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BW Businessworld

From TV To The Big Picture

In its second innings, SAB Group is taking a big leap from being a broadcast-led business to a media conglomerate

Photo Credit : Umesh Goswami


Sab Group is transforming. Trying to grow its India footprint both horizontally and vertically, SAB is creating a diverse portfolio, in line with its ambition to become a media conglomerate.

At present, the Group’s portfolio comprises five channels — Hindi music channel ‘Mastiii’, Bhojpuri channel ‘Dabangg’, Marathi channel ‘Maiboli’, Gujarati channel ‘Dhamaal’ and regional Hindi entertainment channel targeted at smaller markets ‘Dillagi’. Earlier this year, SAB Group was restructured to complement Sri Adhikari Brothers (SAB) Television Network with two independently listed companies TV Vision and SAB Events & Governance Now Media.

The five channels and the upcoming language-specific, entertainment, comedy and music channels will become part of TV Vision. SAB Events & Governance Now, also slated for expansion, will see more events across SAB Group brands, and more niche titles in governance and digital added to the publishing side of the company. SAB Group has earmarked a sum of Rs 500 crore for its expansion plans across the next three years.

The Group will also foray into motion pictures, along with additional investments in creating two large studios in Mumbai that will house the latest in technology, visual effects and the likes.

The Second Inning
In its first innings, the Adhikari brothers duo — Gautam, chairman, and Markand, vice-chairman and managing director of SAB Group — graduated from creating content for other channels to setting up their own full-fledged comedy channel Sab TV that was subsequently sold to Sony Pictures Networks India in 2005. After a break of sorts, SAB entered the broadcasting domain again six years ago, and set up five specialist genre and language channels.

“Our past experience taught us various lessons that we used to create the structure you see today. At present, all five of our channels are profitable and every year we are showing good EBITDA numbers,” says Markand Adhikari. He is, however, candid in admitting that SAB Group played it safe in its second stint and stayed away from the hyper-competitive Hindi general entertainment channel (GEC) genre.

“We did not want to jump into GEC; we wanted to explore different kinds of genre. We believed the time was right for a new strategy. Our music channel Mastii was an exception because we chose a competitive genre. Right now, we are number one in a 16-channel group because we had strategised well. That success has encouraged us to experiment further,” elaborates Adhikari.

The Group is now gearing up to launch Se7en, a music channel for the Northeast audience. Punjabi and Bengali channels too are on the cards. While Se7en will be positioned as a channel that will feature local talent from the region instead of being a pure music channel, the language channels will be multi-genre that will include a mix of music, movies and general entertainment shows.

“Audiences in the Northeast are seeking the kind of content and engagement, we want to bring out in Se7en. All our language channels are for all members of the family,” Adhikari explains. This “family pack” approach will be the cornerstone for SAB Group’s biggest upcoming offer — Happii.

A Happii Brand
In the year ahead, Happii will become SAB Group’s marquee offer. SAB is creating an omni-channel presence for the brand; including comedy GEC ‘Happii’, a digital brand dubbed ‘Happii Fi’, on-ground presence through ‘Happii G’ and customised media and entertainment solutions offer called ‘Happii ME’. Of the Rs 500 crore that SAB Group has set aside for expansion, the largest chunk would be directed at building the Happii brand across channels.

“For us, Happii’s positioning as a comedy GEC will mean competing with national channels again. Despite rise of channels in the comedy genre in the past years, I strongly believe there is still place for a sensible comedy channel. People try many things but mass comedy works. As has been our strategy, our comedy channel will not chase big-ticket reality and format shows, but reasonably produced, mass shows. It will be a family entertainer,” says Adhikari.

While channel Happii will compete with national players including SAB’s previously-owned Sab TV, Happii ME will go deeper in the market to connect with the last-mile audience. “The Happii ME team is mandated to create unique market solutions that will benefit our advertisers. We have to understand that the real India is still in the rural. BARC (Broadcast Audience Research Council) India has reiterated how strong our rural market is. From a marketer’s viewpoint, the importance of these markets will only grow,” Adhikari points out.

Beyond Small Screen
In addition to its mass media offer, other big focus areas for SAB Group are motion pictures and studios. In fact, it has already created its presence in the Indian film industry, via titles such as ‘Pyaar Ka Punchnaama’, ‘Great Grand Mastii’, where it is one of the producers and the Dhamaal series. With these new titles addressing younger audiences, SAB Group has four movies in all on the floor.

A major investment comes in the form of setting up studios. Two studios are under construction already — one near the international airport in Mumbai and another in the North Mumbai region. “It is important to be present in different forms of media and entertainment to create impact. Our studios will have the latest in technology that will up the quality of movie production,” informs Adhikari.

SAB Group’s print brand Governance Now is also set to get a shot in the arm. Events and digital will be part of Governance Now’s growth plans; the brand will also see more titles added to the portfolio. Adhikari adds, “Governance is a vast area. We want to get into the niche segments of governance, so there will be further slicing and dicing of the genres we will cover. We will play the regional game here as well, with the target to go deeper state-wise.”

Year One Target
“A sound business plan is critical. In today’s time, gestation period for a product may have shortened, but we are prepared for as long as it takes. It is important that the drawing board plan is as perfect as it can be. It should be monitored closely to ensure the business is monetised. Any business has to be fundamentally strong, and we will not lose sight of that,” asserts Adhikari.

For the Adhikaris, the first year target is to grow the five-channel bouquet to eight-nine channels. The most significant is the launch of Happii, and Happii Fi becoming completely active. Essentially, in the year ahead, it will focus on ensuring that its proposed platforms are launched as per schedule, and in the following years, it would focus on consolidating the offer. For now, SAB Group is on the offensive, promising substantial action in the year ahead.;