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Tuesday, Oct 22, 2002

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Vijay primes new soaps for more eyeballs

Rina Chandran

"Daily soaps are a huge habit, harder to break than even weekend viewing."

CHENNAI, Oct. 21

STAR-VIJAY TV is debuting two daily soaps in another attempt to break leader Sun TV's unassailable hold over prime-time Tamil audiences. Kalyani, an emotional family drama, debuted today at 7 p.m., and Champa, positioned as a sentimental drama on a grand scale, will begin on October 28 at 9 p.m. The network hopes that the new soaps will bring in viewers earlier, and then keep them there.

"We found that viewers are tuning in earlier, so Kalyani will be the right fare to draw them in," said Mr Suresh Iyer, Head of Programming, Vijay TV Ltd. Kalyani will go against Sun TV's Ganga Jamuna Saraswati-Sangamam, a sequel to the popular Ganga Jamuna Saraswati, and is produced by Aaba Vannan, who made Champa for Vijay TV.

Champa, which is replacing Nadhi Enge Pogirathu after just eight months, was scripted by noted Tamil writer Indumathi. Its cast includes well-known actors such as Seetha, Sarath Babu and Manorama. It is being pitched on its high production values and locales, including Rajasthan.

"We want to shift the paradigm of the 8-10 p.m. time band a little," Mr Iyer said. "The content is the same, hard-core family drama, but we are changing the format to give it a grander scale."

The "heart of prime time," as Mr Iyer describes it, is from 8 p.m. to10 p.m., with the bulk of viewers coming in from 9-10 p.m. While viewership from 8-9 p.m. has a female skew, 9-10 p.m. is traditionally the family hour, and therefore a favourite of advertisers. But this coveted time band has been a thorn in Vijay TV's side as it has struggled to break the dominance of Sun TV's immensely popular soaps, Alaigal and Annamalai.

"Daily soaps are a huge habit, harder to break than even weekend viewing," Mr Iyer said. "There is a noticeable spike in our viewing at 8 p.m. and at 8.30 p.m., and then again at 10 p.m., but 9-10 p.m. is a fight," he admitted.

Recent TAM ratings for the two channels confirm this swing: for the week of October 6-12, for the 7-8 p.m. band, Sun TV had a 62.5 per cent share of the viewership among those having cable and satellite TV connection for over four years in Tamil Nadu, as compared to Vijay's 6.3 per cent share.

From 8-9 p.m., Sun TV's share was 43 per cent, against Vijay's 12.5 per cent; from 9-10 p.m., Sun had a share of 61.3 per cent, against Vijay's one per cent. Incidentally, K TV, another regional channel from the Sun TV network, also had higher shares than Vijay for the 8-10 p.m. band.

So far, Vijay has innovated outside the 9-10 p.m. band to improve ratings. In July, it launched a reality-based talk show, Kadhai Alla Nijam, at 10 p.m., which, despite some criticism, has done well. It has also tried some "seamless programming" by taking a character from its 8 p.m. serial, Kavyanjali, to its 8.30 p.m. serial, Nee Naan Avval, to keep viewers from reaching for the remote.

The network has also been careful to preserve the essence of its "wall-to-wall soaps", the traditional family drama. "The core is sacrosanct, so the change has to come in programming," Mr Iyer explained. "The look and feel will change to enhance audience participation and connect more with our viewers."

If the grander scale-bigger locale format of Champa works, the network will consider changes in its other offerings too. But the network is aware that it has its task cut out. "We are taking on a giant which has won loyalty for close to a decade," Mr Iyer said. "We have to take the risk of even losing viewers. We can't play it safe."

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