Alokananda Chakraborty & Prajjal Saha

Big players flock to spiritual channel niche

The spiritual channel niche has become an attractive proposition to big players such as ZEE and the Times Group. Can their entry make a difference to the segment?

In the Indian television industry, channels dedicated to spirituality and religion (as programming genres) have never been accorded much importance in the larger scheme of things. Despite enjoying a fair share of consumer loyalty, far from being taken seriously, the existing set of spiritual channels have always been seen as fringe players. In fact, the segment has so far only seen relatively small players such as Aastha (marketed with its sibling music channel, CMM), Sanskar and Sadhna (of Delhi-based ad agency, Rashtriya Advertising) making a bid for eyeballs.

However, of late, there are strong indications of the niche beginning to find its rightful place in the Indian television firmament. And perhaps the best pointer to this is the fact that the genre has suddenly become an attractive proposition to some of the big C&S networks in the Indian television domain. While ZEE has already ventured into the segment with a channel called Jagran, the Times Group, which is set to foray into television, will also have a spiritual channel in its bouquet.

But the question is, why has the market for spiritual channels suddenly caught the attention of C&S networks? Dilip Kabra, head, Sanskar, has an explanation. "Nowhere in the world would you find as many religious people as in India, and these people are potential viewers of these channels." He adds that Sanskar was launched in the knowledge that there was a huge viewership for the genre. Sandip Tarkas, CEO, Optimum Media Direction (OMD), is also of the opinion that viewership for the genre has always existed. "Also, viewers of the genre are not prone to switching channels, so the genre has been successful in creating interest among the advertisers," he adds. In fact, viewership of these channels is sizable, capturing roughly 20 per cent of the total television-viewing population. "This size of viewership, which comprises people in the age group of 50-plus, is not easy for advertisers to ignore," Tarkas adds, alluding to the considerable income and purchasing power that viewers of such channels wield.

To date, most channels catering to the genre have been heavily funded by their religious followers, who include some of the big industrial houses of the county (for instance, an association of five families owns Sanskar). However, now with advertising revenues coming in, the going has got even better - although advertising revenue isn't purportedly an end in itself. As Rakesh Gupta, managing director, Sadhna TV, says, "We did not start this channel as a business proposition. We had some good contacts with saints, and we also rented and supplied equipment to various production houses. Above all, we have been in advertising for decades now. Exploring all these possibilities, we decided to launch a spiritual channel." Today, Sadhna (which was launched in April last year) not only has FMCG companies such as Himani advertising on it, even a political party such as the BJP is using it as a media vehicle.

It is the size of viewership and the growth of advertising that has inspired ZEE to launch Jagran. ZEE has positioned Jagran as a ‘religious entertainment channel' by bringing in variety in its programming. Unlike other channels in the niche, the accent at Jagran is on variety and not just ‘pravachans' (religious discourses). Apart from pravachans, its programming consists of mythological serials, but the uniqueness in Jagran's programming strategy is that it is trying to broaden appeal with programmes on subjects such as Feng Shui and astrology, which are of great interest to younger audiences in the 20 to 30 age group. Anil Anand, channel head, Jagran, says, "We are here on serious business and not just for the sake of adding another channel to our bouquet." Since its launch last month, the channel has managed attracting advertisers from all categories, including FMCG and durables marketers.

While media conglomerate Times is scheduled to launch a spiritual channel, little pertaining to the planned strategy has been ascertained as Times officials are keeping a tight lid on all their plans. However, a pertinent point is whether - and in what way - the entry of ZEE and Times would make a difference to the niche segment. While the existing players choose not to comment on the prospects, OMD's Tarkas says, "I do not expect the spiritual channels to create a big sensation in the television industry by competing with the general entertainment channels, but these channels do have the potential to create a small but strong niche and become a great advertising vehicle to reach the 50-plus age group." © 2004 agencyfaqs!

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