Be indian, play indian. Music channels forced to go desi for better ratings

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By Radhika Sachdev

‘Our youth prefers Bollywood, Tollywood and Sandalwood in that order,’ quips Harish Bijoor, brand specialist

THIRTEEN YEARS ago, Sunil Lulla, then general manager of Viacom18’s MTV channel, predicted that Channel V’s switch to pushing ‘international music’ wouldn’t work. When Lulla quit, MTV tried to ape Channel V’s model, with the result that both channels miserably floundered on the television ratings front.

Channel V decided to reposition itself in 2009. With a new tagline — Bloody Cool — and a fare of largely Bollywood music videos, Channel V’s share climbed from 6.8 percent in 2009 to 8.4 percent in August this year. “We are doing better after the relaunch,” says Channel V spokesperson Stephanie Lobo.

Bala Iyengar, business head and vice president, Zoom Entertainment Network Ltd, who earlier worked with MTV, says the change of profile at Channel V was inevitable. That’s because, he says, only three kinds of music sells in India — Hindi film music, regional film music and devotional songs.

Content is an important consideration for pay channels. That’s because content drives viewership, and when the advertising to subscription ratio is 80:20, and shows no signs of improving, the only option is to concentrate on advertising revenue.

Although TAM data indicate a 0.9 percent growth for the music genre between 2006 and August this year (for which statistics are available), along with an advertising volume growth of 44 percent, the major gainers have been Bollywood-style music channels. The new pecking order is MTV (channel share of 14.9 percent), followed by UTV’s Bindass (14.5 percent), 9XM (14.1 percent), steel magnate Lakshmi Mittal’s B4U Music (13.5 percent), Zoom TV (9.8 percent), Music India (8.7 percent) and Channel V (8.4 percent), followed by a string of smaller players.

“English music doesn’t work. Our youth prefers Bollywood, Tollywood and Sandalwood, in that order,” quips Harish Bijoor, brand specialist and chief executive officer of Harish Bijoor Consults Inc.

Ashish Bhasin, India chairman and CEO, Southeast Asia, at Aegis Group Plc, a media buying agency, says, “Indian youth is a very complex demographic to cater to. While they may be globalised, they also have set tastes and know exactly what they want. Channel V and MTV will have to factor that trait into their programming mix.”

On its part, MTV has of late been looking at other revenue-generating avenues as well. “We have doubled our advertising revenue over the past four years, not just from television but other sources like MTV-branded products that are now available in 35 different categories,” says Aditya Swami, senior vice president (sales and marketing), MTV India.

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