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Niche is neat

Sunil Sharma, a 30-year-old bank executive, can’t think of a day without watching Discovery Turbo, a channel for auto buffs. His wife Reena Sharma, a housewife, has already become hooked to the recently launched Zee Khana Khazana, India’s first 24-hour cookery channel. And their children are all excited about Discovery channel mulling the launch of Discovery Kids.

The Sharmas aren’t the only urban Indian family that’s fixated on niche channels — television channels that cater to special interest groups as opposed to general entertainment channels (GEC) meant for a general audience. And with more and more people demanding newer and specialised content that appeals to their particular taste, broadcasters too are flooding the airwaves with niche channels. So from lifestyle to travel, from golf to food, from wildlife to women-oriented shows, the viewer is now truly spoilt for choice.

Take CBS Studios International, a US national network, and Reliance Broadcast Network Limited. The two have inked a joint venture to launch three niche channels — BIG CBS Spark for the young and BIG CBS Love for English-speaking women, by the end of the year.

Celebrity chef Sanjeev Kapoor too will be launching his 24x7 food channel, Foodfood, in partnership with a Malaysian broadcast network, Astro All Asia Networks early next year.

Again, Discovery Channel, which already has such niche channels as TLC and Discovery Turbo, plans to launch as many as five new channels with specialised content — Discovery Home and Health, Discovery Kids, ID (Investigation Discovery), Military Channel and Discovery 3D.

“Viewers are getting bored with regular content on television. So they are demanding more exclusive fare. We have observed an upward swing in the popularity of non-fiction content and that is making us launch more niche channels,” says Rahul Johri, senior vice-president and general manager, India, Discovery Networks Asia- Pacific.

Zee television, which has around 32 channels, is also venturing into the arena of niche channels. “We have applied for six to seven new channels out of which two or three would be in niche categories like golf. We expect these channels to be launched by the end of this financial year,” says Zee Entertainment chief executive officer Punit Goenka.

Though the BBC already has children’s channel CBeebies, which was launched in India along with BBC Entertainment in 2007, it plans to introduce a few more niche channels such as BBC Knowledge and BBC Lifestyle, reveals a BBC spokesperson.

Experts believe that many broadcasters are opting to launch niche channels to give themselves a competitive edge in a crowded market. Says Jiniti Shah, vice-president, aMap, the media research company, “New channel launches and increasing fragmentation of audiences are making the television medium extremely dynamic. Competitive programming amongst channels to woo the viewers is making them opt for niche content.”

But will there be enough takers for the plethora of special interest channels that is set to hit the Indian television screen? Industry insiders certainly seem to think so. “We forget that consumers are individuals with likes, dislikes and preferences. When we did not have much choice, we all watched one TV, the limited number of channels and general programming. Now that there are choices, consumers will make use of them. Each of these niche channels caters to a fairly large viewership segment and can be turned into a business,” says Nandini Dias, chief operating officer of Lodestar Universal Private Limited, a media-marketing consultancy.

Dias has a point. For viewership data shows that niche channels are gaining in popularity. Shah reveals that according to aMap data, English niche channels have registered a 9 per cent growth in market share over the last one year. “The time spent on the English niche genre has gone up by 77 per cent from 12 minutes a day in October last year to 22 minutes a day in September this year,” she points out.

TAM, a media research and television viewership analysis firm, came out with a report indicating a steady growth in the percentage share of television viewing for infotainment channels like Discovery, National Geographic, Animal Planet, Fox History & Entertainment, Discovery Turbo and Discovery Science. From a mere 0.84 per cent of the total television viewing pie in 2008, their percentage share has risen to 1.04 in September 2010.

Indeed, most industry watchers agree that niche is definitely in. “Viewership for niche channels has increased in cities and towns,” asserts Sugato Banerji, chief managing officer of Bharti Airtel’s DTH Services, the company’s direct to home (DTH) arm.

Banerji reveals that there’s not just a boom in English niche channels, but also in those offering regional content. This also ties in with the fact that television penetration has been growing by leaps and bounds. “In October 2008, when DTH was launched in India, it had a viewership base of 8 million. Now the figure has touched 25 million,” says Banerji.

However, if, by definition, niche channels have a somewhat limited number of viewers compared with general entertainment channels, do broadcasters get enough advertisement revenues to keep these channels in the black? Some analysts believe that they are in fact a great platform for advertisers to showcase their products to an exclusive group of audience. A report by management consultancy firm KPMG says that niche channels provide a more cost-effective medium for advertisers targeting a select group of audience.

But broadcasters seem to be undaunted by the prospect of a limited range of advertisers patronising their niche channels. “Our content is different from GEC content and over the years we have seen a growth in the viewership of these channels. Their success is making us go for more of these channels,” says Johri of Discovery.

Clearly, no matter how special their interest, viewers will have a tempting array of channels and programmes to choose from in the days ahead.

On the cards

Food channel Foodfood

Discovery Home and Health

Discovery Kids

Investigation Discovery

Discovery Military Channel

Discovery 3D

BBC Knowledge

BBC Lifestyle

BIG CBS Spark

Zee’s golf channel

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