Speaking in tongues, good for TV channels

13 Jan,2012


By Rishi Vora


TV channels are gung-ho about the digital revolution India is witnessing. New launches and the ones in the pipeline – all are preparing to be on DTH or Digital Cable. Well, what this brings to viewers and for the industry is a  novel trend: the rise of language feeds. For the consumer, it is now a chance to view a particular channel in his mother tongue. For channels, it is about expanding viewership base and accumulating additional revenues via local advertisers.


The trend is visibly on the rising side. Big CBS launched Spark Punjabi. Sonic has extended its offering to Marathi and Bengali. History, the factual entertainment channel from the A+E Networks recently launched the Gujarati feed, making it the only channel to be available in seven languages (Gujarati, Bengali, Tamil, Telugu, Marathi, Hindi and English). Discovery serves in English, Telugu, Bengali, Hindi, while National Geographic is present in five feeds: English, Hindi, Bengali, Telugu and Tamil. The trend, quite noticeably is seen in the kids and the factual entertainment genre.


For these international channels, the opportunity is way too big to be missed. The cost of launching a new feed vis-a-vis the return it brings to the table in terms of reach, viewership and revenue, is negligible. All it accounts for is an additional cost on dubbing, which on most occasions, for all channels would be an incremental cost since English and Hindi languages are by most channels, already operational. Sangeetha Aiyer, General Manager – Marketing A+E Networks and TV 18 JV informs that the cost of dubbing varies between 7 to 15 per cent of a programming budget.


“The trend has been around for a while,” says Nina Elavia Jaipuria, Executive VP and General Manager, Sonic and Nick India. She further adds, “For us, since we cater to the kids and the young adults of India, it is important that the characters kids have an affinity towards speak to them in their mother tongue – the language they speak at home. That is the best way you can engage and entertain them.” Aiyer agrees that it brings in more revenue and viewership for the channel, but also calls for a lot of co-ordination with studios which at times can be painstaking. Ensuring quality control, scripts, technicians etc is one part of the challenge, while lack of experts in languages like Marathi or Bengali is another challenge.


Most channels outsource the dubbing work to studios, except UTV Action which contracts its sister company UTV Software on the same. UTV Action, as is known was one of the early movers in the movies segment to offer Hollywood films dubbed in Hindi. The channel later launched its Telugu feed. Manasi Sapre, Programming Head, UTV Action says that Telugu feed opens up a big market for the channel. “We’re seeing a lot of traction from the Telugu market, where the appetite for Hollywood movie watching is constantly increasing. Telugu market is one market where you can be rest assured of a good response, given the fact that the southern belt likes to view content in their own language rather than English or Hindi.”


A separate P&L company within the UTV group – UTV Software, has been in the business of dubbing for more than 15 years now. The company is seen as a pioneer, currently handling projects like Walt Disney, Hungama, Fox Traveller, National Geeographic Wild, NDTV Good Times and UTV Action. The company dubs 40-50 hours of content every month, so considering that content is offered in a minimum of  four languages, it means 200 hours of content being dubbed every month.


According to Rahul Bhatia, Senior VP – Dubbing, UTV Software, the dubbing industry has grown leaps and bounds in the past five to seven years in terms of the number of players. The market still remains majorly unorganised with UTV as a major player as against many small studios that do one-off projects. “Price-points for dubbing have gone down drastically. From what it used to be Rs 1 lakh for an hour 10 years back, it is now come down to Rs 25,000. But, on the brighter side, volumes have increased. Three years back it was only Hindi, Tamil and Telugu, but now if you see, the market is growing to other languages like Gujarati, Marathi, Bengali and Punjabi.”


Quite interestingly, for many channels that bring in international content from countries like Japan, Korea or even China, content is translated to English and then dubbed to various other languages, which is a lot of effort on the part of the studios. Part of the reason for this tedious procedure is the fact that channels are extra careful to ensure that  international standards are maintained.


Given the kind of growth dubbing has seen and that many channels have launched multiple feeds, there are chances that a few broadcast majors would want to set up their own studios. Maybe it is too early to say, or the existing outsourcing practice could well be effective enough as one may not want to get into the business, which could well mean diverting the attention from three major functions: Content, Distribution, Sales. Even for now, Dubbing seems to come later in the priority list of the channels.


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