As viewers tune out of linear viewing habits and watch on-demand content, English movie and entertainment channels struggle for viewership
Warner Media will be discontinuing two linear movie channels, HBO and WB, in India from December 15. Announcing the exit of these channels from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Maldives, the then South Asia MD of Warner Media, Siddharth Jain, had said that the pay TV industry landscape and the market dynamics have shifted dramatically, and “the Covid-19 pandemic has accelerated the need for further change”.
Could more exits be in the offing?
English movie and entertainment channels have been struggling lately. “For a few years now, these channels have been losing out because of the rise of OTT platforms and the variety of English, Hindi and international content they offer,” says Vinita Pachisia, senior VP, Carat India.
As viewers tune out of linear viewing habits and watch on-demand content, channels may need to adopt a hybrid model. “Linear movie channels will need to offer their content libraries on video streaming platforms and find avenues for monetisation,” says Vivek Srivastava, president – strategy, and business head, news and English entertainment cluster, Times Network.
Networks that own English movie channels claim that the total audience pool for English channels is growing, and only a small percentage is moving to OTT platforms. “The outlook for English movies looks positive. There is a whole set of audiences moving from regional to English content, as they become more comfortable with English as a professional and conversational language,” notes Kartik Mahadev, business head, premium channels, ZEEL.
ZEEL frequently broadcasts Hollywood blockbusters across its network of movie channels, dubbed in regional languages. Jumanji: The Next Level, for instance, was premiered on &flix, and simultaneously on Zee Cinema in Hindi. “The premiere garnered a reach of 34 million,” says Mahadev. &flix, the English movie channel from the Zee bouquet, also lets viewers choose the preferred language to watch a movie in a multi-language time block called ‘Flix for All’. These movies are aired in English, Tamil, Telugu and Hindi.
Initiatives of this kind are yet to bear fruit, say media buyers. Largely, English movie channels do not fetch high ad rates — a 10-second spot on an English movie channel costs Rs 1,500-2,500.
Brands that advertise exclusively on English movie and entertainment channels are typically those targeting the SEC A consumers. “These channels have loyal advertisers who wish to target a smaller, albeit quality, audience. Automotive brands, video streaming platforms, gaming apps, tech companies, etc, are frequently visible on English movie channels,” says K Srinivas Rao, national director – buying, MediaCom. However, for FMCG brands, the largest advertisers on TV, English movie channels are hardly a priority.
The pandemic has briefly altered viewership patterns. English movie channels saw a 12% increase in viewership during January-October 2020, compared to the same period last year, according to BARC India. Average time spent, too, recorded a jump of 54% over last year. However, ad spends have not followed eyeballs, says Srinivas.
The target audience of premium OTT platforms and English movie channels have a clear and significant overlap. According to a recent study by Nielsen, compared to Bollywood and regional channel viewers, Hollywood enthusiasts are two times more likely to buy higher-priced products, more than twice as likely to own four-wheelers, have a stronger presence on social media, and earn nearly twice as much, too. This is perhaps why several brands flock to digital to woo this TG at a much lower cost.
While the struggle for eyeballs will continue, not all of them will down their shutters. Pachisia says that large broadcast networks that have marquee channels bringing in the majority revenue share, may be able to keep these channels alive longer than others.