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Hot Seat

‘One of the upcoming channels will be a mainline Hindi GEC’

manav-dhandaFor a long time, Sri Adhikari Brothers was seen as a television production house before it launched SAB (later sold to Multi Screen Media), Janmat (Hindi news channel, renamed as Live India) and Mi Marathi (Marathi news channel).

The company sold all three channels before launching Mastiii, a Hindi music channel in an overtly crowded space. However, Mastiii changed the fortunes and from one channel, Sri Adhikari Bros has now grown into a five-channel company—Mastiii, Maiboli (Marathi), Dabangg (Bhojpuri), Dhamaal (Hindi movie and teleshopping) and Dillagi (Hindi GEC turned movie channel for the LC1 towns).

Recently, it also entered the film production and distribution space, while future plans include launching a mainline Hindi GEC and a clutch of regional channels apart from a digital content company.

TelevisionPost.com’s Gaurav Laghate caught up with Sri Adhikari Brothers group CEO Manav Dhanda to learn about the company’s future plans.

Edited excerpts…

Q. Sri Adhikari Bros. already has five TV channels and now you have forayed into film production and distribution. What’s next?

We look at ourselves as a media enterprise and are not limited to one vertical. We plan to expand our broadcast network to about 10–11 channels in the next 12–18 months. We will announce the plans soon.

One of the upcoming channels from the company will be a mainline Hindi general entertainment channel [GEC]. The team has been working for a while on that. We are very excited about the product that is shaping up. But what it will exactly be like is something we will announce in due course.

Q. Hindi GEC has become a very expensive play. Are you ready for that kind of investment?

It is a very interesting and exciting space. Unfortunately, over the last 4–5 years several channels have come and disappeared very fast, so we are aware of the challenges. There is a lot to learn from both their success and failure stories.

We are a content creation company and we understand our audiences very well. Our strength lies in good content. We know how to read and understand audiences, even when the content is fully duplicated as in case of Mastiii.

Q. Are you prepared to compete with big players like Star, Colors and Zee?

Somebody else’ success or failure does not define us. There is always a place for one more if the product is good, irrespective of genre.

Some may say youth and music has 16 channels, but if you are good, you are good.

Q. As per the MIB’s list, you have licences for two more channels, Tak Dhina Din and Mauja Mostii.

As I said, the plan is to launch 5–6 channels. The other channels will be focused on the niche and mostly regional segments.

Q. All the channels are free to air (FTA). Will the new launches be in the same space?

I can’t comment on the Hindi GEC, but the other channels will remain FTA.

‘Hindi GEC is a very interesting and exciting space. Unfortunately, over the last 4–5 years several channels have come and disappeared very fast, so we are aware of the challenges. There is a lot to learn from both their success and failure stories’

Q. Is this because FTA channels have seen a great surge in viewership according to BARC data for rural India?

BARC has done a great job in getting a fair representation of what India is all about. But I think the question that remains is how the advertisers look at the channels.

Q. How do you see advertiser response?

It is very early. The consumption patterns of rural and non-rural audiences are very different. The products that sell there [rural] and here are extremely different at a macro level. It will be interesting to see how advertisers allocate their budgets to channels and what segments they go after on national channels.

Q. So do you envisage a shift in advertising?

Advertisers might not change, but the brands certainly will. For example, we have never seen tractor advisements on TV channels, but they are sold in certain parts of the country in large volumes. So now they can advertise on TV because there is a measurement in place. Many brands and products have no relevance with the existing measurement system.

Q. When you launched Dillagi, there was no rural data reporting. Did that force you to change the positioning of the channel from a GEC to movies?

We launched Dillagi seven months back and it was an early start. It was India’s first LC1 channel. Yes, we changed our strategy to make it a pure movie channel because we realised that there was no measurement system for that market. When you make original content, you want tracking as well, and with no measurement system for rural, we did not know what to do with our shows.

We will evaluate the ratings for 6–8 weeks and see how to take it forward. We sustained the channel for 6–8 months without rural ratings. We will study the audience and take it from there.

