“CAN THE NEW VIDEO MAGAZINES SURVIVE IN THE CUTTHROAT MARKET?
A SPECIAL REPORT”
Charles Darwin may well have been talking about the future of the video magazines when he propounded the theory of survival of the fittest. Indeed, survival of the fittest will be the name of the game in the video magazine market, which has been flooded with a plethora of visual products, each hoping to have its share of the electronics entertainment cake.
The last six months alone have seen more than three video magazines hit the stands. Hindustan Time’s Eyewitness, Observer Group’s Observer News channel (ONC). And Independent Television’s India view. With competition becoming intense, different video magazines are bound to cut into each other’s market. Thus the logical question is: Can different video magazines coexist? Surprisingly, the magazine kingpins are actually welcoming their rivals! “Competition is not bad. It depends the market,” says Karan Thapar of Eyewitness. Observes Vinod Dua of the ONC, “We are not afraid of competition.” Agrees ITV’s editor-in-chief, Vivek Sengupta, “The video magazine market is expanding. It is up to us to make our product survive in the market.”
Despite the bonhomie and ‘We-can-all coexist attitude, competition is hotTing up as never before. Currently the battle lines are drawn between Newstrack and Eyewitness, and the two fortnightlies in Hindi: ONC vs. India view. It is just a matter of time before competition goes beyond the intense to the cutthroat.
Already, ITV claims to have surpassed Newstrack’s circulation which hitherto was the numero uno in the market. Claims Vivek Sengupta, “We have a circulation of 20,000 which is largely due to our innovative marketing scheme (see box). Whereas Newstrack sub-scribers have to pay Rs.150 per cassette, our cassette can be viewed for Rs.15 only.” Adds Deepak Sahai, deputy-general manager (response) ITV challengingly “Anybody is welcome to see our subscribers” list and have a random check to verify our claims.”
“They can claim anything they like. Anyway, congratulations to ITV for surpassing our circulation,” retorts Madhu Trehan of Newstrack, dismissing ITV’s claim with a wave of her hand. She adds, “Eyewitness could be our potential rival, though I think it is too early to talk about rivals. Eyewitness is barely two issues old. So let’s wait and watch.” Indeed wait-and-watch seems to be the key sentence as battle lines are being drawn as each video magazine gets combat-ready to enter the war of video magazines.
Each on claims that their product is unique. Uniqueness apart, the fact remains that most of them are competing against each other. Not only have they a common target audience, but also similar products with a similar package of programmes to offer. Indeed, at times, programmes in different video magazines tend to overlap, and are hardly distinguishable from one another. Assuming a certain minimum editorial standard and varying perspectives and presentation styles, it is thus essentially a marketing battle.
In a country like India, where even upper middle-class people tend to have a limited budget for video cassettes, it is difficult for video magazines to survive. What, then, makes video magazine heads so confident that people will buy their product and not that of others? Opines Karan Thapar, “Eyewitness is different in style, in presentation as well as its concept and therefore it will survive.” Vinod Dua defends ONC, “We have a clearly defined segment of viewers for whom we produce a variety of programmes. I am sure we will go places.”
Competition apart, the solvency of any video magazine will depend upon a host of factors such as the length of time a particular magazine has existed, the way it is judiciously distributed, the overhead coasts, the number of advertisers it can attract, etc. It is obvious that massive infrastructural facilities coupled with adequate hardware technology is needed to bring out a video magazine.
Even a cursory glance at the back-ground of the people who are backing the video magazines, drives home the fact that only well-established media houses and industrialists can afford to back such ventures, which are cost-intensive. It is also well known that most of the video magazines, in their inception period, are breaking
Even in terms of cost-benefit ratio. Most of them have envisaged a minimum gestation period of one to two years before they start breaking even. Explains Karan Thapar, “It will take some time before we break even. I hope that by early 1992, we will reach the break-even figure in terms of cost-benefit ratio.” Adds SP Singh, deputy circulation manager, “Look, the only two avenues of earning revenue is advertisements and increasing circulation. We hope to consolidate both over a period of time and that is when we will break even.”
With limited circulation and increasing competition, breaking even before one year of operation is like asking for the moon. Even Newstrack, which has been the pioneer in the video news magazine market, took a long time to break even. This was in spite of the fact that Newstrack was backed by the powerful India Today group. So why do video magazines take such a long gestation period? Explains Madhu Trehan, “Some print magazines take more than three years to break even too.” Adds Vinod Dua, “I hope that we will be breaking even by early 1992.” Surprisingly ITV, the oldest video company in the market, which launched Indiaview in February 1991, claims to have started breaking even right from their very first issue. ITV claims that it managed to do so by cutting the overhead costs and producing its cassette at a very low cost with its available infrastructure. This exception however may only prove the rule. Some may also say that Indiview fails to measure up in quality.
