Indian television gets increasingly niche

New Delhi, June 2 (IANS) First, there were the entertainment channels. Then came the news channels, followed by infotainment channels. Now, niche channels are, well, increasingly carving a niche for themselves in the over Rs.370 billion ($6.5 billion) Indian television industry.

A win-win situation for advertisers, this is all thanks to the digitisation of cable TV and changing viewership patterns.

Indian niche channels are an idea whose time has come, says Nikhil Alva, CEO, Alva Brothers' Entertainment, which has launched food channel FOOD First.

"The rapid pace of digitisation of distribution systems has removed bottlenecks that created an artificial limit on the number of channels that could be carried on our old analogue networks. This now allows broadcasters to target specific interest groups with niche channels that would otherwise have been inefficient to distribute," added Alva.

NDTV Good Times, launched in 2007, covered the lifestyle ambit with shows on weddings, food, fashion and travel. But now, entertainment channels are getting narrower and so, there's FoodFood, Zee Khana Khazana, Shagun TV and the upcoming EPIC Indian history-based channel.

The niche channels are defined differently by different people.

While some believe these rightfully represent the niche genre, Vikas Khanchandani, director of advertising sales company Aidem Ventures, believes channels like EPIC and Shagun TV fall in the category of Hindi general entertainment channels with "a sharper focus".

"There exist diverse, heterogeneous audience groups in India. Offering a myriad of relevant content, as and when demanded, to such heterogeneous audience groups has stimulated the appetite for television," Khanchandani told IANS.

As Mahesh Samat, managing director of Epic Television Network Pvt. Ltd., puts it: "Although we have 800+ TV channels, most of the content is general entertainment. However, growth of digitisation is leading to fragmentation of audiences, thereby creating an opportunity for differentiated and genre-specific content."

Going by the FICCI-KPMG Indian Media and Entertainment Industry Report 2013, channel fragmentation seems to be working, given that the government is pushing for complete digitisation of the cable television network in the country.

"In areas that were digitised, increased audience fragmentation was witnessed. Viewing patterns of some niche channels have seen a positive movement when comparing their pre-digitisation and post-digitisation share of viewership," said the report, released earlier this year.

Hence, offering niche content through his Shagun TV channel that went on air last month seems lucrative for its conceiver and conceptualiser Anuranjan Jha.

The idea for Shagun TV came to Jha a decade ago. But it took him eight years to get over the apprehension of doing something so niche and two years of "hardcore" work to finally come up with a channel offering content related to weddings, "a market which is huge and recession-free in the country".

With its current six hours of programming, the channel features pre-nuptial and post-nuptial programmes, issues and relevant information around marriages - honeymoon destinations, jewellery trends, match-making et al.

For Samat, the time was ripe to announce something like EPIC to surpass the "traditional entertainment" surrounding the "current historical and mythological content".

"Our aim is to present the rich elements of our vibrant past in an entertaining manner that would be unique for all. We want mass audiences to connect with and relate to our rich history and past more closely and beyond the traditional way of showcasing the stories," he said.

Advertisers will only benefit from the trend "as infotainment channels focussed on sub-genres help them reach a targeted audience," read the FICCI-KPMG report.

Khanchandani said: "Niche content offers a higher level of engagement and more focussed targeting and hence better advertising potential."

(Radhika Bhirani can be contacted at radhika.b@ians.in)

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