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Mahua plans to launch a Bangla news and Bangla entertainment channel and a Bhojpuri film channel
Mahua’s success has spawned a host of Bhojpuri shows on Hindi television.
Just a month after the launch of Colors, a Hindi general entertainment channel from Network18 and Viacom, another channel was launched. Only it was in Bhojpuri. While Colors’ success has been celebrated and written about ad nauseum, Mahua has largely been ignored by mainstream media.

In December 2009, Mahua’s total viewership in Bihar was neck-to-neck with that of second-rung Hindi GECs. By March 2010, the channel — along with its news sibling — will close the year with about Rs 50 crore in revenues, according to the company. Mahua Media Chairman and Managing Director P K Tewari says that it will have achieved cash break-even by then, roughly within the second year of operation.

The number is very small when you consider that a single Hindi GEC sees an ad revenue of Rs 500 crore and above. Even within Bihar, where the language is spoken by a majority, Bhojpuri channels command a fraction of the viewership that Hindi channels do.

Yet, Mahua’s success is already having an impact on Hindi GECs, the category that dominates the about Rs 9,000-crore TV ad market. In the last six months there has been a slew of shows with Bhojpuri-speaking families on Hindi channels. There is Bhagyavidhata on Colors and Agle Janam Mohe Bitiya Hi Kijo on Zee TV, among others. There are reports that the Sun Network, among other broadcasters, is launching a Bhojpuri channel.

Why is a Rs 50-crore channel having this effect on the big boys in broadcasting? The reasons are not hard to find. There are 240 million Bhojpuri-speaking people in India. But, so far, there wasn’t too much entertainment for them, except by some local cable channels.

In contrast, there are more than a dozen Tamil channels for the 63 million Tamil-speaking people. And 70-million Bangla-speaking people have half a dozen channels.

The reasons for this are obvious. The areas where a majority of the Bhojpuri-speaking people reside — Bihar and parts of Uttar Pradesh — are the most difficult to map. In fact, TAM Media Research, which monitors TV viewership, did not cover Bihar till recently. So, there was no way to measure the audience’s viewing habits and, therefore, getting advertising was a problem.

Besides, Hindi substituted very easily for this audience, which constitutes half of what is defined as Hindi-speaking markets (HSMs). Audiences in HSMs form the largest chunk of TV viewership in India. They bring in the bread and butter for Hindi GECs.

Yet, everybody ignored the need for a Bhojpuri channel till the overwhelming popularity of Bhojpuri cinema, in the last few years, made it impossible to do that. Mahua’s success has made the threat of half the audience going way more real.

“No advertiser who wants to launch a product in Bihar can ignore us,” says Tewari. One could argue that Bhojpuri-speaking people form a large proportion of migrants in metros. So, why would the advertiser choose Bihar? “It doesn’t matter where the migrants stay. The money on weddings or big occasions will always be spent in Bihar,” says Tewari.

His point is everything that the rest of India is seeing in the name of growth — malls, multiplexes and rise in purchasing power — is true for small-town Bihar too.

In 2009, TAM started metering Bihar and Mahua is now showing up on the national charts. Already, the share of Bhojpuri entertainment within Bihar has started creeping up on the rating charts.

“Once TAM increases meters, we will be number one,” says Tewari. Maybe. It could equally be a new rival since the genre has started attracting investors.

Meanwhile Mahua plans to launch a Bangla news and Bangla entertainment channel and a Bhojpuri film channel. It has, over the years, been acquiring Bhojpuri films and claims to have a 250-film library

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