With so many problems to face, why did companies venture into the video magazine market in the first place? The initial foray into the video magazine market by Newstrack was meant to fill a vacant slot, which existed mainly due to Doordarshan’s inability to provide credible and innovative programmes. For almost two years, Newstrack operated in isolation with little competition. With the Mandal issue in October 1990, the Newstrack hit an all-time high, there by making
more people aware of video magazines and their value as a more credible alternative to Doordarshan.
As a result, today the market has been deluged with video magazines however, the primary lesson their producers have learnt is not to take the viewers for granted. People have ready found alternative sources of entertainment like cable TV, foreign satellite TV, etc.
Does that tantamount to a real threat to the existing video magazines? “Not at all. On the contrary Indiaview is actually shown by cable TV operators,” argues Vivek Sengupta. Adds Madhu Trehan, “No, we do not see cable TV operators as a threat.”
Even the spread of satellite dish antennas and the entry of CNN have failed to dampen the enthusiasm of video magazine makers. Argues Karan Thaper, “CNN, or for that matter, satellite TV will hardly make a difference. They do not provide programmes meant for an Indian audience.”
Realising the potential Eldorado in the video magazine market, many unreliable operators have entered the scene to make videotapes while the sat-dish shines. Some of the filmi video magazines like Chalte Chalte, Bush Film Trax, etc, have already folded up, while the rest of them are classic examples of here-you-see-them, there-you-don’t.
As for as the future is concerned, all the video magazines have built rosy plans for themselves. Most of the new arrivals are busy consolidating their market.
Says Karan Thapar, “We intend to consolidate Eyewitness. We also intend to make programmes for Doordarshan and some foreign broadcasting stations.” ITV as well as the ONC, too, has similar plans.
Madhu Trehan does not rule out diversification of Newstrack into other languages in the near future.
Therefore, with the ambitious plans, the bugle for a final fight to the finish battle in the video magazine market has already been sounded.
ON ONE TRACK
In today’s competitive world, specialization ensures a bright future, be it in the field of studies or in the field of newspapers or for that matter specialized video magazines. Specialized video magazines are exclusively devoted to one subject and its related developments. Little wonder then that are more than three specialized video magazines in the market, which are giving more established video newsmagazines a run for their money.
Heading this list is Business plus which was launched by the Bombay-based Paradigm Media in April 1990. Its initial production order was 1,500 cassettes and since then it has worked its way up to a current sale claim of 7,500 cassettes, of which 4,648 are subscriptions. As the name suggests, Bussiness Plus is exclusively devoted to business and related developments. With an advertising rate of Rs.40, 000 per minute, Business Plus target audience is mainly corporate businesspersons. Paradigm Media have also launched People Plus which has Jayant Kriplani and Kaushalya Gidwani as presenters. People Plus primarily aims to capitalize on human interest stories for a wide spectrum of viewers.
Meanwhile, Business Plus can look forward to competition from Times TV which intends to launch its own business magazine on video. It will be a monthly magazine in English and will be anchored by TN Ninan, editor, Economic Times. Suman Dubey, who heads Times TV, will be a feather in the cap of Times, will be a feather in the cap of Times TV. Business India also hopes to come out with a business video magazine soon.
Yet another specialized cassette in the market is Sports Channel. Sports fans have especially welcomed Sports Channel as it caters exclusively to the needs and requirements of sports enthusiasts. Owned by Dev Features, it is English monthly. It has claimed a circulation of 8,000 of which 400 are subscriptions. Says Lokesh Sharma, “The first issue of the cassette sold 3,000 copies and demand was so much that another 1,200 copies were hastily reprinted. Lehar Pepsi also brought another 1,500 cassettes as part of their innovative marketing scheme.”
What made Dev Features launch a specialized cassette? Explains Sharma, ” The video magazine market in India has expanded enough to accept the concept of a specialized sports video. Our research indicated that a special slot existed for a sports magazine and that is why we are in this market. “Sports Channel hopes to break even by early 1992.
A major contribution to Sports Channel has been made by Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi who not only acts as an anchorperson, but is also involved in the entire process of making the video magazine, from choosing the stories and themes to selecting footage that has to be used. Sports Channel charges Rs 10,000 per second for advertisements.
Thus, the ball has been set rolling in the field of specialized cassettes. Adds Lokesh Sharma confidently, “Specialised cassettes are here to stay.”
THE MARKETING STRATEGIES
Newstrack, Eyewitness, ONC People Plus. The list is long and is bound to get longer as the nascent video magazine concept begins to expand rapidly. Besides a host of other factors, marketing can make or break the future of video magazines. In addition, with people becoming choosy, marketing of different video magazines is becoming more and more innovative and a specialized exercise in hard sell.
Take for example ITV’s Indiaview. ITV can rightly justify its claim of having a unique marketing strategy. For a mere Rs15 an issue Rs18 for a longer period ITV promises to hand-deliver the Indiaview cassette to any viewer’s doorstep on the day of its release. The cassette can be kept for two days, after which it will be picked up from the viewer’s home. This home delivery and pick up is free.
