UTV switches on to youth market on back of cable boom

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Eyeing an expected upsurge in pay television subscription fee collections, UTV Software Communications and Astro Measat of Malaysia are preparing to launch four channels targeting India’s booming youth market.

The offerings, which UTV is planning to include in a menu of nine new pay television channels, will include general entertainment and film channels to be launched by early October, a world cinema channel to be launched by year end and a possible regional language channel. The Mumbai-based company, which last month raised $70m by listing its film-finance arm on London’s Alternative Investment Market, is investing $150m in new programming over the next two years.

The launch signals a full-scale return to television by UTV Software, which last year sold its Hungama children’s channel and 14.9 per cent of its own equity to Walt Disney.

Zarina Mehta, appointed chief executive officer of the new youth channels, said UTV was reviving its television broadcasting ambitions because of the rapid growth of India’s cable market. “We’ve gone as usual from zero to hero,” Ms Mehta said of the market. “In the past four years, there’s been a 50 per cent increase in the number of cable and satellite [-connected] homes.”

About 112m Indian households, or 59 per cent of the country’s total, own televisions and 61 per cent of them, about 70m, are hooked up to cable television.

The market remains largely informal, making it one of the world’s most under-penetrated on a per capita basis in terms of advertising and pay television subscription revenues. Because local cable operators under-report subscribers to broadcasters to avoid passing along subscription fees, broadcasters are overly dependent on advertising revenue for their income.

The government is trying to introduce a nationwide set-top digital cable box system that would allow individuals to choose which channels to subscribe to and improve broadcasters’ ability to claim their share of fees, potentially doubling their subscription revenues.

This is fuelling growth in new content, with the government considering applications for 130 new channels on top of an existing 200.

Many of the new channels would offer news or general entertainment. But UTV says it wants to avoid conventional general entertainment – a mix of soap operas and reality television programmes – because market research showed this format was declining in popularity.

UTV is instead pitching at 15 to 34-year-olds to capitalise on the growing youth demographic. The channels will be launched under the brand “Bindass”, which in Hindi means “chilled”, “sexy” or “fearless”, Ms Mehta said. “This audience is 42 per cent of the television viewing population.”

UTV and Astro Measat together plan to launch channels under the Bindass brand across south-east Asia, building on an earlier agreement to set up kids channels in Indonesia and Malaysia where they say Astro already controls four of the top five kids shows.

Ms Mehta said Bindass’ programming would target the “sweet spot” age of 17 to 21, an age that younger children look forward to and working-age adults look back on with fondness as they resist growing up.

The channels will broadcast mostly in Hindi and will feature comedy, action, thriller, horror, extreme sports and other genres drawn from around the world, dubbed if necessary.

Bindass will have plenty of competition. But Ms Mehta argued the market has so much potential there is room for a variety of offerings.

“We don’t care if there are 100 channels. If we find a gap, we’ll fill it,” she said.

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