertisers. He said, "Bihar is growing in terms of increasing consumption. Look at the marketing of consumer goods and opportunities for advertisers in Bhojpuri."
Taking the debate one step ahead, Ghosh suggested, "As far as content is concerned, Hindi films are co-opting Bhojpuri content. The game for Bhojpuri channels is to reverse this trend. They need not necessarily continue doing Bhojpuri shows alone; but they need to attempt Hindi shows with a Bhojpuri feel."
He further observed, "We make a mistake when we say that the migrant class in metros and cities is following Bhojpuri. Bihar produces a large number of civil servants and engineers, who on migrating, start losing touch with their roots. Bhojpuri content needs to evolve to suit the viewing tastes and preferences of this upwardly mobile consumer. This is so because as many as 150 channels are vying for the attention of this large chunk of consumers."
The moderator turned to Nair to know whether Bhojpuri's dominance as a strong contender to Hindi in the TV space would affect the choices made by advertisers and buyers while deciding on a portfolio mix.
Nair replied that there was no possibility of such a thing happening. He stated that unlike, say, Bengali and Marathi languages, Bhojpuri does not enjoy the status of being a distinct language, because it is very similar to Hindi.
"Finally, the debate between Hindi and Bhojpuri boils down to economics, scale and size of the industry. Hindi GECs have proved that they have the ability to scale up and do Bhojpuri as a genre, at a much higher level in comparison to Bhojpuri language channels," concluded Nair.
(TV.NXT 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 Mastii TV.)