As the media landscape fractures, it has become increasingly difficult to find a captive, attentive audience. You have to look outside of the normal advertising and marketing channels. You may even have to look to the sky.

The Television King

Kalanithi Maran is one of the richest men in the world. He’s ranked 342nd on Forbes’ list this year, but unless you’re from Bangalore or Chennai, you’ve probably never heard of him.

In India, Maran is known as the Television King. At 46 years old, he runs Sun TV, the most profitable broadcasting network in Asia. The Sun Network also runs newspapers, magazines, 46 radio stations, a film production company, and a satellite television network. Through these various channels, Maran’s empire reaches 95 million households every single day.

Flying the friendly skies

Maran’s properties are unbelievably successful — worth more than $4.2 billion — yet he reaches only eight percent of the entire Indian population.

A few months ago, Maran made an interesting move: he took majority control of an airline. Spicejet is a regional, low-cost Indian airline with 21 planes and 37 more on order from Boeing. Every year, Spicejet carries about 3.9 million passengers between destinations all over India.

Why would a calculating businessman who understands the media landscape (and admittedly knows nothing about air travel) suddenly buy an airline? The answer can be found by comparing the reach of Maran’s media empire with Spicejet’s regional destinations:

A captive audience

Remember, the Television King only reaches eight percent of more than a billion people in India. Most of Maran’s existing audience lives in southern India (Chennai, Bangalore, Kochi…). But Maran wants to expand his media network’s reach to Delhi and Jaipur in the north.

With the purchase of Spicejet, the Television King isn’t just buying a bunch of airplanes. He’s buying a captive audience. On a flight from Kochi to Jaipur (with a short layover in Mumbai), passengers have eight hours to consume content. That’s about 32 million hours of captive audience a year.

Every one of these passengers has a seatback pocket in front of them and every seatback pocket contains at least one of Maran’s magazines. These publications are not fighting for attention on a magazine rack at an airport bookstore or a corner vendor. They’ve got a reader strapped into their seat, desperate to find a compelling way to pass the time. It’s genius.

Photo by balajijegan via flickr

Expanding media opportunities

It won’t be long before we see the Television King install screens on every seat to pipe programming directly to each one of his new content consumers. It’s all been done before.

In 1984, Richard Branson expanded his media empire to the skies with Virgin Atlantic airlines and today he’s turned every plane into a flying media room. Virgin distributes movies on demand, music programming, Web series, games, and an inflight magazine on every flight. Why fight for your audience’s attention when you can own it?

Your audience is out there, find it

For those of you in the media business or looking to market your wares, find your captive audience. You don’t have to be a billionaire to buy your customers. You just have to know when and where you can own their attention.

They might be in a restaurant or a doctor’s office. They may be sitting on a bus or riding the rails. They may even be sitting in a hotel room or attending a conference.

The Television King and the Rebel Billionaire found their seatback pocket. Where’s yours?