The last time you tuned into an MTV or a Channel V, chances are that you were met with an adrenaline rush inducing Roadies or a fun, college drama in Dil Dosti Dance. One wouldn’t be surprised if you were left wondering, “But where’s the music?” It has been quite some time since channels like Bindass, MTV, Channel V and Zing among others broke out of the ‘pure play’ music mode and delved into creating youth based fiction and non-fiction content. For others like 9XM, Sony Mix etc, music has never been of greater value as they repackage music videos with a sprinkle of trivia, humour, animation and other such elements.
The Hindi music genre has thus, been divided into youth entertainment channels and music channels, although both compete for the same set of eyeballs. In recent times, however, several networks are yo-yoing between music and youth content or even a curious mix of the two. For example, Channel V changed its positioning from a pure-play music channel to a youth-centric one in 2012, but is now shifting back to its original format. Similarly, other channels like Zoom, Bindass and MTV have evolved to keep in sync with the changing palette of the youth.
To escape commoditisation, music channels continue to invest in refreshing their brands. In the past, ZEEL changed the positioning of Zing to a mix of music and youth, while Disney India re-branded its Bollywood music and entertainment channel UTV Stars into a pure-play music channel, Bindass Play. Viacom18 added another channel, Pepsi MTV Indies in its music bouquet for sharper segmentation. Channels are also trying to innovate in creating an environment that retains eyeballs. Sony Mix came out with music-based programmes like Yuh Bana Ye Song, TV Ka Pehla Radio Show etc while 9XM launched a Bollywood-based talk show 9XE which it later converted to a digital portal SpotboyE to provide something unique to viewers.
In the digitisation environment, where viewers have multiple channel options, they end up going to their favourite channel and it is critical to be in that top of mind space. In a bid to offer differentiated content and well-curated music, are the lines between music and youth channels blurring?
Same same, but different.
TV is still the main go-to for Indian youth, but they will also go the extra mile for good content. 36% watch shows only on TV, while 18% watch shows only online — the rest are a mix of the TV and online, states a recent study by MTV. Moreover, the ‘commoditisation’ of music is another reason for the image change. Thus, differentiation can happen only through non-music based shows, players believe. Ferzad Palia, head — youth and English entertainment, Viacom18, believes that because you are dealing with the youth which is reinventing themselves every few days, channels also have to keep up.
“It’s the toughest target audience to keep pace with. Players have dabbled in long form content like reality, fiction etc but not too many of them have been able to sustain,” says Palia. “That to my mind, comes a lot from the way the pricing of the genre in terms of ad sales is done.” In other words, when the type of content is a commodity, there is only so much differentiation that can come into play, and therefore, the share of premium ad rates is severely limited.
But creating original content leads to high costs, bringing in monetisation challenges for a category growing at a slow pace. As a result, youth players have not given up music completely. For example, MTV has a ratio of 50:50 in terms of music and content, while around 30-40% of Zing’s ratings come in from music and 40-50% come in from original content. Music still holds value because now, it is much more than Bollywood. Regional music, especially Punjabi, indie and international are all growing and feature on every millennial’s playlist. In fact, industry experts believe that hits still get made because of television due to its massive reach and nature as a sampling platform.
“Gone are the days when each channel could have a bouquet of offerings. Post research, we realised that the best way to move forward is to be a pure-play music channel, because if a consumer tunes into a music channel, what he/she expects is music,” says Manav Dhanda, group CEO, SAB Group.
Echoing the sentiment, Vishnu Shankar, business head, Zing and ZEtc, states, “The dependability on music will be lesser as we go forward and add more content. But music will always be a part of the channel as the youth consumes music.” On the other hand, for music channels, offering something beyond music videos has become pertinent. Even channels like 9XM now have 10% of content in the mix through animated capsules. Sony Mix on the other hand, focusses on music-based programming through Musicopedia, presenting Bollywood trivia.
“The connect between us and the audience comes from music and the second level of connect comes from our characters and the stories they tell,” explains Amar Tidke, chief programming officer, 9X Media.
With music channels offering content (music-based or otherwise) whether in short or long form, and youth channels not giving up music for incremental reach, it would be fair to assume they belong to one category and the lines between the two have blurred. Agrees Pawan Jailkhani, chief revenue officer, 9X Media, “Music and youth are not different. It’s a myth created by the industry. Though we are a music channel, we don’t have a musical audience; a viewer is a viewer.” Gone are the days when music as a genre was a filler or gave just incremental reach, according to him.
Like chalk and cheese?
The music and youth category has 16-18 players and is highly competitive and cluttered. “Music and youth have different philosophies and are two different genres altogether. The common factor is the same TG, but music is more broad-based,” argues Neeraj Vyas, senior EVP and business head, Sony Mix and Sony Max cluster, giving a contrarian view.
There are many challenges in the space which are making channels constantly crank up the volume in terms of positioning. Music videos are common between all these channels and the space is cluttered, thus making it imperative for players to identify the need gap. Some broadcasters have tried to do a quick fix in desperation but it doesn’t work. Explains MK Anand, CEO, Times Network, “Shows involve production costs that are comparable with GEC costs as same production outfits are involved. Music/youth genres can’t get reach on the back of a few isolated shows. Reach is a function of many other variables.” But players believe that original content leads to stronger viewership and attracts more advertisers. Thus, while Zoom’s primetime is dominated by shows, MTV and Zing have plans to ramp up original content this year.
The real drama
The genre is growing at the rate of 18-20% in the current financial year. There are multiple options for the music and youth entertainment genre to cash in on, including brand integrations, AFPs, sponsorships, web monetisation and trailers. As a result, broadcasters don’t want to give up on any element and prefer to have a mix of the two.
While a majority of revenue still comes from free commercial time (FCT), the channels have experimented with different possibilities to integrate the brands and up their revenue. While youth channels will have more engaged audiences, the absolute reach of music channels will always be higher. Creating differentiation in youth channels is costly but easier than music as the content is syndicated from third parties. But the reality is that India is a single TV household market. At primetime, a family will not watch youth content therefore making it difficult to sustain content. Anand Chakravarthy, managing partner, Maxus India, says, “The lines blurred a long time back and music and youth are just labels now.” The way a music and youth channel is viewed is different; in a media plan the music channel is used to deliver more frequency while youth channels are used if one is looking for more reach. “Advertisers still look at it as one genre as both cater to the young audiences,” he adds.
Building a differentiated promise seems to be the key for viewers. But as Chakravarthy puts it, “There will never be a youth channel with 100% non-music content. It will always be a combination of music and youth content.”