Explains Deepak Sahai, deputy-general manager (response) ITV, “If one wants to watch Newstrack, one has to subscribe and get a copy for RS150 or so per piece. If a person wants to rent it, it is rarely available on the date of release. Our scheme is unique and we are using the video libraries as our sub-distributors.” Indeed, ITV’s scheme aims at people who have limited income. Moreover as per the ITV scheme, it is possible for the video libraries to keep or hire out the rented cassettes. ITV also offers three kind of membership via Class, Gold Card and Premium.
Newstrack offers a small discount to subscribers who pay the total amount for more than twelve issues of Newstrack. In addition, a free diary is offered for those who subscribe for longer period. Newstrack is marketed by Living Media India Limited. Over a period of two years, it has built up a substantial subscriber base.
On the other hand, as a part of its marketing strategy, Sports Channel intends to use its best and biggest asset Kapil Dev to promote Sports Channel. Says Lokesh Sharma, “We will be using Kapil Dev to market our product. Why shouldn’t we, since he is so well known?” Also, Sports Channel is introducing a scheme where by anybody who rents Sports Channel will get a poster of a favourite sportstar every month. Anybody who has, after a year, collected twelve such posters, will get a miniature cricket bat-autographed by cricketing hero Kapil Dev himself!
Similarly, Eyewitness will be giving away free T-Shirts to those who correctly answer the quiz, which is featured in their cassette. Says SP Singh, deputy circulation manager, HTV, “Eyewitness marketing will be handled by Hindustan Times Limited. Though we have got a couple of schemes for increasing our market share, our main emphasis will be on direct marketing with a major thrust on subscriptions”.
Meanwhile, ONC is the only one so far to have refrained from any sales gimmicks. Explains Prem Ramchandani, general manager, marketing, ONC, “We are a bilingual fortnightly, and moreover, in Vinod Dua, we have a well-known personality who heads our video magazine. So we have refrained from promotional gimmicks.”
Controversy however, surrounds ONC’s decision to change its distributor’s mid-way. Currently, T-series distributes ONC, while previously it was Magnum. Was this change necessary because the video magazine was not selling?
“Not at all,” denies Ramchandani quickly. “We had our own arrangements with Magnum which failed to click after some time, because of purely business considerations. In fact, switching distributors has helped us save time, which we otherwise lost when we had to send our master tapes to Bombay”. (Magnum is a Bombay-based company.)
Indeed, marketing manoeuvres get more and more unique. Paradigm Media, which produces Business Plus, has taken the first step towards enlarging its market by introducing People plus to face the onslaught of competition. People Plus is a people and personality-oriented variation.
In the long run, it will be effective marketing, coupled with advertising revenue as well as subscriptions, which will be calling the shots in determining the market share of any video magazine.
NEWSTRACK: Launched in September 1988, it is owned by Living Media India Limited (publishers of India Today).
Madhu Trehan who also doubles as the anchor along with Manoj Raghuvansi heads Newstrack. Newstrack claims to follow an independent and neutral editorial policy similar to that of India Today.Madhu Trehan is the sister of Aroon Purie, owner and the editor-in-chief of India Today.
INDEPENDENT TELEVISION (ITV) : It was formed in July 1984, to provide software support to Doordarshan’s video production hardware. Set up by Ashok Raina, for the Sanjay Dalmia group, it is headed by Siddhartha Ray.It has produced popular programmes like Quiz Time and Pradhakshina. In February 1991, it launched its own video magazine called Indiaview.
Vivek Sengupta is the editor in chief of Indiaview, which is a bilingual fortnightly, with editions in English and Hindi.
OBSERVER NEWS CHANNEL (ONC): It is also a bilingual (English and Hindi) fortnightly and is headed by slick and -smooth-talking Vinod Dua who is better known for Janvani and his election specials on Doordarshan along with Prannoy Roy. Vinod Dua anchors both the English and Hindi versions of the ONC. Partnering him in the English version is Arshiya Shethi. ONC is backed by noted industrialist Dhirubhai Ambani.
EYEWITNESS: launched in March 1991, it is owned by HTV, which belongs to the Hindustan Times. It is an English monthly. Smooth-and-wily Karan Thapar of the Khula Manch fame anchors it. Sharmila Tagore lends her presence as an anchor along with Thapar. Shobhana Bhartia (KK Birla’s daughter) is the owner of HTV.
SPORTS CHANNEL: It belongs to Dev features and is owned by Kapil Dev, his wife Romi and Lokesh Sharma, who is a former journalist. Sports Channel is English monthly and as the name suggests, it is exclusively devoted to the world of sports. Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi is the anchorman while noted filmmaker Romesh Sharma handles the technical aspects of the magazines.
TIMES TELEVISION: The Time of India group owns Times TV. Suman Dubey, ex-editor of India Today and ex-editor-in-chief of Indian Express head it. Times TV intends to launch a specialized business video magazine soon.It will be hosted by TN Ninan, Editor Economic Times.
Ketan Tanna/ New Delhi.