Reliance bets big on sitcoms

Last Updated: Sun, Sep 05, 2010 19:20 hrs

Tarun Katiyal is keen on changing the rules of the game in the English general entertainment channel space and bring in more advertisers to a segment that has so far accounted for a negligible 0.14 per cent of the total viewership pie.

He is already walking the talk. The young CEO of Reliance Broadcast Network (RBN) is launching three new channels in the English GEC space in alliance with US broadcasting giant CBS International.

But didn’t it make more sense to get into more lucrative options such as Hindi GEC or movie channels?

Katial, however, is ready with an answer. "We will be able to grow this small segment because we have an amazing content pipeline. And the time is ripe" he says.

Reliance indeed has an ambitious plan. Katiyal wants the three channels to be beamed in 25 million homes this October. And at least two of the new channels are targeted at specific audiences — Big CBS Spark is for youth, while Big CBS Love is for women. Big CBS Prime of course will have a broader reach and offer popular US sitcoms. But all the channels will be targeted at the age group of 15-34 years, in metros as well as Tier 2 cities and even SEC A and SEC B towns.

But many say Katiyal may just be over-ambitious as English GECs, including Star World, AXN and Zee Café have been able to garner only 1.29 per cent of the total television TV advertising pie.

Katial of course says that Reliance-CBS has several aces up its sleeve. For one, it will bring in programming on the same day when it is beamed in the US. That will be possible by leveraging the group’s undersea cable delivery system.

"Currently most of the serials you see are more than a year old. What we will offer is the latest — virtually on the same day," says Katial.

The second USP is to make Indian versions of the most popular CBS Shows. For instance, negotiations are in the final stages to launch "India’s Next Top Model" on the lines of "America’s Next Top Model" — a show which has been topping the charts in the US.

Leveraging on the group’s Hollywood connection, Katial is also tying up with DreamWorks Studio to buy out broadcasting rights of their movies which will be shown on weekends. The Reliance ADAG group has bought a substantial stake in Steven Spielberg’s DreamWorks and that is what Katial would be banking on. So you just might be able to watch DreamWorks’ latest movie "Dinner for Schmucks" on TV very soon.

The Reliance-CBS combine is also hoping to cash in on the ADAG group’s presence across media platforms which include FM radio, cinema halls, mobile and out-of-home operations to woo advertisers. So companies will be offered an integrated rate card with an offer to advertise across all these mediums including the channels. Katial says that it has 200 million customers who use one of these platforms and which is pretty large for advertisers to tap.

The channel might be in English but Katial and his team are also tapping uncharted markets for advertisements. "We will be looking at small enterprises, advertisers in mini-metros like Kanpur, Ludhiana, Ahmedabad or Indore and also in new segments like the educational sector which is spending a lot on TV," adds Katial.

But will Reliance–CBS be able to break into a segment that has entrenched players like NewsCorp or Zee ?

Reliance ADAG-CBS says that it is already in negotiations with at least two or three of the companies which offer a bouquet and would surely be part of one of them. "We provide a lot of value to any bouquet because of our content," adds Katial.

His game may become even bigger when Reliance gets into the Hindi GEC space. Significantly, Katiyal does not rule out that option.

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