Quiet, but strong flows Big Ganga

A non-fiction channel catering to Bihar, Jharkhand and East UP taps into devotional content and Buddhism to command 58 per cent of the viewership.
PRADYUMAN MAHESHWARI interviews TARUN KATIAL

 

Reprinted from MxM India

 

Reliance Broadcast Networks’ regional channel Big Ganga, which was launched in 2014 to cater to the Bihar, Jharkhand and Eastern UP markets, has become a leader of the pack in this region after BARC data found that it commands 58 per cent of the viewership here. CEO Tarun Katial speaks with Pradyuman Maheshwari about what has worked for the channel, the focus on non-fiction and devotional content and ensuring parochial pride.

 

It’s interesting that we’re doing an interview about Big Ganga because until now while we’ve discussed the channel, it’s almost always been either Big FM or Big Magic.

Quietly but surely, we’ve created a brand that resonates so well with one of the biggest regions of this country. That makes it worthy of some adulation, or at least some highlighting.

 

Having worked on GECs over the years, what are the specific characteristics of a Hindi GEC versus a Bhojpuri GEC?

One of the things you have to be careful about is to not show a state and its people in poor light. They are very proud of who they are. Regardless of how the state is represented by the national media or viewed by people on the outside – in terms of crime, poverty or underdevelopment – the people of the region are very proud of what they are. And you’ve seen the transformation that’s taken place in the last 10 or 15 years, right? So we were very careful to not look down upon the region in any way, but project it in a positive manner. Parochial pride is one of the things we [promoted] with our initial tagline ‘Apna Pradesh Apna Magic’, which actually helped us a lot. It was like saying that we have magic in our region. Since then, we’ve stuck to the philosophy of giving people a platform, and showcasing the best of the culture and the best of the talent, and giving people respect, through all the formats that we’ve built around the channel. We’ve put in all sorts of filters to ensure this.

 

"One of the things you have to be careful about is to not show a state and its people in poor light."

 

You’ve obviously gone beyond Shatrughan Sinha and Ravi Kishan…

Yes, much beyond them because we believe that there is so much more to this region than just a couple of icons. Like, the latest show that we’re doing, called Birhadangal, takes all the Birha stars from the region — from eastern UP to Bihar and Jharkhand — and gives them pride of place. I was amazed with the kind of response it got in terms of timespend.

 

How is a channel like this different from a large-format Hindi GEC?

The one thing that we did not do was venture into fiction, because fiction then causes friction, right? And we didn’t want to go down the path of social issues; we wanted to showcase the positive and the uplifting in the Bhojpuri region rather than the social challenges and issues that exist. People are living those challenges every day, so if you fictionalise and exaggerate them, that doesn’t really help, does it? So the channel is primarily based on non- fiction content, and that is the difference.

 

Doesn’t that affect the economics of it, because fiction is slightly cheaper?

Yes, but you have to find a way of balancing out the economics, and this has worked very well for us. The other different thing we did was make the Morning Time band bigger than Primetime.

 

Obviously the Prime Time in those regions is different from what we have here in Mumbai…

Correct. While primetime in middle India is from 6 to 8 pm and in Indian metros it’s 8 to 10 pm, here it is at 7 to 10 in the morning. Our largest volume comes from viewership between 7 and 10 am. That was something completely different, so we’ve invested in regional content from 7 to 10 in the morning, every single day and through the year, for this reason.

 

"The other different thing we did was make the Morning Time band bigger than Primetime."

 

So that means your competition in that region is not another GEC but a news channel like Aaj Tak …

No, [some of the viewership] in the morning actually goes to devotional [channels] — devotional fiction, devotional non-fiction and devotional music. We realised that faith is a very big pillar of society in this part of the country, and people live by it. Yet, there wasn’t really a platform for people to evoke their faith beyond what they do themselves. So we invested in a lot of original content around music, around singers, around events, around the Panchang, which, in this region, is between 7 and 10 am. It’s a significant investment we made, which has shown significant results.

