In the latest of an exciting series of developments in the Marathi TV industry over the past few months, the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (MIB) has granted Star TV Network a licence for a Marathi movie channel, Pravah Picture, and its HD version, Pravah Picture HD. This is the latest of a slew of new licences procured by India’s largest broadcaster, including HD versions of its existing regional movie channels Asianet Movies and Vijay Super, and a new Odia channel called Star Kirano. With this launch, Disney-Star will finally gain a foothold in the burgeoning Marathi movie channel market, which has hitherto been dominated by Zee Talkies, a channel that has faced little to no competition (aside from Shemaroo MarathiBana recently). This comes as Star Pravah, Disney-Star’s sole Marathi channel, continues to rule the TRP chart.
At the same time, the MIB has cancelled the licence of Sony Marathi HD, the long-planned HD version of Sony Pictures Networks (SPN)’s Marathi GEC Sony Marathi, as SPN believes that an HD feed is no longer necessary for the channel. This is bad news for viewers who were hoping to see an HD version of Sony Marathi, which has rapidly made inroads into the Marathi TV market in the three short years of its existence, and has been gaining popularity for its innovative serials and its reality shows. However, the unfortunate truth is that SPN has a long history of downing the shutters on niche TV channels. Even so, Sony Marathi’s excellent picture quality and 16:9 aspect ratio means that most viewers will hardly miss an HD feed.
All this comes as free-to-air GEC Sun Marathi prepares to be launched this coming Sunday, on the 17th of October, after airing test promos for the past couple of months. As with the launch of Sun Bangla in February 2019, Sun TV Network has left no stone unturned in ensuring that its new channel is noticed by as many people as possible. Moreover, Sun Bangla has had its HD feed being planned for a long time, and Sun Marathi should be no different a couple of years down the road. Sony Marathi may have missed out on a chance to launch an HD feed as other competitors become more aggressive. But Marathi viewers on the whole have been spoilt for choice in recent months, with the launch of Shemaroo MarathiBana, the music channel Zee Vajwa (which celebrates its first anniversary on the day Sun Marathi is launched) and also Zee Chitramandir. The launch of Sun Marathi — and, soon, Pravah Picture — adds to an increasingly congested market.
Below is the record of the recent changes in MIB’s list of permitted Indian satellite TV channels.
Licences obtained for Pravah Picture and Pravah Picture HD:
|Channel||Company Name||Category||Uplinking Only/ Downlinking Only/ Uplinking & Downlinking||Language||Date of Permission|
|Pravah Picture||STAR INDIA PRIVATE LIMITED||NON-NEWS||UPLINKING & DOWNLINKING||Marathi, Hindi, English, Bengali, Assamese, Bodo, Dogri, Gujarati, Kannada, Kashmiri, Konkani, Maithili, Malayalam, Manipuri, Nepali, Odia, Punjabi, Sanskrit, Santhali, Sindhi, Tamil, Telugu and Urdu and any other language as may be permitted under the constitution of India.||2021-10-12T00:00:00.000Z|
|Pravah Picture HD||STAR INDIA PRIVATE LIMITED||NON-NEWS||UPLINKING & DOWNLINKING||Marathi, Hindi, English, Bengali, Assamese, Bodo, Dogri, Gujarati, Kannada, Kashmiri, Konkani, Maithili, Malayalam, Manipuri, Nepali, Odia, Punjabi, Sanskrit, Santhali, Sindhi, Tamil, Telugu and Urdu and any other language as may be permitted under the constitution of India.||2021-10-12T00:00:00.000Z|
Licence cancelled for Sony Marathi HD:
|Channel||Company Name||Category||Uplinking Only/ Downlinking Only/ Uplinking & Downlinking||Date of Permission||Date of Cancellation||Reason|
|SONY MARATHI HD (Earlier known as TEN GOLF HD, Before that TEN GOLF)||Sony Pictures Networks India Private Limited||NON-NEWS||DOWNLINKING ONLY||04/10/2011||14/10/2021||Not required|
Pravah Picture will help to break the near-monopoly of Zee Talkies
For the longest time, Zee has had the lion’s share of Marathi movies, which are shown across Zee Marathi and Zee Talkies. Unlike the other large regional markets, Zee has so far enjoyed a near-monopoly in the Marathi movie sector, as Zee Talkies has faced little to no competition. For a brief time, free-to-air channels such as Fakt Marathi and Maiboli dabbled with showing some lower-budget Marathi movies, but they retrained their focus on the GEC and music genres, respectively. Only in January 2020 was Shemaroo MarathiBana launched, and it quickly built up a large rural viewership through its presence on DD Free Dish as well as pay platforms. In reply, Zee launched Zee Chitramandir in April 2021, further stamping its authority on the Marathi movie genre. The difference is that Zee Chitramandir was launched exclusively for DD Free Dish, so as not to cannibalise the viewership of Zee Talkies, which remains a pay channel and also has an HD feed.
