Standalone channels wait with bated breath as TRAI’s new tariff regime unfolds

MUMBAI: Standalone and niche channels are watching with bated breath as the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India’s (TRAI) new regulatory framework for the broadcasting sector unfolds on the ground.

While the stakes for big broadcasters is high under the new regime it is even higher for niche broadcasters since many of them operate in the niche genre.

The niche broadcasters are locked in an uneven competition as bigger broadcasters thanks to their distribution muscle and marketing strength dominate the consumer mind space when it comes to choosing packages in the new regime.

As big broadcasters vie for the consumers’ share of wallet, the niche broadcasters are working with distribution platform operators (DPOs) to enjoy a wider reach. The initial trend so far suggests that a majority of consumers are opting for packages created by the DPOs. spoke to a few niche broadcasters to get views on the new framework and how it is impacting them.

BTVI COO Megha Tata

English business news channel BTVI went free to air (FTA) in January. It is the only FTA channels in the category. The reason for going FTA was clear. Being a standalone channel, BTVI would have found the going tough in the new environment.

Said BTVI COO Megha Tata, “We decided to go FTA as we are keen to reach out to a wider spectrum of audience and help them plan their finances better.” The key to survival is to ensure that the channel as part of the DPO base pack of 100 FTA channels.

For BTVI, over the top (OTT) has emerged as a key delivery platform apart from cable TV and direct to home (DTH). BTVI is available on Hotstar, SonyLIV, ZEE5, YuppTV, JioTV, and YouTube.

“BTVI became the first and the only English business news channel to be present on trading apps such as Axis Direct, Kotak Securities, IIFL Markets, HDFC Securities and Geojit,” She added.

Travelxp CEO Prashant Chothani

Meanwhile Travelxp founder & CEO Prashant Chothani said that the new tariff order is about giving consumers the choice. “Being a standalone channel we would either be a part of a bouquet that a distribution platform makes or be available as an a la carte offering,” he added.

Celebrities Management Pvt Limited (CMPL) owns and operates two channels Travelxp HD and Travelxp Tamil priced at Rs 9 and Rs 1.5 respectively.

Chothani is confident that the company’s content quality will help it stand out from the crowd. “We are gearing up for the tariff order by increasing our investments in content. As far as we understand the business we see quality content providers like us will get space,” he noted.

Travelxp is also adding more language feeds to take its content to a wider audience. “We are now in Hindi, English and Bengali. We are looking at Gujarati, Marathi, Telugu, and Malayalam. We are working on deciding to see if these will be feeds or channels.”

Chothani also said that several DPOs are including Travelxp in their own packages. This, to him, shows the strength of the content. He compared the new distribution regime to over the top (OTT) where content is unbundled and one chooses a service or an app based on the content strength.

He, however, noted that the industry is still a B2B2C business. It is not yet a B2C business unlike OTT. In television one still goes through a distribution platform.

According to a research conducted by Travelxp, the broadcast bundles are the least favoured by customers. The top priority is to go by distribution platform bundles. A la carte, he said, is also gaining favour.

Chothani pointed out that the reach of the travel genre is less than 1% even with 100% distribution. As long as 1% customers subscribe to it will offer great value for an advertiser. The question for him is whether this 1% will be measured efficiently by BARC India.

He also said that right now advertisers are releasing ad budgets on a weekly basis on television. He feels that the lower rung channels will get compromised. The free to air (FTA) channels which rely only on advertising could go through more pain the longer things take to stabilise.

Food Food promoter Sanjeev Kapoor

Celebrity chef Sanjeev Kapoor-led Turmeric Vision operates food and lifestyle channel Food Food, which is priced at Rs 0.3 per month. Kapoor feels that the environment has never been conducive for standalone channels. Anything small has to struggle and fight and do business on its own merit.

“Since we are rich in content we use the power of content to market ourselves. We have a show with Radio City on food. We have a retail presence through Wonderchef. We are doing marketing on the products themselves. We have also partnered with a few restaurants to create awareness about the price of Rs. 12 for a year,” he stated.

While noting that the ecosystem has not completely adopted the system, Kapoor expects Food Food’s position to improve by 20-25%. He said that the channel’s way of targeting is how retail products are targeted. It plays on the speciality angle and not on the reach angle.

The broadcaster targets specific neighbourhoods and aims at effective reach. Being in the restaurant business and in the kitchenware business helps in this regard as Kapoor already has data.

He said that the broadcaster is considering a Tamil channel but will first look at a dubbed audio feed to gauge interest. The dubbed feed will happen once the dust settles down and the broadcaster does not want to rush into it.

Kapoor also expects 2019 to be a year of ups and downs. He also sees digital as a test to see how speciality content is being viewed. Consumption on digital, in general, has increased manifold and the impact of that on getting higher revenue needs to be seen.