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Sun TV Network bets big on reality shows, but fiction also rules
When Ravinath Menon, then Star One’s EVP and GM, who had a track record of turning around Tamil channel Star Vijay, joined Sun TV Network in October 2009 as Head of Programming, many in media agencies remarked that Sun could have lured Menon to create reality shows as the Kalanithi Maran-promoted TV network was not known to be strong on non-fiction content. Cut to the present, Sun TV Network’s flagship channel Sun TV has three reality shows up and running on weekends, while the Network’s other language channels are also betting big on reality and historical programmes on weekdays and weekends.

However, Sun TV officials are in no mood to brush aside fiction as they believe that fiction would continue to be the channel driver. Ravinath Menon, Head - Programming, Sun TV Network, stressed, “Fiction is going to be the strong point of Sun TV, and there is no doubt about it. Fiction is what makes Sun TV, Sun TV. Having said that, introduction of reality shows and game shows on weekend is actually an idea to utilise some of the extra space that was available on the weekend and create some properties that will create kind of complete the picture.”

The 10:30 am to 10 pm slot continues to be the channel’s strongest fiction block, except for the afternoon movie, and that’s how it would continue to be for some more time, Menon said, adding that there were no plans to do any disruptive programming on the prime time schedule of weekdays. “However, we will keep on looking for more and more opportunities in the weekends and try to do some more non-fiction shows on Sun TV and movie channel (K TV) and music channel (Sun Music), thus leveraging the potential of these channels to the hilt.

While introducing several reality-based shows, Sun TV Network officials insisted that it was not done at the cost of the fiction shows. Instead, the Network had taken off air some of the movie slots, which were doing well, on weekends and were experimenting with reality shows.

Experimenting with music & movie channels

Sun Network’s movie channel K TV is claimed to be the No. 2 channel in Tamil Nadu after Sun TV, the flagship channel of the group. K TV plays back-to-back movies and lately, the channel has started hosting some random events. “As a platform, K TV has the strength and appetite to get more eyeballs. We found that whenever we hosted a small time event on K TV, it got some kind of response from the traditional movie going crowd. Whenever we think of experimenting, we think mostly on the network level as we have a Kannada movie channel too. Though the requirements vary from state to state, there is definitely some effort to bring in some properties on the Kannada movie channel as well,” Menon explained.

As far as music channels in the South are concerned, it is back-to-back music, interspersed with VJs interacting with the viewers or introducing the song. So, is Sun looking at experimenting with music channels as well as? “Not immediately,” replied Menon, adding, “Any change just for the sake of bringing some change may not work.”

Elaborating further, he said pointed out that Channel [v] and MTV had moved from being pure back-to-back music channels to being more of lifestyle channels in order to keep up with the competition. He added that these channels were playing a lot of western music, which attracted a miniscule viewership. Having said that, these channels were built on huge budgets, however, the economics of these channels never worked out in their favour despite their doing well. A paradigm shift happened when the channels moved to more of Hindi music and from there on to more of the Hindi lifestyle space, game shows and so on. “As far as Sun Music is concerned, the channel is gathering enough eyeballs with back-to-back music and, therefore, a sudden shift is not really required,” he maintained.

Menon added, “We may think of another channel to bring in lifestyle shows and stuff like that. Sun Music is a very powerful vehicle, and as a programming team we are looking at what more we can give the existing Sun Music viewers.”

However, he is not ignorant of the growing niche audience and said, “We recognise and realise that there is this a niche audience that is emerging. That’s a process which is something very common in every city. So, we will either use some of the existing platforms to cater to these audience or we will be looking at some new bouquet of channels to cater to this emerging generation next audience. It could either be a lifestyle channel or an action channel or something else. It depends on licensing, permission and market study. Thus, there is an effort and thought into that, but nothing is concrete as yet. Our immediate aim is to strengthen the GECs in different markets and give it a little more variety.”

Tapping the GEC space

Menon said that his focus was on the GEC space and that the weekend slot provided a big opportunity. ‘Deal or No Deal’ was the first big-ticket show that Sun TV launched after Menon and Ajay Vidyasagar came on board. ‘Honeymoon Jodigal’, another reality show, which went on air recently, was done in the interest of a client, said Menon. “‘Honeymoon Jodigal’ is a show that we launched in order to test the waters, whether this kind of a show with a young anchor be accepted on a very traditional platform like Sun TV. Curiously, we found that it gave us a decent volume. It has also created a good image among the regular Sun TV viewers,” he added.

Sun Network is doing the same show in Malayalam as well, which is christened ‘Honeymoon Travellers’ and is hosted by actress Shweta Menon. The show would be launched in Telugu and Kannada shortly.

‘Sangeeta Mahayudham’ is another four-language show that went on air on Sun Network’s GECs recently. The show boats of some of the best playback singers from the South participating as contestants. The show has a unique concept, wherein in one episode if one is a contestant, in the next episode she or he is part of the jury, thus, there is no permanent jury as such. ‘Sangeeta Mahayudham’, which airs at the 9:30-10:30 pm slot on weekends, was an experiment, Menon said, adding that the idea was to showcase the scale of production. “There is always a perception in the North and among the advertisers that South Indian shows are mostly done on a less expensive scale, with smaller sets. ‘Sangeeta Mahayudham’ breaks the mould as it is a big show,” he insisted and added that he was quite happy with the ratings that all these shows were garnering.

Surya TV being revamped

While all the channels in the Sun Network bouquet claim market leadership position in the respective languages and genres, Surya TV, the Malayalam channel from the Network, is the only one lagging behind. According to Menon, Surya TV, which was the No.1 player in that market till a few years ago, was as powerful as Asianet in terms of reach, visibility, audience perception and acceptance. He attributed the reasons for the channel losing its leadership to lack of quality programming and some gaps.

In a bid to strengthen the programme offering of Surya TV, Sun Network is launching a historical serial, ‘Marthanda Varma’. Marthanda Varma was the first Travancore king, who took on the British. “People shy away from doing such serials given the huge cost of production. We have roped in Santosh Sivan’s family to do the production of ‘Marthanda Varma’. Sangeeth Sivan, brother of Santosh Sivan, is directing the show,” Menon informed.

Meanwhile, Sun Network has also replaced a couple of non-performing serials with two brand new serials on Surya TV. “Currently, we are revamping the content of Surya TV. If that does not work, then we will relook at the strategy,” Menon said, adding that after making some changes, the channel’s GRP had improved. According to him, the channel’s GRP had touched the 600-mark, which was earlier hovering around 480. With the introduction of several new shows, Menon is confident of increased viewer interest in Surya TV.

Apart from that, the Network has recently launched ‘Ramayana’ on its Kannada GEC Udaya TV. Menon informed that it was a ‘Ramayana’ from Sita’s point of view. He asserted that the serial was better than some of the other serials on ‘Ramayana’ on other channels.

While the Network has dubbed NDTV Imagine’s ‘Ramayana’ in Telugu and Malayalam and Tamil, for its Kannada GEC, the Network has come up with its own version of ‘Ramayana’, as laws in Karnataka prohibits dubbed programming. The show is aired on weekdays from 7-7:30 pm. “There are only a few mythologies in the Kannada market and there is no comparison between what we are offering and what others have offered so far,” Menon maintained.

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