Neither Star nor Viacom18 nor any other broadcaster has seriously considered launching a Marathi movie channel so far. There were some rumours that Viacom18 might launch Colors Marathi Cinema, but those are yet to materialise. In the meantime, in the absence of dedicated movie channels, Marathi GECs such as Star Pravah, Colors Marathi and Sony Marathi have been forced to take time out of their serial-driven schedule to show occasional movies. When Star Pravah launched its HD version in May 2016, it aired the world TV premiere of Daagdi Chaawl, and continued to show movies on Sundays. But since it became the numero uno Marathi TV channel thanks to its serials, it has largely stopped showing movies. The same can be said for its Bengali counterpart Star Jalsha, which premiered quite a number of movies shortly after its rebrand in February 2019, but nowadays its superhit serials and reality shows have left little to no time for movie premieres.
In fact, Marathi has been Star’s only regional market without a dedicated movie channel, or indeed any channel aside from the flagship Star Pravah. The bare minimum is usually to have one GEC and one movie channel, such as in Bengali (Star Jalsha and Jalsha Movies) and Kannada (Star Suvarna and Star Suvarna Plus). Jalsha Movies (Bengali) and Asianet Movies (Malayalam) were launched way back in 2012, while Star Suvarna Plus (Kannada), Vijay Super (Tamil) and Star Maa Gold (Telugu) started out as secondary GECs but were later converted into movie channels — though Star Maa Gold plays second fiddle to Star Maa Movies. Some markets also have music channels, namely Star Maa Music (Telugu) and more recently Vijay Music (Tamil), which recently celebrated its first anniversary. But in Marathi, Disney-Star has had only Star Pravah, nothing else. (This does not include Star Sports 1 Marathi, which has failed to be distributed on any TV platforms since its launch in 2019.) The launch of Pravah Picture will finally restore some parity, and bring much-needed competition to Zee Talkies, while ensuring that a wide range of movies in Star Pravah’s collection are aired more frequently without having to disturb the main channel. As a bonus, Pravah Picture will be available in HD from day one, which means an even greater variety of films across the SD and HD feeds — something that Jalsha Movies HD has been doing for over five years now.
Disney-Star may well have been acquiring a number of new TV licences, but none of these new channels were any closer to launching, until it published its new RIO document on Friday (15 October). With the exception of Vijay Music, which was launched last October, there was no news whatsoever of any of the planned TV channels launching until now. Most of these channels will be launched on 1 December, but the new regional movie channels Asianet Movies HD (Malayalam), Vijay Super HD (Tamil), Pravah Picture and Pravah Picture HD will be launched on 25 December, while the new Odia GEC Star Kirano will be launched on 24 January 2022. These launches — in particular Pravah Picture and Star Kirano, which represents its first foray outside the big six regional languages — are bound to drastically change the Indian TV market across multiple genres.
As much as Disney-Star has been on a spree of acquiring new channel licences, its rival SPN has been doing exactly the opposite for a number of years now: shrinking its portfolio.
