Chennai: Raj Television Network, the nine-year-old Tamil satellite channel company, is all set to take on its competing giant, Sun Network.
Come 23 May 2003, and the company will be launching a Telugu channel called Visa TV to compete with Gemini TV and Teja TV, both from the Sun Network stable. The Rs 10-crore Visa TV will be owned by an independent company, Visa Television Network.
In addition, Raj Television will also launch two news channels - a 24-hours news channel (similar to Sun News) and a round-the-clock multi-language music channel. ''All the three new channels will be free while our two existing channels [Raj TV and Raj Digital Plus] will go pay,'' says Raj Television CEO Rajeev Nambiar.
The company is the first private channel in the South to have its own outdoor broadcast (OB) van at an outgo of Rs 5 crore. Conceptualised by automobile designer Dilip Chabria, the OB van has 12 camera units, a 40-foot-high remote-controlled hydraulic camera, on-board editing and mobile uplink facilities.
If you translate into money, Raj Television's new plans will involve a capex of Rs 42 crore to be funded mainly out of internal accruals and some borrowings from State Bank of India, says Raj Television managing director M Raajhendhran.
Considering Raj Television's revenue is Rs 40 crore, the almost equivalent investment announced by the company is a giant step forward. And Nambiar pins his hopes on increased advertisement and subscription revenue as two channels (Raj TV and Raj Digital Plus) are going pay for Rs 12.
Nambiar says the total declarations by the cable operators and multi-system operators (MSO) in Tamil Nadu are around 3.5 million and in Chennai it would be around 1.5 million. ''It is good for us even if we get one-third of the above numbers,'' says Nambiar. The company is also talking to distributors in other countries.
Enlisting subscription in the conditional access system (CAS) regime in its home state is going to be a tough task for Raj Television as both the channels score badly behind others in terms of quality of transmission and programmes. ''We will be addressing the transmission issue soon,'' says Nambiar. ''It is only in Tamil Nadu that the transmission quality is bad; in other markets the picture clarity is quite good.''
On the programming side Raj TV has become proactive in the recent times, airing latest movies every Friday and beefing up its library. The company's movie library consists of 2,200 films of varied vintage with 99-year rights.
Nambiar claims around Rs 32 crore has been allocated for the next couple of years to acquire new movies, reality shows and working women-related programmes. ''A good number of Tamil movies released during 1994-97 will come to us in 2005. This includes Rajnikanth movies like Annamalai and Mannan.'' The company outsources soaps while it produces news and talk shows.
The Rs 300-crore (advertisement) Tamil channel market is a tough market to crack with Sun Network (Sun TV, KTV, Sun News and Sun Cable Vision) and Doordarshan garnering nearly Rs 200 crore. The fight for the balance is severe among the remaining five channels - two Raj channels, Jaya TV, Star Vijay and Tamizhan TV.
Bharthi TV belonging to Zee group plugged the channel off some months ago as it couldn't rake up enough revenues to sustain operations. The channel hoped to become the No 2 channel in Tamil next to Sun TV.
However for Raj Television, the spat between Star and Sun Cable Vision (the multi-system operator in Chennai and Coimbatore) has come at the right time. The fight has resulted in Star Vijay twinkling only in few cities in Tamil Nadu, leaving the market open for others to capitalise.
Similarly the Rs 180-crore Telugu channel market is witnessing competition among five players - ETV, Teja, Gemini, MAA and Doordharshan - and Visa TV will be the sixth one to enter the fray.
''In Telugu there is no monopoly and anybody with good programmes can make a dent,'' says Nambiar. But compared to Sun Network, which unlocks additional value from its Tamil serials by dubbing it in Telugu and Kannada, Visa Television will be investing in content upfront. Some soaps shown on Raj TV will be dubbed into Telugu. With Gemini and ETV fiercely fighting it out, Visa's visa to profitability will be interesting to watch.
And on the news channel front, Raj Television with its news slots in Raj TV has earned a name for itself with its objectivity. And this will be leveraged in promoting the channel. The news channel will have news hubs in major cities. The first private Tamil channel to air 15-minute news bulletin, Raj TV will again be the first one to have a Hindi news bulletin.
Agreeing that the company has slipped in its revenue target last year -''that was due to various reasons like Cricket World Cup'' - Nambiar is hopeful of clocking a turnover of Rs 120 crore this fiscal.