This has been an exciting week for the Indian TV industry, as we have come to know of several updates, both newsworthy and obscure, ranging from big corporate changes at Sony Pictures Networks India and Viacom18 to smaller channel additions and removals by DTH platforms. While some channels like Manjari TV are giving up on the race, other channels like Atrangii will add to further competition in an already cut-throat market. Here we present them to you in a condensed digestible format.
Sony Pictures Networks India renamed to Culver Max Entertainment ahead of Zee merger
In an unexpected move, Sony Pictures Networks India, one of the largest TV broadcasters in the country, has discreetly renamed itself to Culver Max Entertainment, without any sort of media announcement whatsoever. This is unlike the rebranding of its biggest rival Star India to Disney Star earlier this month, which was accompanied by an elaborate social media campaign. The name Culver can be explained by the fact that Sony Pictures Studios, one of the biggest Hollywood film studios, is located in Culver City in California in the United States.
It is likely that this is simply a formal, non-consumer-facing name, much like Multi Screen Media — a previous name of the company, used from 2007 to 2015 — and the brands of the Sony channels and other properties will not be affected in any way whatsoever. However, it is expected that the company will nevertheless acknowledge this change in some way or the other through a press release. This is of special significance as it prepares for its mega-merger with Zee Entertainment Enterprises, which will be completed by the second half of 2022. Sony Pictures Entertainment will hold a majority stake in the combined company.
James Murdoch and Uday Shankar’s Bodhi Tree pumps ₹13,500 crore into Viacom18
Reliance Industries-owned broadcaster Viacom18 has agreed to a major partnership with Bodhi Tree Systems, which is headed by industry veterans James Murdoch and Uday Shankar, both of whom were long associated with the Star network dating back to its Fox days. Bodhi Tree plans to raise ₹13,500 crore ($1.78 billion) to make Viacom18 one of the largest TV and digital streaming platforms in India. Rumoured since late January, the move will shore up Viacom18 as a more formidable competitor to the colossuses that are Disney Star and the impending Zee-Sony behemoth, as well as streaming giants like Amazon Prime Video, with the financial might of not only the Ambani family but also Murdoch and Shankar.
As part of the move, JioCinema will be transferred from Jio Platforms to Viacom18, while Paramount Global (previously known as ViacomCBS) will become a minority shareholder in the company and licence its brand names such as MTV, VH1, Nick and Colors to Viacom18. Furthermore, Paramount Global will also licence content from its global networks such as Showtime, CBS and Paramount+ to Viacom18. But perhaps the biggest consequence is that Viacom18 has got a major shot in the arm to bid for the much-awaited IPL media rights, which will take place in June. If Viacom18 succeeds in bagging the IPL TV or streaming rights, it will be a major coup for Uday Shankar against his former employer Star, where he played a major role behind the dominant success of that broadcaster and the Hotstar (now Disney+ Hotstar) streaming service in particular.
Viacom18 launches Sports18 Khel, a Hindi sports channel available on DD Free Dish
In other Viacom18-related news, the broadcaster officially launched its Hindi sports channel Sports18 Khel on Monday (25 April), ten days after its brand-new sports channel Sports18 1 was launched with great fanfare. Currently it is available only on DD Free Dish and JioTV, but other platforms are expected to add the channel in the months to come. This is crucial since Sports18 1 has only an English audio feed at present, and it will be imperative for it to add at least Hindi, Tamil and Telugu audio feeds in the near future, if not other languages, to increase its viewership.
The presence of Sports18 Khel on DD Free Dish is especially important for its viewers since the government-owned DTH platform has only one other sports channel: Doordarshan’s DD Sports. As a result, DDFD viewers miss out on a number of major sporting events, especially since Star Sports First, an equivalent Hindi channel from Disney Star, is no longer available on DD Free Dish.
Sun Direct becomes first DTH to add Sports18 1 HD
On Wednesday evening (27 April), Sun Direct became the third DTH platform to add the SD version of Viacom18’s new sports channel, Sports18 1, which was launched on 15 April. It is available on LCN* 505. But unlike Tata Play and Airtel Digital TV, which have added only the SD version so far, Sun Direct has also added the HD version of the new channel on LCN 983 — thereby becoming the first DTH to do so. (Until then, Sports18 1 HD could only be watched on JioTV.) Only Dish TV/d2h are yet to add Sports18 1 at this point.
With this addition, Sun Direct has 11 HD sports channels, more than any other DTH, including Sony Ten 4 HD, a Tamil and Telugu sports channel which was launched last year and is also not present on any other DTH. However, it is also the only DTH not to have Sony Ten 3 HD, which is Sony’s Hindi sports channel. Adding Sports18 1 HD will be of top priority for other DTHs in the coming months, especially as it will be the home of several international sporting events such as the FIFA World Cup in Qatar, to be held in November and December. As more platforms add the Sports18 channels and their awareness increases, Viacom18 will reduce the number of sporting events airing on other channels such as MTV, VH1 and History TV18.
*LCN is a common abbreviation for channel number.
Dish TV readds Travelxp HD after 3 years; also adds Music India
Sun Direct was not the only DTH to add an HD channel this week. The Essel Group-owned DTH platform Dish TV has added the travel and lifestyle channel Travelxp HD on LCN 920, which is owned by Celebrities Management Private Limited and is India’s oldest lifestyle HD channel, having been launched all the way back in 2011. It has been added in in English, Hindi, Tamil and Bengali audio feeds. This comes shortly after the company launched a new channel called Foodxp, which went on air some weeks ago.
