DreamDTH Explains: A detailed look at South Indian channels (Part 1: Tamil and Telugu)

The immense size and scale of Tamil and Telugu broadcasters like Sun and ETV, in addition to local ones like Jaya, Raj and Kalaignar, makes these two the biggest regional languages in India by viewership.

Estimated reading time: 37 minutes, 10 seconds

Telugu channels

Telugu has far fewer independent broadcasters than Tamil: ETV, operated by media baron Ramoji Rao who also owns Ramoji Film City and the Eenadu newspaper, is the only large Telugu-specific broadcaster with as many as 10 Telugu channels, plus the ETV Bal Bharat group of children’s channels across 12 languages (including Telugu) as we will explain in further detail. However, the market is very much dominated by Star Maa — consistently one of the top 5 channels across the country — and Zee Telugu, which is also in the top 10, with ETV and the Sun network’s Gemini TV far behind. Almost all Telugu channels are headquartered in Hyderabad, the capital of Telangana and also (for the time being) of Andhra Pradesh; here, not only Telugu but also Hindi and Urdu are major languages. Some of these channels, like Zee Telugu, are also available in foreign countries like the US.

Besides, there are a handful of news channels like NTV Telugu, 6TV and CVR News that operate sister channels in other genres, especially Hindu devotional channels. Several news channels, including well-established names like Sakshi TV — owned by the YSR Congress political party’s family — plus HMTV and ABN Andhrajyothy, are owned by major newspapers. In addition, TV5 Telugu, one of the oldest Telugu news channels, has a counterpart in Kannada and also operates the Hindu Dharmam devotional channel. Meanwhile, TV9 originally started as a single Telugu channel but has now grown into a nationwide news network across several languages, on par with well-established names like ABP, NDTV and News18, especially after the launch of TV9 Bharatvarsh in 2019. (Note that Network18 is prohibited from operating in the Telugu market due to its acquisition of several channels from ETV in 2014–15.)

Note: Though the term ‘Tollywood’ is used to refer to both the Telugu and the Bengali film industries, throughout this article it will refer only to the Telugu film industry, based in Hyderabad.

Table of major Telugu broadcasters

SunGemini TV (HD)Gemini Movies (HD)Gemini Music (HD), Gemini LifeGemini ComedyKushi TV9
StarStar Maa (HD)Star Maa Movies (HD), Star Maa GoldStar Maa MusicStar Sports 1 Telugu (HD)8
Zee1Zee Telugu (HD)Zee Cinemalu (HD)Zee Telugu News15
ETVETV (HD)ETV Cinema (HD)ETV Plus2 (HD)ETV Bal Bharat TeluguETV Andhra Pradesh, ETV TelanganaETV AbhiruchiETV Life311
Raj4Vissa TVRaj Musix TeluguRaj News Telugu3
CVRCVR News, CVR EnglishCVR HealthCVR Spiritual OM4
TV5 (Shreya Broadcasting)TV5 TeluguHindu Dharmam2
NTVNTV TeluguVanitha TVBhakthi TV3

Independent Telugu channels and other channels from national broadcasters

  • GEC: Studio One Yuva (formerly Studio One Plus), Mahaa Max (launched in Oct. 2023)
    • Government: DD Yadagiri (Telangana), DD Saptagiri (Andhra Pradesh)
  • Music: Tollywood TV
  • News:
    • Major: TV9 Telugu, HMTV, Sakshi TV, ABN Andhrajyothy, V6 News, Mahaa News, I News
    • Minor: 6TV, 10TV, 99TV, Studio N News, Prime9 News, Swatantra TV and many others
      • Telangana-specific: T News, 6TV Telangana (plus ETV Telangana above); formerly TV1 Jai Telangana from TV9
  • Devotional:
    • Hinduism: Sri Venkateswara Bhakti Channel (SVBC), Gyana Yogi (plus Bhakthi TV, Hindu Dharmam, CVR Spiritual OM above)
    • Christianity: Subhavaartha TV (also runs Christian channels in other languages like Nambikkai TV in Tamil), Aradana TV, Swara Sagar, Calvary TV
  • Sports: Sony Sports Ten 4 (HD) — bilingual (also Tamil)
  • Lifestyle/Health: CVR Health and Vanitha TV as above; formerly ETV Life until October 2023
  • State educational (Telangana): T-SAT Vidya and Nipuna


1Including Zee Telugu News, which was initially launched only on digital platforms in January 2022 before launching a satellite version in 2023. Previously, Zee operated Zee 24 Gantalu, which was launched in 2009 and shut down in 2013.

2ETV Plus, unlike other ‘comedy channels’ in South India, does not air comedy clips from movies; instead it mostly airs comedy reality shows — especially Jabardasth — and several movies.

3ETV Life was originally a health channel, but on 20 October 2023 it was converted into a Hindu devotional channel, despite retaining the same name — which does not sound like a bhakti channel.

4The Raj Telugu channels (including Vissa TV) are no longer owned by the Tamil-language Raj network; they were sold to Chitneni Media in October 2022, and again to Sandhya Broadcasting in September 2023.

As is evident from above, outside the big four broadcasters — Sun, Star, Zee and ETV — there are very few Telugu GECs, unlike Tamil, which has over a dozen. These include Vissa TV from the Raj network; the independent Studio One Yuva, previously Studio One Plus; and more recently Mahaa Max, the first sister channel of Mahaa News, which was launched in October 2023. As such, most of the Telugu channels from small broadcasters tend to be either news channels or devotional channels — including Hindu channels like the Sri Venkateswara Bhakti Channel (SVBC), run by the Tirupati Tirumala Devasthanams (TTD) trust, as well as Christian channels like Subhavaartha TV which also has channels in other languages.

