It’s Regional Showtime, Folks!
Regional TV channels are no longer functioning under the shadow of Hindi entertainment channels. They are coming into their own by improving the quality of programming and attracting the interests of advertisers. Gaurav Laghate & Tasmayee Laha Roy report
Hindi entertainment channels once used to be the only platform for top-quality, glossy, big-budget fiction and reality shows in India. No longer so – regional channels are catching up with local versions of international programmes such as Big Brother, Who Wants to be a Millionaire, Minute to Win It, Deal or No Deal and Dancing With the Stars.
Whether it is drama, mythology, mystery or horror in fiction or quiz and dance shows in the reality space, regional broadcasters are paying top dollars to get such programmes on their channels. “There was a time when regional TV was like the poor country cousin of the national channels,” said Ravish Kumar, EVP at Viacom18 and business head of Colors Kannada, Colors Bangla and Colors Odiya. “Butovertime,withbignetworksventuring in the regional space, things are changing.”
Regional channels have made their presencefeltnationwidewithawideningviewership, although Hindi channels together still dominate. Tamil entertainment channel SunTVtoppedviewershipinthecountryfor the week ended April 15, according to data on the website of the Broadcast Audience Research Council India, ahead of Hindi channels Star Plus, Colors and Zee TV. The only other regional channel in the top 10 by viewership was Zee Telugu.
It’s now the norm for non-fiction shows on regional channels to be made in the format of globally popular programmes. Zee Bangla’s quiz show Dadagiri Unlimited has former Indian cricket captain Saurav Ganguly as the main host. The Viacom18 group of channels – Colors Kannada, Colors Bengali and Colors Marathi – is investing heavily in non-fiction.
“Regional markets’ appetite in high-quality content has manifested in content being improved. So we are just responding to aspirations, ensuring that regional markets are vibrant and no different from the national markets,” Kumar said.
“We continue to up our content deliveries on the regional channels. We have been driving high-end regional shows in regional markets, be it Dadagiri (Zee Bangla) or Chala Hawa Yeu Dya and Saregama (Zee Marathi),” said Sharada Sunder, EVP – regional channels at Zee Entertainment Enterprises Ltd. “Our content proposition has always been well focused on regional.”
Fiction,too,hasseenbigchanges.Whether it’s West Bengal, Karnataka, Maharashtra or Andhra Pradesh, major production houses are generating fresh content and experimenting with concepts beyond traditional daily TV soap operas. Zee, Star India and Viacom18, which have both Hindi and regional channels on their networks, have
sensed the change and also introduced such shows.
“The whole idea of television content has changed. We have moved way beyond saas bahu stories. My new show is fantasy folklore and in the 50-plus episodes we have completed, it has been accepted well by the audience,” said Raj Chakraborty of Raage Anuraage, a show on Zee Bangla.
And while international formats are making inroads, more channels are still focusing on fiction, which has higher margins, to drive content.
“Althoughonemaywanttomatchthequal- ity of a regional show with that of a national channel, the fact is that the reach of the show – except for Sun TV – is going to be much lower than the Hindi general entertainment channel. So the gap will remain wide,” said a regional producer, who did not wish to be identified.
Sunder said regional channels are growing also because of digitisation, which facilitates better quality and a greater viewership. “Digitisation will propel a lot more TV channels in the regional space. In future, there is going to be a lot of segmentation, clutter and cannibalisation. What really will drive a brand will be what it offers,” she said.
With broadcasters now looking at highdefinition feeds, they will have to ensure additional investments in production quality.
According to Nitin Vaidya, cofounder of production house Dashmi Creations and former head of regional channels at Zee Entertainment, the regional markets have grown and advertisers are looking at these markets for better reach.
“With increase in the appetite of regional viewers, along with advertisers’ willingness to spend more, it is natural that channels will invest more in better quality content,” Vaidya said.
“The regional channels have definitely managed to spark advertisers’ interest as they follow the eyeballs. Today, regional general entertainment is as big as Hindi general entertainment, which shows their significance. Also, with multiple regions and markets, advertisers can select target audiences region wise in a cost-effective manner,” a media buyer for a big FMCG company told ET.
Over the past few years, show costs paid by regional channels to production houses have increased – from Rs 90,000-1.5 lakh per episode in 2009-10 to Rs 1.5 lakh-2.5 lakh for fiction programmes.
“Across the board, across the regions, you will see significant examples of shows that are world class. Advertisers are also seeing the viewers’ preferences,” said Kumar of Viacom18. “We are just responding to the changing ecosystem and trying to make sure that we are satisfying the viewer and advertisers.”
“What has changed is that earlier, Hindi used to get ideas from south. Now, it is the other way, with regional markets copying ideas from Hindi,” said Sameer Nair, group CEO at Balaji Telefilms.
Even so, regional channels have their limitations. They still don’t have big enough budgets to remake some programmes. It did not make business sense for a regional version of the reality show Khatron Ke Khiladi (along the lines of Fear Factor), which involved high-level stunts performed in open spaces. The Endemol-owned show was dubbed and telecast on South Indian channels.
Things were favourable with Bigg Boss because the same sets in Lonavala could be used for the Hindi, Kannada and Bengali versions.
Given the different cultures and dynamics in each region and their unique challenges and opportunities, broadcasters have to evaluate several aspects when considering a remake of a Hindi show.
“Each region has its nuances, culture, value system and different level of progression that sets a kind of backdrop around which one creates the content. One has to be relatable, and at the same time aspirational. That changes hugely from state to state. Content has to be cognizant of this,” said Sunder.