Ochre’s niche channel Saffron TV targets South Africa’s Indian community

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As Africa’s broadcast industry moves from time-based programming to thematic channels, viewers will stop asking “What time’s the news on?” and start saying “What’s my news channel?” Thematic programming also opens up the potential for TV broadcasters to address niche markets in a way that African vernacular radio stations have done in more liberalized markets. One of this new generation of niche TV channels is Ochre Media’s Saffron TV. Russell Southwood spoke last week to Stan Joseph and Alet Bensch of Ochre Media.

Ochre Media is one Africa’s top 5 production companies and has been in existence for 15 years. It has done everything from childrens’ programming to multimedia. It produced South Africa’s first mobile soap So Like Life – where characters receive SMS and it was very interactive – and is about to produce a new one called Why Choice? Episodes last only 30 seconds to 2 minutes.

It launched Saffron TV, a Pay TV channel aimed at South Africa’s Indian market, in September 2008. Multichoice was looking around for a home-grown channel to put alongside the Hindi language Zee TV. Initially it was hard to make a programme of a standard Ochre was happy with but viewers were very loyal and the channel got better and better.

The channel carries a mixture of lifestyle, entertainment, Bollywood news, food and cooking, fitnesstravel, community new and fashion. Of these, cooking is the most popular followed by Bollywood news. The channel draws both male and female viewers. Cooking is very popular with male viewers and there is a fashion programme aimed at men. The channel is open to DStv premium subscribers over the weekends.

The channel costs ZAR180 and there are three options: North and South India, North Only and South India only. North India is Hindi language with a Bollywood programming and South India is Gujerati and Tamil language. There is a large Tamil community in South Africa. The first two options have attracted 44,000 subscribers and the latter 4,000 subscribers.

Although there is currently no research, Ochre estimates that there are around 480,000 viewers and the highest viewing figures are in the open slot on the weekend. But there is a lot of potential for growth as there are 450,000 Indian subscribers amongst DStv’s 1.6 million subscriber base.

The business model for the channel is to attract advertising but with a recession and without good research, progress has been slow. Ochre’s Stan Joseph told us:”We’re in the hundreds of thousands of rand per month but we should in the long term be able to attract an income of R6.5 million a year. The advertising revenues are on an upward trend and we’ve done a lot of our own advertising to get profile and convey the image of the channel out there.”

Initially it sold advertising only to advertising agencies but is now starting to sell directly to smaller businesses within the community selling things like fashion, jewelry and cars. According to Joseph:”These are people who don’t usually advertise and our pitch to them is that ‘You’re part of the channel’. But the big numbers will come from ad agencies for accounts like Mazda, Nokia, Aquafresh and Cell C.” The rate card is R1,500 per 30 seconds in the open slot and R600 for an equivalent amount of time in the rest of the schedule.

But as Alet Bensch pointed, there is an issue of research for niche channels: they arte just too small to get on the radar of research systems designed for mass audience channels:”DStv by themselves have only a small share of the people on the AMPS panel and therefore Indian viewers are likely to be an even smaller share of the panel. DStv is launching its own panel DStv Eye and we’ll become part of that so by March next year, we’ll have better data.”

The local production elements of the channel cost about R4 a minute to make but Ochre outsources these to other companies who can meet this price point.

Ochre is already looking at other channel ideas that will address other niches in the new broadcast landscape and is already beginning to sell Saffron TV to other broadcasters in Africa. For example, the Nigerian Cable Africa Network will start carrying the channel from March 2010.