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SAB: Dominating the comedy genre and earning profits
MUMBAI: When Sri Adhikari Brothers sold off their Hindi general entertainment channel SAB TV to then Sony Entertainment Television India (now Multi Screen Media), the channel boasted one very popular satirical comedy show, ‘Office Office’.
Today SAB specialises in producing content in the mellow comedy genre on a daily basis. The man behind the channel, MSM senior EVP and business head for SAB Anooj Kapoor, proudly says, ‘Asli Maza Sabke Saath Aata Hai.
TelevisionPost.com takes a close look at the channel’s performance in 2014.
SAB definitely has a very clear-cut brand philosophy and Kapoor believes what attracts a viewer to his channel is the fact that they keep the shows clean while providing light, wholesome entertainment sprinkled with family and social values.
“This has been the DNA of SAB which has built the channel into a strong brand today. Apart from seeing the consistency of ratings in the last one year, if we were to compare it to other channels, there is far more flip-flopping of ratings on other channels than on SAB and that’s got to do with the strength of a brand,” Kapoor says.
SAB has remained within fourth to sixth position during the year. It has neither grown overambitious and splurged money on increasing programming hours nor premiered a movie to add incremental viewership.
SAB works on a low-cost model, which, as competitors believe, may not be a scalable one but is extremely profitable. “SAB’s programming cost is not even half of a top-rated Hindi GEC, and its distribution is also not as much as other GECs. The model is such that it is highly profitable,” a senior executive of a rival channel believes.
However, Kapoor is not perturbed. While he doesn’t like to talk about lesser budgets, he notes that SAB is one of the steadiest channels in terms of viewership.
In fact, he is right when it comes to steady performance of the brand. After the GEC leader Star Plus, SAB has the least percentage swing between maximum and minimum GVMs (gross television viewership in million) in the GEC space as per TAM data for Weeks 1 to 48 of 2014 (sourced from subscribers).
It is clear from the chart that while Star Plus, SAB and Zee TV are more consistent, SAB’s sister channel Sony Entertainment Television (SET) has the widest swing of them all.
Dependency on one show
One of the major concerns, however, has remained its dependence on one show, its flagship “Tarak Mehta Ka Ooltah Chashma’. In a few of the weeks, ‘Tarak Mehta’ had contributed to almost 71 per cent of the channel’s overall viewership.
Kapoor agrees that the flagship show is too strong, but adds that other shows such as ‘Balveer’ and ‘Chidiya Ghar’ are also helping.
Interestingly, during middle of the year, some of the shows had started performing so much better than before that ‘Tarak Mehta’s contribution had come down to 50 per cent. For the year (till week 48) on average, 62 per cent viewership of the channel comes from ‘Tarak Mehta’ while the rest is derived from all other shows put together.
“We have to keep changing many shows because viewer fatigue sets in earlier than in the case of soaps. Hence, it is necessary for us to keep refreshing our line-up more often than other GECs,” Kapoor explains.
Enviable time spent per viewer despite low reach
As mentioned earlier, the channel has a far lower reach (average number of people who have viewed a particular channel for at least 1 minute), when compared to other GECs.
As the above chart shows, the reach of the other GECs exceeds 50 per cent; that of SAB is 40 per cent. But when it comes to time spent per viewer (TSV), SAB has a better report card to take home despite its low reach.
The case is clear: Though not a whole lot of people are watching the channel, they are watching the content for more time.
Kapoor explains, “We should be number three or four in time spent even today. Time spent is directly proportional to stickiness, so it means that we have good shows and people like to watch them. Reach can be attributed to two things—first, placement, ours doesn’t compare with any of the top three. Second, there is a very strong loyal GEC viewing audience who is not that enthused by comedy. Therefore, since they are not coming in as many numbers to us, our reach by that logic also tends to become little low.”
Besides the dependency on one show and the need to keep a fresh line-up, the biggest challenge in front of the channel will always be creating comic content. “To do comedy is very tough,” he says.
Citing the example of a developed market like the US, he said that sitcoms started in the late ’60s. “Till about 1995, there was 25 years of creation of pool of talent. Here SAB started the whole thing, so I am still battling with very few producers and very limited talent and still growing and sustaining the channel and that too doing a daily comedy,” he said, chuckling.
The channel has experimented with multiple genres within comedy. “If you were to really look at our last three years, I dare say there is nothing left in terms of the sub-genres of comedy that we haven’t touched. I think we have done everything, and we have done far more than people have done not only in India but abroad.”
Referring to the channel’s silent comedy show ‘Gutar Gu’, which completed 150 episodes, he says that the only other show in the world which was a silent comedy was ‘Mr Bean’ which did 14 episodes.
“Within the umbrella of the various sub-genres we keep finding stories. Last year in the genre of fantasy we had a very successful show, ‘Jeannie Aur Juju’ and ‘Baal Veer’. This year, ‘Baal Veer’ continues to be strong, but ‘Jeannie Aur Juju’ at the same time slot has been replaced by another fantasy called ‘Badi Dooor Se Aaye Hai’, which is an alien comedy, something we are the first to attempt in the industry,” he adds.
When it comes to the brand, Kapoor is clear that when the company created SAB, it aimed for differentiation through innovation and through differentiation itself. “I did not take the convenient route of creating six ‘Tarak Mehta’ clones. Today a SAB consumer is not surprised by any new concept and has the mindset to accept different content,” he sums up.