Zee Kannada sees surge in ratings, targets break even in fiscal-end

The mood at Zee Kannada’s Bangalore office is upbeat. There is a surge in the channel’s ratings and sources say the target is to operationally break even by the fourth quarter of this fiscal.

The scene was quite different four months back. Towards the end of last year and the beginning of 2008, Zee Kannada had to battle with sagging TRPs (television rating points) and GRPs (gross rating points) even as last year’s newcomers Asianet Suvarana and Kasturi edged ahead. Zee Kannada, which completed two years of broadcast on 11 May, couldn’t quite get its programming right until recently.

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The Kannada version of Sa Ri Ga Ma Pa’s ‘Li’l Champs’ seems to have turned the tables for the channel starting week 8 of this year. Since then Zee Kannada has averaged around 180 GRPs. It once even edged ahead of ETV-Kannada, the current number two in the Kannada GEC space (week 15, Zee Kannada had GRP of 347 to ETV Kannada’s 317, according to Tam data).

Even the start of the IPL tourney during week 16, when most of the existing Kannada channels saw a plunge in their GRP ratings, didn’t affect Zee Kannada. The channel’s GRP stood at 194 and then spurted to 204, 206 and 200 for Week 17, 18 and 19 respectively.

For Zee Kannada, reality shows, talent hunts, and comedy for weekends seem to have worked. It has now launched a fantasy serial Jim Jim Jimba which is picking up ratings, says Zee Kannada’s business head Anup Chandrasekhar. The channel has also started a sitcom, a musical talent program, and a late night standup show.

The universe that Zee Kannada operates in has been growing rapidly with new channel launches over the last two years. The Kannada GEC private broadcasters space comprises the Sun group’s Udaya TV, ETV’s Kannada offering, Zee Kannada, Asianet’s Suvarana and Kasturi. While the first three are pay channels, the other two are FTAs (free-to-air).

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Now at the number 3 slot , Zee Kannada is fighting for the second slot for an estimated Rs 2.7 billion Kannada television ad market pie. The subscription market is estimated at Rs 750 million.

“The Kannada ad market has grown by 30 per cent this year, from around Rs 2.1 billion in 2006-07 to about Rs 2.7 billion for 2007-08. The older players too have grown, but their growth is not proportionate to the market growth. We have been growing much faster,” adds Chandrasekhar.

Ad revenues have started building and Chandrasekhar is quite confident that the channel will turn the corner and start showing profitability by the end of year three if the current growth rate is maintained. Zee Kannada has started demanding and obtaining ad rates that are many multiples of its earlier rates, claims Chandrsekhar.

Zee Kannada has bagged ITC as the title sponsor for Li’l Champs while Tata Indicom is the title sponsor for its popular dance show Kuniyonu Baara (Come let’s dance). Another game show Bangara Baale (Gold Rush) has Kala Mandir Sarees as the title sponsor.

As a part of its second anniversary bouquet of offerings, it had a show shot in Dubai – Kannada Kaustuba (the essence/richness of Kannada) which was telecast on anniversary day (11 May). The show had performances by Kannada actors Darshan, Raghavendra Rajkumar, Diganth, Anu Prabhakar, Neetu and many others

“Shooting a show abroad on the scale that we have, and that too a star studded one, is a first for any Kannada channel. No other local channel has so far had the kind of settings and stage that we had for Kannada Kaustaba,” informs Chandrasekhar. The show had Jyothy Laboratories ‘Silk and Shine’ brand as the lead sponsor.

The channel has started to build on its weekend strengths and is trying to emulate that success during weekdays also, according to sources at Zee. It has increased the number of daily news slots from one to three. Its primetime starts at 7 pm with news being read by the national film award winner and Kannada female actor Tara. Tara won the best actress award for her lead role in the film Hasina.

The channel has not been as aggressive as others in purchasing of big movie rights and has had to temporarily shelve its Kannada film production plans. Last year it purchased rights for 27 films, one of them being a super hit – ‘Jogi’. Zee Kannada ratings started ascending around the time it telecast Jogi.

This year it has acquired rights to a successful movie Accident, among others. Ninety eight Kannada movies were released last year.

An analysis of Tam data shows that Udaya TV started the year with first 4 week GRP average of 723.5 (highest 745 in week 1 of 2008). Its average GRP was 638.6 over next 15 weeks (weeks 5-19), with a lowest figure to date this year of 566 for week 17.

Similarly, ETV Kannada with an average GRP of 343.75 during the first four weeks of 2008 (highest week 2 with 371), has seen a dip during the next 15 weeks to average a shade over 292 during the next 15 weeks (week 5-19). IPL (week 16) saw its GRP dipping to 247, the lowest to date this year.

In the case of Zee Kannada, the average GRP for the first four weeks stood at 104.5. The average for next 15 weeks stood at 184.6.

Kasturi, on the other hand, had an average GRP of 135.5 during the first four weeks of 2008 and an average of 121.26 over the next 15 weeks. Suvarana had an average GRP of 115.5 during the weeks 1 to 4 and an average of 95 over the next 15 weeks.

Whether Zee Kannada can maintain and grow its ratings remains to be seen.

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