SPN is no stranger to channel shutdowns — with Sony Marathi HD being killed in the womb
Sony has been guilty of shutting down many channels in the past, especially HD-only channels without SD versions: the Hindi music channels Sony Rox HD and Sony Mix, the premium English movie channel Sony Le Plex HD, the dedicated golf-focused channel Sony Ten Golf HD, the sports channels Sony ESPN and Sony ESPN HD, the Japanese anime channel Animax, and, perhaps most shockingly, the popular English GECs AXN and AXN HD. (In fairness, some of these, like AXN and Sony Mix, might have been because of a rumoured merger with Viacom18 that was later called off.) Killing off Sony Marathi HD in the womb, so to speak, after gestating for more than three years, is yet another unfortunate addition to this list. The sad irony of this is that, before Animax was replaced by Sony Yay in 2017, SPN had not shut down a single TV channel without launching a like-for-like replacement.
Ironically, the licence of Sony Marathi HD itself was a replacement for Sony Ten Golf HD. It was originally launched in 2011 by Zee as Ten Golf, then rebranded to Ten Golf HD in 2015, and acquired by SPN in 2017. Golf is too unfamiliar a sport for Indian TV audiences, so SPN wisely decided to kill it off, planning to launch Sony Marathi HD in its place. Sony Marathi SD was eventually launched in August 2018. Other new regional launches at the time — such as Colors Tamil and Zee Keralam — had HD feeds from the get-go, so it was expected to be only a matter of time before Sony Marathi HD was eventually launched. Indeed, in January 2019, SPN had briefly trialled a test transmission of Sony Marathi HD on the SonyLIV app as a live-stream. Sadly, it was not to last.
With SPN officially surrendering the licence for Sony Marathi HD to the MIB, the hopes of the channel getting an HD feed are dead in the water once and for all. Fortunately, the saving grace is that Sony Marathi broadcasts in 16:9 aspect ratio and with an excellent picture quality, which the great majority of SD TV channels in India do not do. SPN is indeed the only Indian broadcaster which has ensured that as many of its SD channels use the 16:9 ratio as possible and not the outdated 4:3 ratio. The ordinary viewer may not notice the absence of an HD feed when the SD feed is almost HD-like in quality. Recently, the shutdown of Romedy Now HD (to make way for Times Now Navbharat HD) was offset by the SD feed airing in 16:9.
At the same time, SPN has been preparing to merge with Zee Entertainment Enterprises, subject to the ongoing tussle between ZEEL and its investor board being resolved. Should the merger go through, the combined entity will have a huge number of Marathi channels, with most of them coming from Zee, and many of them may be considered redundant. Some consolidation is inevitable with too many Marathi channels on air currently, some of which — especially Zee Yuva — are struggling for survival. In the face of this, not launching Sony Marathi HD was quite possibly a cost optimisation-driven move from SPN.
What do these developments mean for the Marathi and Indian TV industry?
Increasing competition has led to broadcasters having to take decisions on what they really need to do in order to ensure the best odds of survival. This is especially true of the burgeoning Marathi market, which will soon have to make room for a new player in Sun Marathi. On the one hand, Disney-Star, having so far lacked a Marathi movie channel, has got the green signal to launch Pravah Picture, but this may take months. On the other, SPN has given up plans to launch Sony Marathi HD, though fortunately the SD channel airs in such excellent picture quality that the HD feed may hardly be missed at all. However, both Sun Bangla and the upcoming Sun Marathi air in 16:9 aspect ratio with outstanding quality, and even then, they have HD feeds in the pipeline. Ultimately these business decisions are a result of how much a broadcaster needs to expand its reach in a particular market, and this involves launching channels to target certain audience demographics, or closing unnecessary ones.
In any case, we have come a long way from the old days where DD Sahyadri, Alpha TV Marathi (the predecessor of Zee Marathi) and ETV Marathi (now Colors Marathi) were the only main options on TV for Marathi viewers. Today, viewers all over the country are spoilt for choice in terms of both linear TV channels and OTT services, but the less popular ones need to adapt to viewers’ preferences in order to stay relevant and survive, and for newer channels like Pravah Picture and Sun Marathi, as well as the three-year-old Sony Marathi, every decision needs to be taken with care in order to maintain their viewer base and keep them happily glued to their channels.
Update, 16 October 2021: Article updated with the news of the new channel launches by Disney-Star, including Pravah Picture, Asianet Movies HD and Vijay Super HD.