AXN and FYI TV 18 among English entertainment channels that have gone off air
A combination of factors, including TRAI’s pricing regulation and the surge in digital video consumption, is hitting niche television channels in India hard. Sony Pictures Networks India discontinued AXN and AXN HD earlier this month, while lifestyle channel FYI TV18 and FYI TV18 HD went off air on July 8. According to recent media reports, Star India too is likely to pull the plug on Star World soon, under revenue pressure.
The implementation of TRAI’s new tariff order (NTO) to regulate channel pricing and tariffs in 2019 was expected to chip away at the subscriber base of niche and English entertainment channels, as consumers rationalise their choices and pay for only what they watch. Hence, when TRAI proposed an amendment seeking to further reduce the price cap, the Indian Broadcasting Federation filed a petition in the Bombay High Court seeking relief. The matter is sub-judice.
For special interest genres like English entertainment and lifestyle, the implementation of the new tariff order was the final nail in the coffin, and NTO 2.0 may not offer much of a redemption.
Under NTO 1.0, English entertainment channels that are priced at about Rs 15 per channel were left out of most default base packages. As a result, they ended up depending on consumers to choose more expensive premium subscription packages. “The regulation change brought about by NTO 1.0 saw the entire category experience an absolute reset,” notes Kartik Mahadev, business head, premium channels, ZEEL.
As per BARC’s statistics, Comedy Central, the most watched English entertainment channel, earned 10.64 lakh impressions from June 20-26. During the same period, Star Movies, the most watched English movie channel, garnered 2.1 crore impressions.
The general entertainment channels (GECs), which are struggling with almost no fresh content, have seen a dip in viewership, and yet are far ahead of English entertainment and movie channels. Take Colors, for instance: the channel which is ranked 10 in BARC’s list of top Hindi GECs (overall) saw 33 crore impressions between June 20 and 26.
“When English entertainment channels first took off in India, nearly 20 years ago, they catered to an audience that was seeking access to international content. However, as content acquisition became expensive, and viewers drifted to digital platforms to view the latest shows, these channels lost out,” says Pawan Jailkhani, chief revenue officer, 9X Media.
Which is why, now, English entertainment channels are appealing to a new set of consumers.
“Our unique offerings will stand out as enablers of bringing an aspirational, English-comfortable audience on board. Additonally, our brand partners can associate with premium international content that they are not able to directly associate with on digital, due to restrictions behind paywalls,” says Mahadev.
In search of ads
As per a recent FICCI-EY report, English entertainment, English movies and lifestyle channels lost 50%, 37% and 36% in ad revenues, respectively. Ad rates, too, have fallen significantly — English entertainment channels now charge only Rs 800-1,500 for a 10-second slot, while English movie channels charge Rs 1,200-2,500.
“English entertainment channels have been falling off the radar of advertisers for nearly two years now,” notes H Vishwanath, managing partner, MediaCom. He says advertisers who reached out to their target audience on these channels earlier, have realised that the same set of viewers are now on digital.
Furthermore, the reduction in advertising budgets in the past few months, has hit these channels harder, say industry executives. As the audience gets fragmented across different mediums, broadcasters who have been losing 60-70% of revenue from these channels may find it untenable to keep these channels alive. In some cases, broadcasters may find that their advertising-driven video streaming platforms are bringing in more money than these channels.
*The story has been updated.