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India alive to golden opportunity of regional TV

India's regional television witnessed a soaring 70% growth rate in 2011, compared to the industry's national growth of 12%, delegates to the FICCI Frames 2012 conference in Mumbai have heard.

"Regional has become the new 'national'. In 2011, the regional space grew at 70% compared to the national growth of 11-12%. Overall, the television industry is pegged at INR 300 billion while the regional is INR 120-140 billion," said panellist K Madhavan, managing director, Asianet.

"Regional channels have a strong captive audience. One of the reasons for this high growth rate is the emerging new middle class with increased purchasing power in the tier I and tier II cities; the positive impact of this could be huge and bigger. The per capital income of southern states is almost 80% higher than the northern states," he said.

Tamil Nadu holds what Madhavan calls "the lion's share" of revenue for regional broadcasters – amounting to INR 12 billion; while Telugu and Bengali language TV accounts for INR 8.5 to 9 billion each. He then put the revenues of Kannada and Malayalam at INR 6 billion, followed by Marathi at an estimated INR 3.5 to 4 billion.

Sharda Sunder, executive vice president of regional channels, Zee Entertainment Enterprises added: "Growth in the regional sector is largely due to a few factors like size of population. The top nine regional states form 50% of the population and the per capita income in these states is higher than the national average. Consumption expenditure is thus higher than the national average."

Asianet now has a third of its cable and satellite viewers in the south, with direct to home (DTH) services conquering 30 million connections of the total 42 million available, said Madhavan.

Not all is rosy in the land of regional television, however. Monetisation of the distribution chain; extra tax on DTH connections – particularly in Tamil Nadu; uncertainty over the reaction to digitisation in small towns; carriage fees; the lack of good regional content and trained staff; and retention of talent, were among the challenges for broadcasters raised by the conference panellists.

Regional content must also evolve to appeal to the younger audience. "We need to make our content more inclusive, keeping in mind today's teens. This will be a service to 'brand India'," said Zee's Sunder.

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