Q. With the current line-up of movies, how is it fairing?

Our distribution was focused on LC1. It was a long wait for us because we had made an early start assuming rural would come. We waited for a long time before the channel got traction. We were rated on a very low base for a long time as rural was not measured and our distribution was LC1 focused.

But our strategy got endorsed in the first week when rural data came out. We had over 1,000 per cent growth in our rating base primarily because distribution was rural focused.

Going forward, it will come out as a very strong property.

Q. As it appears, Mastiii is currently your most popular channel…

Mastiii has been the leader for the entire year. It has been a leader across extremely different dynamics. First, there was TAM on which we were leaders, then came BARC household where we gained, and then there was individual data.

When BARC’s rural data was released, we again gained phenomenally. Therefore, we have consistently been ahead in the genre by 60–80 per cent of the No. 2 channel.

This is an exceptional performance considering it is in a 16-player category [music and youth], where every player can play 100 per cent duplicable content unlike any other genre.

‘Dillagi was launched as a GEC, but we changed our strategy to make it a pure movie channel because we realised that there was no measurement system for that market. When you make original content, you want tracking as well, and with no measurement system for rural, we did not know what to do with our shows’

Q. What about Dabangg and Dhamaal?

Dabangg focuses on the Bhojpuri market of UP and Bihar. Today, Bihar has some 20 million Bhojpuri-speaking individuals while UP has 70 million. That’s a large population base and in that too we are a clear No. 1 among 6–7 players.

Dhamaal is a teleshopping and movie channel, which does well for itself. It is focused on the Hindi heartland.

Q. What about Maiboli?

Maiboli has done exceptionally well in the Marathi market. We were aware that while Mumbai and Pune take a fair share of ratings, regional would have a much greater traction. We aligned our focus on distribution accordingly.

Now our channel has more than doubled its viewership in the first week of rural ratings itself.

We are a strong player in the Marathi niche segment and are 300 per cent ahead of our closest competitor.

Q. What led to your venture in the film production and distribution business?

As a group, we took a call to diversify and go beyond TV. So we are focused to become a media player across the key verticals that get traction and are important in India.

We are looking at the Hindi-speaking markets only. Within that, movie is obviously a very important play.

Initially, we have taken over films like ‘Grand Masti’ and ‘Dhamaal’, Indra Kumar’s hit and popular franchise films. ‘Great Grand Masti’, the third part of the ‘Grand Masti’ series, is currently under co-production with Balaji Telefilms.

We already have 6–8 movies. We are putting things in place, the casting is being worked on, and dates are being finalised. We will make the announcement once the entire package is ready. We have very credible and high-value products.

Q. Will you do co-production only?

Most films are co-production, but in February next year, we might also launch solo productions. Film business is very dynamic and can change very fast.

Q. What about film distribution space?

The value chain extends way beyond just films. It should reach the right consumer for which distribution is very important. Hence, we started an independent distribution arm in collaboration with Anand Pandit of Lotus Group.

We struck gold with our first distributed film ‘Pyaar Ka Panchnama 2’. Going ahead, we will pick up movies for worldwide distribution.

Q. Have you exited the TV production business?

For now, we are not doing frontline production for other broadcasters. We are focused on digital.

We will be launching a digital content arm soon. We have a big plan which we might announce within the next two months.

Q. Why digital content?

It’s an interesting space for two reasons. There are too many new players like Hotstar, Voot, Sony Liv, etc. and then there are TVF and other players who have carved their own space. The beauty of digital is that it is a platform where the consumer decides who the best is.

It is a space where technology, product and consumer understanding come into play. It needs a very different approach from traditional content. We are putting a right team in place for that.

Q. But don’t you think digital has already got too many players?

Too many players are trying to do lot of things and many of them do not have a clue as to what is happening. Therefore, it is very important to be different in this highly competitive space. We believe we have found an interesting gap.

Q. So the company will be active in broadcast, movies as well as digital. What kind of investments are you looking at?

We have a fair amount of investment but can’t comment on the specifics at this moment.

Q. The company is undergoing business restructuring and had announced demerger and a scheme of amalgamation last year. When can we expect from the restructuring?

I cannot comment on that as per SEBI rules.