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Cooking Up A Sumptuous Fare

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When your mother-in-law serves up some funky dry chicken for dinner and tells you she got it off a programme on Zee TV, you realise why it took so long for broadcast networks to understand that food was the route to a man's heart. Considering there are over 100 food and cookery shows on television today, spinning off dedicated food channels should have been a no-brainer years ago. But better late than never, the realisation has come. And, as usual, it is a stampede.

The first to launch was Zee Khana Khazana about six weeks ago on the company's DTH platform Dish TV. In a launch interview, business head of Zee Khana Khazana, Anurag Bedi, underlined the importance of food to the Indian viewer, calling it "one of the three non-communal religions after Bollywood and cricket". The 24-hour food channel has on offer both Indian culinary programmes like A Touch of Turmeric as well as taking housewives through recipes with chefs on the international circuit like the Chinese food show Ching's Kitchen.

For content-producing company Alva Brothers, a food channel became a matter of necessity. The company's foray into broadcasting with a Hindi entertainment channel, Real, came a cropper last year. Shutting it down, the group has morphed its broadcasting plans into a slew of lifestyle channels. The first offering from the Real Lifestyle Network will be ‘Food First', expected to be on air in the next couple of weeks. Says Manisha Tripathi, business head of Real Global Broadcasting: "Food is universal in appeal and is increasingly becoming an expression of one's lifestyle. Therefore the first launch."

An interesting challenger to the other two will be ‘Food Food', launched on 24 January as a joint venture by Astro Malaysia and celebrity chef Sanjeev Kapoor. The latter was for years the front face of the longest-running food show Khana Khazana on Zee TV. "We will not just be a stand-and-stir channel like the others. Ours will be a food and lifestyle channel with ‘where-to-eat' shows, voyeurism on what and how the stars eat, and even travelogues," says Karthik Lakshminarayan, COO of Food Food.

While Zee is treading quietly with a limited DTH launch, Food Food has gone for mass distribution on most cable networks in the Hindi belt and urban centres like Mumbai. Food Food, as a pay channel, is hoping to tap subscription revenue, but Lakshminarayan says advertising will be a major income from numerous food-related brands that have come on board. 

Niche channels have had a mixed run in India. On air today are a slew of spiritual channels such as Aastha, Sanskar TV, GOD and even the dedicated Amritha TV. By airing live discourses of popular godmen and tapping their considerable religious following, these channels have proved to be financially viable. However, attempts to launch property channels have failed. REchannel or the Bangalore-based Real Estate channel soon flopped after its 2007 launch.

Do food channels have a future? Some think so. "It is definitely an opportunity for a lot of brands. That is why food shows have grown to become channels," says Jasmin Sohrabji, CEO of media planning agency OMD India. "However, I don't know if all three will survive," she adds.

Should the foodies have launched earlier? Lakshminarayan of Astro's food channel points out that internationally food channels have only recently began launching and the response has been good. "Fata Fit in Indonesia and Masala TV in Pakistan, both recent, have done well, and perhaps this is the right time too for India," says the Food Food COO.

(This story was published in Businessworld Issue Dated 07-02-2011)