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Laughing away to success
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[Image: M_Id_165064_comedy_channel.jpg]

After re-positioning itself as a comedy channel two years ago, SAB TV has entered the list of top five channels for the first time, displacing Imagine TV
Since the last one month there has been a new entrant in the list of top five channels. While Star Plus is numero uno, Colors and Zee are battling it out for the second position. Currently, Sony is at No.4 and SAB TV has claimed the fifth place displacing Imagine TV, which was on the top five list, for two years.

Interestingly, it’s two years since SAB re-positioned itself from being a youth-centric channel to a light-hearted entertainment channel. Soon after, it launched a comedy serial Taarak Mehta Ka Oolta Chasmah based on the columns of popular Gujarati writer Taarak Mehta, the turnaround started happening. Recalls Asit Modi, producer of the serial, “I remember the intial days when I faced two kinds of difficulties, first, the channel had no viewers since its distribution was weak, and secondly I had to get them to watch the show. In fact, Taarak’s and SAB’s journey is synonymous.” Agrees Anooj Kapoor, Executive VP and Business Head, SAB TV, “Taarak.. is our flagship show. Initially, it had a rating of 1 and now after 400 episodes it has been consistently notching a rating of 3 plus.” What’s more, the channel’s other comedies Mrs & Mr Sharma Allahabadwale, Lapatagunj and Papad Pol have also been registering a rating of one plus on the charts. Even their GRPs have increased from a mere 25-26 to a 100 plus.

So what has caused this sudden spike in ratings? According to Kapoor, “It’s been a steady growth. Since the time we positioned ourselves as a brand saying Asli maza SAB ke saath aayega we have kept our focus on dishing out clean, family entertainment shows with positive values. There are no villains in our shows and everyone including the the saas loves her bahu, which is a complete change from other GECs, which have mothers-in-law harassing their daughters-in-law. Also other GECs have an Amar Akbar Anthony strategy that involves a mix of fiction, reality television and mythology. Finally whatever works is great.” He attributes SAB’s growth to innovative and differentiated programming that are in synergy with the brand’s promise. “We are the first ones to introduce daily comedies as well as the first silent comedy Gutur Gu after the popular Mr Bean,” informs Kapoor. Soon the channel will be launching another silent sitcom Malegaon Ka Chintu, which at first look seems to be on the lines of Mr Bean. Fridays will see SAB in a silent mode from 8 - 9 pm with Malegaon.. at 8 followed by Gutur Gu.. at 8.30. That in itself is a path-breaking concept in a world where being loud and over-the-top is necessary to grab attention. “Well, it is a fresh concept and viewers have started realising that instead of crying alone while watching tearjerkers, it is better to laugh with everyone on SAB,” grins Kapoor.

Undoubtedly, the channel is riding high with the positive buzz it is eliciting among the media planners too. Divya Radhakrishnan, President, TME, a media planning agency says that the basic decisive factor for SAB is audience connect and efficiency. “Both their new shows Mrs & Mr Sharma Allahabad Wale and Papad Pol had opened well. This will create demand for the channel. Today SAB TV as a light comedy channel is providing that platform specially for brands targeting the male audience. In Gujarat, it is the number two channel after Star Plus. After mainline GEC, SAB TV is the preferred channel.” Agrees Divya Gururaj, MD, Mindshare, “SAB is uniquely skewed and is known for its differeniated programming. Advertisers who want to target the youth and male audience prefer SAB.”

However, not all media planners are on the same page. According to Manas Misra, President, Mudra Connext, there are two set of channels, Tier-I and Tier-II and SAB comes in the latter. “There are some high-risk, high-return channels, which include the top three, while Sony, SAB and Imagine form the second set that don’t get you high numbers and the risk is less. If an advertiser wants to run a campaign, he exhausts the top three channels first and then it doesn’t matter to him on which of the Tier-II channels he chooses to advertise.” According to sources, the ad rates for SAB’s flagship show Taarak... have almost doubled from Rs 25,000 per 10 seconds. However, as far as the other shows are concerned, it is between to Rs 10,000-plus per 10 seconds. In any case, ads are decided on the basis of effective rates and accordingly various permutations and combinations are worked out.

Even as SAB is laughing its way to the top, its closest competitor, Imagine, is looking for that one show that will change its fortunes and put it back in a formidable position. Says Nikhil Madhok, Head, Marketing & Communications, Imagine, “For two years, we were comfortably ahead of SAB. Imagine is a national channel while SAB to my view is a regional channel, as it is very strong in Gujarat, from where it gets its highest TRPs. Also, its target audience is the youngsters in the age group of 14 and the males aged between 40-50 whereas our target group is the 15+ female audience, which is what a GEC’s targeted viewership is. Yes, today it is in a slightly better position than Imagine but I’m sure our forthcoming shows will rectify this minor aberration.”

SAB, in the meantime, is not being complacent with its performance. “I know our reach is lesser at 41 per cent as we are not available in deep pockets while the top channels have a reach of 65 - 70 per cent. So, we have a long way to go,” admits Kapoor, who dismisses Madhok’s claims of the channel being Gujarat-centric. “Just because Taarak... is No.1 doesn’t mean we are catering only to Gujarat. We have a strong presence in the Hindi heartland with Mrs & Mr Sharma doing well in Rajasthan and Lapatagunj in Uttar Pradesh,” argues Kapoor. The channel now has also to contend with competition from a newly-lanched music and comedy channel Mastiii by Sri Adhikari Brothers. Incidentally, Adhikari Brothers were the ones who had launched SAB before selling their stakes to Sony. But Kapoor is not worried. “They are in a different space as they will have music and only stand-up comedy,” he quips.

Moving forward, the channel is planning to launch its first comic reality show. Also, in a bid to generate revenues for the channel, Kapoor is planning to sell its programmes to different countries. First on the list is their silent comedy Gutur Gu. “Our syndication department is aggressively marketing the show abroad as it works very well as a concept. Since it is silent like Mr Bean, it is culturally neutral and relevant,” says Kapoor. It’s an innovative thought but whether it translates into business for SAB remains to be seen.

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