Jul 15, 2008

Entertainment - Content Syndication

Indian television channels, hungrier than ever for revenues from a fragmented advertising pie, are now looking at content syndication deals for those extra bucks.Zee, Star and Sahara already have syndication deals in place in NRI-rich international markets such as the US and UK. However, it’s the domestic syndication that hasn’t really caught on. Mohan Gopinath, senior vice-president at Zee Entertainment Enterprises Ltd (ZEEL), said it all depends on the demand and supply factor. “If the regional channels need it, then we (ZEEL) would obviously do it.” There’s a huge opportunity given the syndicated shows, once dubbed into various languages, stand a chance of being viewed by lot more audiences than the viewership it gets on a single channel, he said. Sensing this huge potential, many new entrants in the space, such as Hindi general entertainment channel (GEC) NDTV Imagine, are betting big on domestic syndication. However, NDTV Imagine’s syndication is not just for television but also for other formats such as home videos. Dubbed adaptation of Ramayana, the channel’s weekday prime-time driver show, is being aired on Gemini TV in Andhra Pradesh, Sun TV in Tamil Nadu and Surya TV in Kerala. Moreover, TAM Media Research says the show has delivered fairly good ratings in respective markets. The average television rating (TVR) of Ramayana on Gemini TV is 4.2. It was 5.4 on Surya TV in the launch week and on Sun TV, it registered a TVR of 9.0 on a Sunday morning slot. Gaurav Gandhi, EVP, business operations and ancillary revenues, NDTV Imagine, said syndication deals for Bengali channels are also on the anvil. “We knew the show would travel well. The Ramayana slot on Sun is selling for more than double the rates. We’re also getting a premium in the Andhra Pradesh market,” he said. Gandhi agrees that syndication is still an unexplored area in the domestic market. However, he believes there’s a remarkable change in the way the content is being developed now. “Creative teams are now conceptualising shows that generate multiple syndication possibilities. Some of our shows like Angrezi Mein Kehte Hain and Nachle Ve With Saroj Khan are designed in a similar manner.” Vanita Kohli Khandekar, media consultant and author of The Indian Media Business, said mythological shows have a good potential in this genre. “The fundamental principle of the media business is how much and how well a producer repurposes the content and makes it available on different formats and platforms. As the media proliferates, the trend is likely to continue,” she said. She said there are instances in the past when even production houses such as Miditech have syndicated non-commission based shows to other countries. “Currently, international syndication is more lucrative for Indian channels and production houses since it brings in dollars. Balaji Telefilms’ Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi is hugely popular on Sri Lankan channel Maharaja TV. Many Indian shows have a cultural affinity with other countries,” she said. A spokesperson for Star said the network’s programme like Kyunki…and Kasautii Zindagi Kay are syndicated to countries such as Afghanistan and Mauritius. These programmes are then dubbed in local languages and broadcast on local channels. Ajit Thakur, chief operating officer of UTV Television, said about 19 live-action and 13 animation shows from the network’s content library are licensed to broadcasters in India and abroad. “We are planning to use UTV’s dubbing facility to reproduce the same shows in other languages. Soon, India will be ready to do reverse syndication. You’ll see channels from the West syndicating Indian shows,” he said. However, industry experts feel it’s too early to ascertain how much the syndication would contribute to a channel’s revenues. According to Khandekar’s estimates, revenues could be as low as 1-2% for production houses. “But it could directly add to bottom lines. At the end of the day, syndication is pure gravy,” she said. NDTV Imagine’s Gandhi said if 2-3 key properties are syndicated, then it could contribute around 10-15% to a channel’s revenues. “The channel or the producer incurs only dubbing or subtitling costs. That’s a small price to pay if you look at the cost of production and the returns involved.” But analysts say in the current media landscape, even a small boost in revenues could be crucial. Currently, revenue structures for television channels are highly skewed towards advertising. But subscription revenues are now increasing in tandem with the expanding reach of other cable television platforms such as DTH, CAS and digital cable. Media analysts, however, said the visibility on prime band of single TV homes comes at the cost of paying high carriage fees. “Unless regulated, these prices will only increase. As advertisers move beyond conventional TV advertising, ad sales could take a hit. New and upcoming channels will, therefore, have to think of additional revenue possibilities and this could result in more syndication. But the focus now should be on creating good shows with lasting impact,” a media analyst said.

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