Cutting it Short

Written by Sagorika Dasgupta | Updated: Dec 1 2008, 05:23am hrs
We live our lives in the fast lane where every second counts. As most filmmakers realise the need to cut a long story short, hacking down three hour long feature films to two or sometimes even an hour-and-a half has become the norm that keeps restless viewers glued to their seats. TV broadcasters have also begun subscribing to the policy that success lies in keeping it short and sweet with numerous short film festivals doing the rounds on television this year.

Channels like PIX, Zee Studio, NDTV and CNBC TV 18 are all testing waters with documentaries and short films. While NDTV started out by airing special reports by their in house journalists like Sutapa Deb, Shikha Trivedy, Radhika Bordia and Uma Sudhir. These reports eventually took the form of documentaries. The channel has now been airing documentaries for over a year. PIX ventured into short films by launching their short film festival last year and like most of the other channels airing documentaries and short films, have positioned this show on their weekday prime time slot.

Format welcomed

Zubin Driver, Network Creative Director, Network18 Group and Head, Cell 18 says, An initiative like this presents a platform as well as financial support to an amateur filmmaker to showcase their talent at a national level. Cell 18 doled out a sum of Rs 1 lakh to the winning filmmaker and the film also got featured on CNBC TV18s show Through the Looking Glass that promotes the documentaries and their makers and was started the previous year. Driver is happy about the kind of response this initiative generated. The number of entries that were received bears witness to the unearthed talent pool that our country is endowed with, he feels.

This format may seem a perfect fit for a movie channel however, what is the significance of having such a show on a news channel Ayesha Kagal, Producer, Documentary 24X7, NDTV argues, The nature of news has changed significantly in recent years. The mushrooming of news channels and the leaps in technology has resulted in an increased emphasis on breaking news, which often tends to dominate space. But the gain in speed sometimes comes at the cost of reflection and insight. Breaking news may shock, but it doesnt always stick or linger. It is immediate but transitory. If the strength of news is today, the strength of the documentary is the timeless.

PIX obtained close to a thousand entries last year when the PIX short film festival was launched. This year the few films that have been short-listed are entries like You May Not Believe a film about mistaken identities, Counting Stars which is a tragedy on relationships and Future which is a science fiction film. The channel is planning to air the festival in a few months.

Growing viewer base

Sunder Aaron, Business Head, PIX mentions, This kind of a format is very relevant for a movie channel like ours. Short films are an acceptable art form and the viewer base for these films are growing steadily. However, he also points out that the channel received average television ratings for the first short film festival that was held last year.

A media analyst explains that short film festivals that are aired on news channels enjoy higher television rating points (TRPs) than movie channels, as the viewer base for news channels is more extensive. While the TRPs of these festivals for a movie channel are slightly higher compared to movie airtime, news channels garner more business through these shows.

For a movie channel almost 80% to 85% of their programming entails films. Contests and film festivals involve audience participation and act as low cost frequency builders. These shows serve a dual purpose of creating a buzz about the channel and facilitate better association with a few more brands of advertisers augmenting revenues.

Need for marketing

Media analysts also feel that if marketed properly short films can find a much more avid audience. For most of the channels radio and online platforms like social networking sites serve as a cheap and infectious medium to promote short films by budding filmmakers. Zee Studio for instance tied up with social networking sites like Orkut and Facebook to encourage discussions on some of the films that were part of their short film contest. Most advertisers are also often keen to associate with such documentaries and short film festivals. High-end luxury goods, fast moving consumer goods (FMCGs) and similar categories readily buy spots on such shows.

However the price of the ad spots varies from one channel to another. According to a PricewaterhouseCoopers report on the Indian media and entertainment industry, the Indian television industry, estimated at Rs 22,600 crore, is projected to grow to Rs 60,000 by 2012 on the back of advertising revenues, especially in general entertainment channels (GECs). A ten second ad spot on a leading GEC is almost eight to nine times higher than that on a movie channel.

Tejal Shah, vice president- west and south, India Media Exchange feels, Documentaries and short film festivals generate a good response because of their interactive nature. The contests ensure that there is a one - on one element that these formats experience.

Diverse audience base

These short films cater to a diverse audience as well. Not just across metros and other SEC A towns and cities, these shows are quite popular even in smaller B and C towns. Sujay Kutty, senior Vice President and business head, Zee Studio says, The short films certainly find an audience in smaller towns and cities. The very fact that a significant proportion of the entries that we received as a part of the Get Shorty contest came from smaller towns and cities goes on to show that there will be a distinct set of people from these territories watching our short films as well.

A media planner who did not wish to be quoted explains that short formats work very well on television. For instance, unlike some of the leading Hindi GECs, Viacom 18s GEC - Colors made sure that most of its reality shows are compact in nature and would not span more than three to four months. These formats not only promise good TRPs (as the viewer fatigue is less compared to longer shows) but also leave the audience wanting for more. Thus even the re-runs of these shows generate decent sampling amounting to good TRPs.