Uma Arora, 63, an ex-government employee, spends most of her day watching spiritual channels. “If my television is on, any one of five religious channels is running. They bring some very exclusive content from renowned religious places that I can rarely visit,” she said.
Watching television, you may had have caught the ‘Third eye of Nirmal Baba’, or learnt yoga from Baba Ramdev. Osho on TV has an altogether different audience.
Slowly but surely, spiritual or devotional channels have caught on. TAM Media Research data shows that their genre share has grown by over 25% since 2009.Channels such as Aastha, Sanskar, Sadhna and others have sustained for eight-12 years and are going strong. In the past three-four years, the genre has grown. "There are over 40 channels across all languages, with seven-eight channels being launched in the last six months. The reason for the rush is a huge demand for programme slots from spiritual gurus and local production houses," said Gaurav Gupta, director, Sadhna Group.
“It is our eighth year and I can say that it is a profitable business proposition,” Anil Anand, business head, Zee Jagran, said.
Channel distributors are happy too. “There is a huge demand for devotional channels, so we have included the category into our base packages. Their stickiness is increasing because of which they are emerging into the ‘mainstream’ channels list,” said Salil Kapoor, COO, Dish TV, which runs 11 national and five regional devotional channels.
Two years ago, news or general entertainment channels had five-seven spiritual shows. In the last six months, many national channels including Aaj Tak, Star TV, IBN-7 and Zee have removed ‘babas’ from their prime-time slots and also don’t feature them on religious occasions.
“This has given a boost to our business. In the last six months, the traffic and demand for slots has gone up by over 60%,” said Arvind Joshi, director marketing and programming, Aastha TV.
Many spiritual gurus and trusts are turning entrepreneurs by launching their own channels. Followers and trusts associated with Mata Amritanandamayi Devi have formed a company, Amrita Enterprises, to launch two religious channels. Based in Thiruvananthapuram, the 'Amma' Network beams a mix of devotional, socio-economic programmes and five hours of news. Last year, Adhyatma TV was launched by Bhagwat Mission Trust.
The genre is not dependent on advertising. Revenues primarily depend on slot sales – 20 minutes of daily live telecast slots earn a channel Rs 2-10 lakh per month, per slot.
“The total GRPs of the genre is not more than 30 for 21 channels, but GRP is not a dominance factor to base your revenue model on,” said Anand. “The genre is not a very ad-friendly, since the primary target group is in the age group of 50-plus.”
The popularity of a spiritual channel is dependent on the quality and popularity of the godmen it can rope in. “Growth depends on the channel’s discovery of spiritual practitioners and its efficiency to bring them to the notice of the viewers,” said Savita Jhingan , head of operations, MH One Group, which runs the channel, Shraddha.
Though advertising does not drive revenues, enquiries for ads are gradually going up. “For products targeted at an older audience, such channels are relevant. And to include the genre in media planning strategy is pocket-friendly, since they do not charge more than Rs 900 for a 30-second ad slot,” said Navin Khemka, managing partner of media agency ZenithOptimedia.