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Reaching for the stars


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What keeps UTV’s broadcast business ticking despite its decision to stay away from the GEC segment? Having made its mark with an array of niche channels, the latest from the house is a Bollywood-centric property named UTV Stars.


One look at Television Audience Measurement (TAM) readings and it is clear that General Entertainment Channels (GECs) rule the television world, with most networks making a beeline to cash in on the trend. Why then would a major player in the television industry steer clear of GECs, and choose to launch niche channels instead? In the words of Zarina Mehta, Chief Creative Officer, UTV, it’s because they don’t want to be “just another network”.


According to her, the company’s broadcast arm - UTV Global Broadcasting - is defined by its “cutting-edge content”. “When we entered the business, everyone expected us to launch a GEC, but we didn’t. For us finding the gap and presenting unique content is of utmost importance. None of our channels have forced-viewing. So, every eyeball on any channel, be it Bindass or Movies, is there because people want to watch that and advertisers have realised this fact,” claims Mehta.


“We have mid to long term ambitions to play in the main space of television. However, for us, specialised and niche content is the only thing,” agrees M K Anand, CEO of UTV Global Broadcasting, that has just launched a Bollywood channel, UTV Stars, on August 25.



According to Mehta, thorough research is UTV’s hallmark. “The company has a research team along with many other independent agencies which work to find out what the audience wants. There are many channels today, but what separates us from the rest is the fact that we try to find the gap between what’s shown on television and what the viewer really wants to see,” explains Mehta. “UTV is all about young, dynamic India. Therefore, our content appeals to our TA. We have the art of knowing what the viewer wants and putting it in front of them, even before they know they want it.”


However, the company believes that though research helps one gather information, one also needs the power to go forward with the knowledge, and that there is risk of failure. For example, what shook Indian households in the 90s was a daily soap, Shanti, produced by UTV. The concept of the serial made people stand up and notice the ‘brand’ which was primarily engaged in the production of television content then.


The network prides itself in creating brands rather than mere channels. “A brand is something which evokes a reaction in you, but when you say a GEC, what generates a reaction is the show on it. That’s the fundamental difference between us and others. Brands are like people and you can say that we are creating people,” statesMehta.



What started as a cable network with a three-hour video channel for some homes in 1981 is today UTV, India’s first independent television and film roduction house, with a business valued at around Rs 4,000 crore. Right from the days when Ronnie Screwvala weaned people away from their black-and white television sets to launching channels in different genres like kids, drama, comedy, regional, fantasy, action, horror et al - UTV has made quite a journey.


Mehta recalls how her enthusiasm got her the show ‘Mathemagic’ on Doordarshan more than two decades ago. She was solving a few Maths problems and suddenly thought it could be made interesting for viewers. So she went to the senior UTV team that produced programmes for Doordarshan, marched into DD director Harish Khanna’s cabin and came out with an ‘approved’ stamp. That ideology seems to be working well on other fronts too.


UTV’s target audience (TA) is the youth, and the content for the channels is created keeping this in mind. UTV Bindass, the most popular channel in their stable, has programmes especially designed for youth. In June, UTV Action Telugu was launched and a Tamil channel is on the cards. “If you look at our bouquet, we have UTV Movies, UTV Action (Hindi and Telugu), UTV Bindass which are doing great. In the next couple of years, we’d like to grow them by launching new channels focusing on different concepts and their dubbed extensions, where possible,” says Anand.



Nikhil Gandhi , business head, UTV Stars, echoes Mehta when he says thatthe channel “isn’t just another Bollywood channel”.” We have done a lot of intensive research on what is missing, what the audience really wants. Additionally, we have the support of the industry with our production house. The look and feel of the channel is very glamorous and classy, which is an added asset to the content. It also gives viewers inside access into the lives of Bollywood stars. Our main aim is to fulfil people’s dreams and aspirations, and bring out the passion and craziness of fans,” Gandhi says. “We are also looking at creating a 360-degree brand available on YouTube, web, phone and on-ground. From the business point of view, advertisers have shown great interest and hopefully, it will be able to live up to UTV’s expectations and credibility.”



So how do marketers see UTV channels as a vehicle for their brands? “Amway has featured on UTV Movies and UTV Action and has received good response. Though there were a few complaints from a few DTH subscribers about UTV channels not featuring in their regular packs, overall it was noticed. In terms of TAM ratings, UTV Movies rates post Star Gold, Set Max and Zee Cinema, and UTV Action has a niche audience glued to experiencing Hollywood in Hindi,” states Naveen Anand, Senior VP Marketing, Amway India.


Some marketers find the niche channels to be an advantage. “For a marketer, the more channels the merrier. All I can say is that channels under UTV broadcast do provide a good alternative for brands if they want to target a niche specific audience, and maybe to others as well apart from just focusing on the GECs,” says Kamal Nandi, Vice President (Sales & Marketing), Godrej Appliances. 


Feedback: meghna@exchange4media.com

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