Travelxp HD was actually present on Dish TV for many years — indeed, it was the first DTH platform to add the channel shortly after its launch in 2011 — but it and its SD version were removed on 1 February 2019 from both Dish TV and its sister platform d2h. With the readdition of Travelxp HD on Dish TV, it may also be expected that Dish TV will add the SD version soon as well, in addition to d2h readding both versions. Besides Dish TV, Travelxp HD is available on Tata Play and Sun Direct, but not Airtel Digital TV, which has only the SD feed.
In addition, Dish TV has also readded Music India, a Hindi music channel owned by Media Worldwide Private Limited, which operates other music channels that use the Sangeet brand. It is available on LCN 465.
Sambad Group’s Odia GEC Manjari TV shutting down a month before Star Kirano launch
Odia-language media conglomerate Sambad Group is pulling the plug on its free-to-air GEC* Manjari TV on 1 May 2022, barely two years after its launch in February 2020. While it has not officially announced the shutdown of the channel, DTH operators such as Tata Play and Airtel Digital TV have been running scrolls that they will remove the channel due to its closure from the broadcaster’s end. Other properties of Sambad Group include the Odia newspaper Sambad and the Odia news channel Kanak News, which makes it one of the largest media companies in the state.
Interestingly enough, the exit of Manjari TV comes only a month before Disney Star makes its grand entry into the Odia GEC sector with the launch of Star Kirano on 1 June 2022. Other competitors such as Zee Sarthak, Tarang and Sidharth TV — which will celebrate its first anniversary in May — have been putting in resources to boost their existing offerings in order to prepare for the newcomer’s onslaught. Manjari TV has not been able to keep up with the competition that is backed by more deep-pocketed companies, nor has it been able to make an impact in the BARC ratings chart (which is dominated by Tarang and Zee Sarthak) — despite being Odisha’s first and only free-to-air channel — and so it has decided to withdraw from the race altogether before Star Kirano arrives on the scene.
*GEC = general entertainment channel.
Marathi music channel 9X Jhakaas removed by Tata Play and Airtel Digital TV
The role of music channels on TV has greatly diminished in the streaming era, and even well-established music channels struggle to pay carriage fees to TV platforms. One such example was made clear in the past couple of days: the popular Marathi music channel 9X Jhakaas has been removed by both Tata Play (from LCN 1276) and Airtel Digital TV (from LCN 544) in quick succession. 9X Jhakaas is one of the oldest and most popular Marathi music channels, and its competitors currently consist of only Sangeet Marathi and Maiboli, after Zee Vajwa also shut down a month ago due to similar reasons. While 9X Jhakaas will hopefully not shut down soon, its Punjabi counterpart 9X Tashan was almost about to be removed by Tata Play a few weeks ago, but paid its carriage fees at the last moment. It represents further struggles in an already troubled genre, where only a few channels like In10 Media’s ShowBox Channel have been successful in recent years, and older competitors like 9XM, Zoom, Mastiii and MTV Beats are feeling the heat.
Vibhu Agarwal’s Hindi GEC Atrangii launching in June
While some genres are struggling to survive in the OTT era, others are prospering because of DD Free Dish, where the rural audience has single-handedly contributed to the viewership of channels such as Goldmines (formerly Dhinchaak) and propelled them to be among the most-watched TV channels in the country. In the past month alone, we have seen the likes of Dangal 2, Shemaroo Umang and Q Marathi going on air — as well as Ishara TV being readded on DD Free Dish after being removed a few months before — despite the abundance of free-to-air Hindi GECs on the platform. Amid the intense competition between existing Hindi GECs on DD Free Dish such as Dangal, Shemaroo TV, The Q, Azaad TV and the Zee-owned Big Magic, there is soon going to be another entrant to this highly congested market, which in many ways is as lucrative as the Hindi pay GEC market whose well-known channels include Star Plus, Zee TV, Sony TV, Colors and Sony Sab.
Vibhu Agarwal, the brain behind the popular Ullu OTT platform which has become (in)famous for its raunchy and provocative content, has revealed plans to launch a new Hindi GEC called Atrangii, which will go on air in June 2022. It will have original shows featuring a wide range of popular actors such as Shweta Tiwari and Rashmi Desai. It has plans to be added on pay platforms such as Tata Play, Airtel Digital TV and Dish TV, in addition to being accompanied by its own OTT platform, dubbed Atrangi 2.0. While it has not mentioned anything about DD Free Dish as of yet, it is highly likely that it will try to get added on the government-owned DTH platform, since it is the single biggest contributor to viewership from the Hindi heartland regions.
History TV18 rebrands with new logo and international version’s graphics package
The international versions of the History channel by A+E Networks started rolling out a new logo and look from December 2021. On Friday (22 April), History TV18, the Indian version of History, followed suit. With bold, sharp cuts and a black-and-red colour palette, Reliance Industries’ infotainment channel now has a eye-catching new graphics package that sets it apart from competitors like Discovery and National Geographic.
Note that The Walt Disney Company, the owner of Disney Star, is a shareholder in A+E Networks and therefore may not want its Indian channels to be controlled by a rival. The History Channel, the previous incarnation of History TV18, was launched by Star in 2003 (which was owned by Fox at the time) and that name was used until 2008. Only time will tell whether History TV18 remains in Reliance’s control as the Viacom18 deal with Bodhi Tree progresses.
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