After a three-month-long drought of fresh television content, Hindi general entertainment channels have recently resumed broadcasting new episodes of their popular shows. Zee Entertainment Enterprises, Viacom18, Star India and Sony Pictures Networks have begun airing two to three hours of new content daily during prime time. Broadcasters had started airing original episodes of regional shows since late May, in markets like Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Odisha.
Broadcasters are now faced with the uphill task of wooing advertisers back to their channels, without any significant freebies or discounts.
Star Plus has brought back four of its shows including Yeh Rishta Kya Kehlata Hai and Kasautii Zindagii Kay. The channel has also announced the launch of a new show titled Anupama. Kumkum Bhagya and Kundali Bhagya, two of Zee TV’s highly rated shows, are back, too. Zee TV is also bringing back its talent show SaReGaMaPa Li’l Champs on the weekends.
Viacom18-owned Colors is back with shows like Khatron Ke Khiladi, Shakti — Astitva Ke Ehsaas Ki, Ishq Mein Marjawan, Barrister Babu and Choti Sarrdaarni. The channel will bring back Naagin in the coming weeks. Meanwhile, Sony TV’s Mere Sai and India’s Best Dancer are back on air with fresh episodes.
Broadcasters have made a huge marketing splash about the resumption of new content, but a cloud of unpredictability looms since state governments are imposing lockdowns in a dynamic manner. For instance, Bengaluru has been put under a lockdown for a week between July 14 and July 20. This could impact advertiser interest. Zee is planning to build a content bank that will last the channel a week; Colors, too, is creating a bank of episodes for its fiction shows.
During the lockdown, a new viewership pattern, skewed towards non-prime time slots, emerged. Sujata Dwibedy, group trading director – Amplifi India, Dentsu Aegis Network, says the new pattern was shaped by multiple factors. “People were working from home (most still are), children had vacations, and many have been watching shows on streaming platforms with their families.”
The transition to pre-Covid viewing patterns could take time. In markets where fresh content has resumed, viewership is yet to return to the prime-time appointment viewing level. As per a BARC study, Kannada and Tamil GECs saw a 21% drop in viewership during June 27 – July 3.
Dwibedy expects the viewership pattern to get corrected with schools and colleges starting online classes and original content returning on TV.
As per industry estimates, advertising revenue on television dropped by more than 70% during April-May. Advertising inventory dropped considerably during this time. Between May 2 and May 8, free commercial time on GECs was down by nearly 40% as compared to January. Hence, broadcasters have had to rally support from advertisers for the launch of fresh episodes. Zee’s outdoor campaign announcing new episodes has messages from FMCG brands Nestlé Maggi, Amul Lassi, PepsiCo, Red Label, Cadbury Dairy Milk and ITC Dark Fantasy.
Jehil Thakkar, partner, Deloitte India, says that the return of fresh content will not make advertisers less conservative with ad spends, as the overall sentiment continues to be low.
However, broadcasters can now leverage new content to demand higher ad rates. “With fresh episodes starting this month, it is not viable for any broadcaster to continue with the Covid-19 discounting. There has been a drop in discounting in July, and we are steadily moving close to pre-Covid level pricing,” says Mahesh Shetty, head, network sales, Viacom18. Furthermore, integrated brand sponsorship deals and content solutions are being explored.
According to a few industry executives, broadcasters are now offering reduced discounts/ bonuses of about 15% on ad rates, as opposed to 50-60% during the key lockdown months . For example, the ad rate for a show that airs between 8-10 pm on a leading channel could now cost Rs 1,00,000-1,25,000 per 10 seconds.
FMCG, e-commerce and consumer durables account for more than 50% of all television advertising. Ashish Sehgal, chief growth officer, advertisement revenue, Zee, says most of these brands continued to advertise during the lockdown. “Businesses that flourished during the lockdown — edutech, OTT and gaming — have seen a surge in advertising. We are seeing brands in the non-essential categories advertise now including L’Oréal, Johnson & Johnson, a few mobile handsets and automotive brands,” he adds.