General entertainment channels (GECs) have had to rejig their programming strategy to keep audiences engaged during the lockdown, having run out of fresh content. Apart from reruns of old shows and longer edits of recent shows, broadcasters are now also tapping into the library of OTT platforms.
Zee TV replaced its top-rated shows Kumkum Bhagya and Kundali Bhagya with three shows from ALTBalaji’s content library — Kar Le Tu Bhi Mohabbat, Baarish and Kehne ko Humsafar Hain — on March 25 in the 9-11 pm slot. Disney+ Hotstar’s Hostages, a 10-episode crime thriller, was aired on Star Plus at 10:30 pm on April 13, replacing the paranormal thriller Nazar, whose production is now on hold.
This experiment has been a litmus test for the mass appeal of OTT shows and whether broadcasters could continue to bank on them. And the result has not been encouraging.
Initially, airing OTT originals seemed like a good option for GECs looking for short-term relief. “These shows fit the purpose given their finite nature and the lockdown period being a temporary phenomenon,” says Prathyusha Agarwal, chief consumer officer, Zee Entertainment Enterprises.
But TV viewers are not impressed. As per a report by BARC India, viewership of OTT originals has been dismal in the Hindi speaking markets in urban India (HSM-Urban). This is significant as HSM Urban has been the primary contributor to the growth of Hindi GEC viewership during the lockdown.
The report found that the viewership during the time slots in the weeks when the OTT shows were on air, in comparison to the usual programming in January, has dropped significantly in HSM-urban. For instance, the 10:30-11 pm slot on Star Plus had garnered 29.8 lakh impressions on average in January; and this fell to 2.55 lakh impressions when Hostages was on air in the same time band.
The shows on Zee TV met with a similar fate. The number of impressions for the 9-10 pm slot fell from 66 lakh, as recorded in the pre-Covid period (January 11-31), to 8.37 lakh during March 21-April 24. “Readymade OTT shows looked like a good option to fill the gap. But the experiment has not really succeeded,” says Sandeep Goyal, founder, Mogae Media.
Niche versus mass
This experiment has reiterated that the preferences of TV and OTT audiences are far from similar. Sameer Nair, CEO, Applause Entertainment, is certain that not all OTT content is TV-friendly. “GECs create content with a one-size-fits-all strategy; whereas OTT platforms cater to individualistic consumption patterns.”
He adds that shows made for OTT platforms follow a template of limited episodes, multiple seasons and edgy content, as compared to “GECs’ saas-bahu shows and the variations thereof, which have been their mainstay for the last 20 years.”
Interestingly, the shows have done better in the BARC India PrimaVU panel, which measures viewership in premium households. Could these shows have had a better chance on niche channels, instead of GECs?
“Higher ratings for these shows on GECs, which have a wide audience would have meant more advertising dollars, but that has not happened. Putting them on niche channels would have meant small audiences and consequently low advertising,” says Goyal.
A revival in viewership depends on how soon production of fresh content can begin, and if production houses are able to manage shoots while following requisite precautions. “We are trying to figure out new ways of production, wherein we may have leaner crews, greater emphasis on hygiene and a controlled environment,” Nair says.
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