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Regional is a giant that has already awakened, but are content providers ready?

Regional television channels are on a high growth trajectory in India, with regional news television witnessing exceptional growth is. Viewership is soaring in the category and so are advertisers’ revenues. Today, regional languages are given much emphasis by not just traditional and social media, but by every player in the digital domain. In terms of offerings and services, the non-English speaking population needs help in booking tickets, paying bills, and the likes. A mere 15 per cent of Indians can read in English and 12 per cent can converse in the language. The rest of the Indian population is an opportunity available to be grasped. Industry experts discussed how this can be made possible on Day 3 at the FICCI Frames 2019. 

While commenting on how big the regional language vertical is, Ravish Kumar, Senior Executive Vice President, Viacom18 Media, said “We are not the giant to be awakened, but already awake and going great guns. I have been in TV for 8-9 years and have seen a tremendous growth in this ecosystem. Viacom18 did not have a regional presence and so we went in for the ETV acquisition and from there we have grown from 5 channels then and to 14 channels today. That tells you the kind of growth that we’ve had.” 

More and more broadcasters are entering the regional market, with Star, Zee and Sun Networks having a huge presence in every market and continuing to expand their footprints into other markets. “The competitive intensity is only increasing by the day, which is a tribute to the regional market which has a voracious appetite and the second point of what are we doing to feed that demand. In my tenure in broadcast I have seen the prime time expanding from the 8 pm – 10 pm time slot to now as early as 4.30 pm and as late as 11.30 pm. So, all conventional wisdom goes out of the window. We have seen a massive expansion not just in terms of the quantity of the offering, but quality of content as well,” Kumar pointed out. 

Sunil Kumaran, Country Head, Thwink BIG, Reliance Broadcast Network, also believed that regional is an opportunity and a market waiting to explode. “I have seen the market up close; globally people understood that regional works before India woke up to it. Earlier, all content was in English globally, slowly French/ Italian / Spanish took over,” he noted. 

Kumaran pointed out that radio has always worked in the regional space – be it the content, the music or the cultural nuances. The opportunities are huge; but the question is, are the media owners and content providers doing enough to fill the gaps. “Though we have made great inroads in terms of regional content, yet there is a huge gap of regional language content. Hindi has made great inroads, but the other languages are yet to catch up. Secondly, we need to understand the audience and what are they looking for and this we are learning as we go. For us, the biggest challenge has been going to the regional markets and working on a daily basis on the content,” Kumaran noted. 

Vikram Tanna, Vice President - Head of Advertising Sales and Business Head of Regional Clusters, Discovery Communications, here mentioned about the “many India’s within India”. He said, “India is a sub-continent in itself, and when you start talking, you realise that 60 per cent of the people like talking in their native language.” 

“In my opinion, the giant is just awakening. If you look at the viewership share, it is just 33 per cent and television has a long way to go. A year back, we were at 46 per cent TV penetration and 33 per cent TV households, today we are seeing a good 66 per cent TV penetration. We know the growth story, but there is still a long way to go,” Tanna further said.  

The panelists strongly believed that regional is the new universe. According to the industry experts, in India, perception is bigger than performance. Today, there are two buckets of monetisation – one is the regional local business and the other is the national advertisers. If one looked at the pricing of these two buckets at any publisher in any medium, the index is much higher in regional, and there is a reason for that is the advertiser sitting in the hyper local market, who can calculate ROI much better. The national advertiser can also do that, but he first looks at the national market and then the regional market. 

“Once the perception-performance barrier is broken, the adex in the regional market would have grown by 30 per cent, but your ad rates have not grown in tandem with that. The advertisers’ pie needs to be increased for the regional market,” insisted Tanna. 

Karan Abhishek Singh, Chief Executive Officer - Languages, Network18, believed that the conventional forms of media are getting challenged, which, in turn, in also a challenge for content creators as each market in the regional space is different. “From the news perspective, we have channels for each state, but the future lies in going completely hyper local,” he maintained.

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