For Telugu channels we will touch upon two topics: the growth of ETV, the first and largest Telugu-centric broadcaster, on this page; and the rise of Star Maa and Zee Telugu in the ratings chart at the expense of ETV and Gemini TV on the next.

ETV: a Telugu broadcaster first and foremost, with varying presences in other languages

ETV, short for Eenadu TV, was launched on 27 August 1995 as the second private Telugu-language TV channel after the Sun network’s Gemini TV, which was launched on 9 February of that year. By the late 1990s and early 2000s it had expanded to a number of other Indian languages: the entertainment channels ETV Kannada, ETV Bangla, ETV Marathi, ETV Odia and ETV Gujarati, and the news channels ETV Rajasthan, ETV Madhya Pradesh, ETV Urdu, ETV Bihar and ETV Uttar Pradesh. However, ETV never entered some regional markets like Tamil, Malayalam and Punjabi. Before long ETV entered 24-hour news broadcasting to join TV9 (now TV9 Telugu) and the erstwhile Gemini News, and in fact the main ETV channel is one of very few private GECs in India today, along with Sun TV, to show news.

In 2003 it launched ETV 2, a 24-hour news channel, which was renamed to ETV Andhra Pradesh in 2014, when the state of Telangana (with Hyderabad — the largest Telugu-speaking city, and the home of ETV and the Tollywood movie industry — as its capital) was carved out of the original Andhra Pradesh. This was to coincide with the launch of another news channel, ETV Telangana, which was briefly called ETV 3 in the run-up to its launch. Oddly, both ETV news channels use the top left corner of the screen (also used by the Zee non-news channels and TV5 Telugu) instead of the typical top right. They remain among the largest Telugu news channels, alongside TV9 Telugu, TV5 Telugu, NTV Telugu and Sakshi TV.

The same year (2014), ETV decided to focus only on its home language and sold off its non-Telugu channels to Network18, which had been newly acquired by Mukesh Ambani’s Reliance Industries from journalist couple Raghav Bahl and Ritu Kapur, the original proprietors of the company since the early 1990s. Accordingly, the five entertainment channels (Kannada, Bengali, Marathi, Gujarati and Odia) adopted Viacom18’s Colors brand in 2015, after which Colors Super (a secondary Kannada channel) was launched in 2016, and Colors Tamil in 2018, followed by Colors Kannada/Gujarati/Bangla Cinema in 2018–19. Meanwhile the news channels in the above Hindi regional states — plus some new channels: ETV News Kannada, Bangla, Gujarati and Odia, which were always owned by Network18 and not ETV — adopted the News18 brand by 2018, joining the Marathi-language News18 Lokmat (formerly IBN Lokmat) as part of the large regional portfolio of the news broadcaster, in addition to the launch of News18 Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Assam/Northeast in 2018.

ETV Network Telugu Channels

All this while, ETV stayed within its own Telugu comfort zone, even as the rise of Zee Telugu and Star Maa — the Maa channels (also including Maa Movies, Maa Music and Maa Gold) were acquired by Star in 2015 — threatened to knock off ETV and Gemini TV from their perch. It did so by launching a large number of niche Telugu channels in various genres. In 2015 ETV launched ETV Plus (comedy), ETV Cinema, ETV Life (originally a health and lifestyle channel but now converted as a Hindu bhakti channel since October 2023) and ETV Abhiruchi (cooking), named after ETV’s long-running cookery show. In 2016 the main ETV channel launched an HD feed, and the four niche channels all launched HD feeds in December 2018, but they were never added by DTHs and the latter two were closed due to unpopularity in October 2020. Indeed, the main ETV HD channel remains the network’s only HD channel to be present on national DTH/cable platforms, and neither ETV Plus HD nor ETV Cinema HD is available.

It was only in 2021, however, that ETV returned to non-Telugu languages, but not in the same form as before: instead of entertainment and news channels that it had had, ETV decided to go all-in on the kids’ genre with the ETV Bal Bharat channels, numbering a total of 14 channels across 12 languages including not only the typical Hindi, English, Telugu and Tamil — common audio feeds for kids’, lifestyle and infotainment channels — but even small regional languages like Punjabi, Odia and Assamese with little to no presence in niche genres from national broadcasters.

However, just one of these 14 channels was added on TV platforms — the main ETV Bal Bharat SD channel — while neither the HD channel nor any of the language channels were added, and all those in non-South Indian languages were later shut down. Still, all 12 language feeds continue to be available on the main ETV Bal Bharat SD and HD channels, which is an impressive commitment in a genre which is not known for catering to smaller languages. These plus ETV’s Telugu niche and news channels impressively boost the portfolio of one of India’s oldest private broadcasters, which punches below its weight and keeps a low profile. ETV also runs an OTT platform, ETV Win, for its Telugu channels — like Sun NXT in Tamil and Manorama Max in Malayalam — and a nationwide news portal, ETV Bharat, also in multiple languages like the ETV Bal Bharat children’s channels.

Next we will see how, as with Tamil, the Telugu channels of Star and Zee have built up a significant viewership and reach, in fact at ETV and Sun’s expense, despite the vast number of Gemini and ETV channels.

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Avatar of Soham Bhadra
Soham Bhadra

Television Analyst

Soham is a Computer Science graduate from NTU, Singapore, actively interested in the Indian TV and entertainment industry. He publishes articles and shares his insights on the Indian TV industry and DTH operators. He has a passion for words and reflects that through his articles.

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Aside of some odd sentences, it's a very useful guide!

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