 

There’s a significant population of Muslims in this region but your devotional content is all geared towards Hindus. Does this alienate a section of your viewership?

So during big Muslim festivals, we do go down the route of celebrating it in any form or fashion. Unfortunately devotional music, as we know it, is more popular, and prevalent in Hinduism. Apart from this, we’re doing a show on Buddhism, so we acquired ‘Buddha’ from Zee and dubbed it into Bhojpuri, and it’s done exceedingly well for us in this region. After all, this is seat of Buddhism in the country, with Bodhgaya being a part of this region. So we realised that Buddhism is another thing to tap into. For us, the [religious] colour of region doesn’t matter; it’s about celebration and whatever gets people to celebrate together — and faith is one kind of outlet for that.

 

How about the synergies, when you launched there were, you know, since you had a existing Big FM presence there, how about the synergies worked for…

Big FM and?

 

Big FM and Big Ganga and how possibly you could…

So like Birhadangal is simulcast on Big FM and Big Ganga. It’s unique for a TV show to be actually simulcast on radio. So all the content through the year, is uniquely simulcast between Big FM and Big Ganga. And a lot of the outsourcing on the ground for local talent for some of these shows, is done through Big FM. Listeners get an opportunity to come on television, and finally the show ends up on Big Ganga, which is again simul-cast on Big FM. So it’s a fairly 360 degree reach.

 

Do you also integrate with a lot of ground-level events?

We integrate as well as do a lot of ground level events of our own in Patna, Ranchi and Varanasi. These are the three big hubs that we’ve created for ourselves.

 

And you know, you’re not the first player in this region…

It’s really crowded, but we have over 15 per cent of the market share, which is good for us.

 

You had a successful run with a channel like Mahua, before it went under. And for a while Bhojpuri cinema was also doing well. Is there a secret sauce that you use to make sure you’re more successful than [others]?

The secret sauce is consumer insight and local connect. We don’t rely on movies as the staple to reach out to audiences. Movies don’t contribute more than 20 per cent of our entire GRP across the channel, whereas in some of these Bhojpuri channels? it’s 100 per cent, which leads to a lack of differentiation between you and the next guy on the block. So our content is all original IP that is locally produced, locally shot, provides local people opportunities and is built on local insights. We don’t want to go down as a generic content channel either of music or movies.

 

"So our content is all original IP that is locally produced, locally shot, provides local people opportunities and is built on local insights."

 

Non-fiction and a fair bit of devotional…

Yes, we’re looking at a fair amount of mythology with [shows] like Ganga Shaurya, which actually showcases the life of achievers from this region, which does extremely well. Then there are comedy shows like Comedy Tanatan and Litti Chokha, which are all locally shot in the cities of this region. There’s a lot of work you have to do at the ground level, to be able to get this right. It’s not something which is so easy to put together, sitting in Bombay. That’s why we have a fairly big team in the region…

 

My last set of questions…. First, what happens with Big Ganga post the Zee acquisition? I know the final touches are still being put on that…

Nothing, really. It will be business as usual; we continue to retain the brand Big Ganga, and it continues to operate the way it does. [The channel] benefits from Zee’s ad sales momentum, which are done by Zee Unimedia, and it benefits from Zee’s distribution momentum. It also benefits from cross promotion across platforms, so those are things that will help the economics of the game even more.

 

In the case of Big FM, you’ve hired some new people for marketing and such. Will they now be merged with Zee?

No. Big FM continues as is.

 

And for Ganga?

As for Ganga, this is a very unique part of the business, where the marketing and all that is done out of Patna. It’s notdone out of Mumbai. The region demands its own marketing people and that will continue to be the case.

 

Zee also has a news presence in this region…

Yes, and we try to coordinate things as much as we can together.

 

Pradyuman Maheshwari is editor-in-chief and CEO of MxM India.

 

 

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