The R4,17,200 crore Indian television industry has always been a mass market game with around 12 Hindi general entertainment channels (GEC) and 250 regional channels taking the lion’s share of viewership as well as ad revenues. Against Hindi GECs’ 30% viewership share, the English entertainment space’s share of 1.1%, therefore, is certainly miniscule. Yet, it attracts 5% of the total ad volumes of the television industry; much higher than the kind of audience slice it grabs from the pie. The English GEC space itself has been attracting much attention from advertisers with ad revenue growing by 10-15% annually. This has resulted in much action in the English GEC genre with broadcasters launching a slew of new shows in the last couple of months. Just last month, Star World Premiere HD, the fourth English GEC from the Star India stable after Star World, FX and Fox Crime, launched as many as 31 new shows that will be aired till January 2015. The launches include Downton Abbey Season (S) 5, Modern Family S6, Sons of Anarchy S7 and The Goldbergs S2. These will be followed by Bones S10, Agents of Shield S2, The Simpsons S26, How To Get Away With Murder And Revenge S4.
Most of these are the latest seasons of the original American shows.It’s not just Star India that is on a show-launching spree. Recently, Comedy Central, the English comedy entertainment channel of broadcaster Viacom18, announced the launch of some very popular international shows including Brooklyn Nine Nine, About A Boy, Mindy Project and Clipaholics. It also launched the latest seasons of Suits, Kumars, Whose Line Is It, and Hot In Cleveland. It has launched the new season of 30 Rock on October 6. Meanwhile, Zee Cafe, the English GEC from the Zee stable, has just launched the latest seasons of Grey’s Anatomy, The Big Bang Theory and The Vampire Diaries. Again, Multi Screen Media’s AXN channel, which houses around 2000 hours of international content, launched Scorpion, a new series, last month. Not to forget, Times Television Network’s Romedy Now, which was launched in October last year to showcase only romantic and comedy movies to begin with, expanded its programming content with the rollout of the US show, Witches Of East End, in January this year. Currently, the popular shows on the channel include Friends, 2 Broke Girls, Kitchen Confidential and Jake In Progress.
“There has been a steady growth in content loyalty and stickiness in the English GEC space primarily driven through increase in the time spent by viewers,” said Saurabh Yagnik, English cluster head of Multi Screen Media. “Due to the small sample size on TAM Media Research data, social media has become a very essential barometer of the audience measurement. We have seen that any show that has considerable amount of conversations on social media is the same show that has a fair TAM rating.”
Media agencies say that viewership stickiness for the genre has been on the upswing. The time spent per viewer (TSV) on the genre has grown from 14 minutes in September 2013 to about 22 minutes in September 2014 (all India cable and satellite data for SEC A, B viewers aged 15 years and above). “If one was to look at all eight metro markets, the category has grown by 12% and the TSV has gone up from an average 21 minutes to 32 minutes in the last 3-5 years,” says Shantanu Gangane, cluster marketing head, English entertainment channels, Times Television Network.
Cable digitisation has been the engine behind this change. The English entertainment space made significant gains from the first and second phases of cable digitisation with viewership increasing by as much as 40% in the eight metros. This, in turn, infused optimism within the English GEC category which saw new channel launches such as Star World Premiere and Romedy Now last year. “Digitisation has helped bring about a better reach for the genre as the older TV sets could not support the bandwidth on which these channels would be served,” says Karthik Lakshminarayan, chief operating officer of media buying agency Madison Media. “The key change, however, is the subtitling of the content which has made many viewers become more comfortable with the genre and ensure viewers.”
Kevin Vaz, general manager, English cluster, Star India, notes that earlier all channels within the English GEC genre would concentrate on only five or seven metros for distribution. Everything therefore would be structured only to reach out to these viewers. “But now with digitisation taking place, our endeavour is to reach out to all towns across India with one million-plus households. We have moved into the smaller towns. And that is because, for the first time, these households are getting crystal clear HD quality reception,” he said.
Consequently, channels are keen to grow this market with very specific positionings. If FX is targeted towards males with more edgy content as seen in shows such as Breaking Bad, Walking Dead and American Horror Story, Romedy Now is catching the attention of its target audience with shows such as Friends, 2 Broke Girls, Jake In Progress and Kitchen Confidential. “The genre saw a 20% increase in time spent in the post-digitisation period. This means that even if only niche audiences are visiting the channels they want to watch, they spend more time on them, thereby leading to an increase in ‘relevant reach’,” said Ferzad Palia, executive vice president and business head, English entertainment, Viacom 18.
There is a certain segment of the audience today which has been emerging as the global Indian. This viewer knows exactly what the latest trends are, whether that is in fashion, auto or television. “Since most of the TV channels in India generally wait for 6-8 months or even more before getting the latest shows on television, the only way that she could get access to the latest shows was through pirated DVDs. So we decided to launch Star World Premiere last year in a bid to showcase content within 12 hours of them appearing in the US,” said Star India’s Vaz. Star World Premiere started off as a paid channel available for R60 with 26 shows. “This is surely quite cost-effective for them because even a normal DVD with a couple of episodes would cost them R100,” he adds.
With television viewing patterns changing in India, broadcasters are revamping their channels to match the target group’s mindset. “Viewers have the power of choice. They choose to download or stream content as it is easily available online. To counter this, we seek to understand our target group,” said Anurag Bedi, executive vice president and business head of Zee Cafe. Zee Cafe has started airing content as close as possible to the US airings. “We have also understood the need to develop market specific content. Thus we are in the race to develop original content too,” he added.
The English GEC genre enjoys patronisation of the premium SEC (socio-economic class) A viewers which helps it garner a disproportionate share of television ad revenue vis-à-vis its total viewership wherein its ability to garner relevant eyeballs and generate buzz around the show matter more than ratings. Therefore, despite being a niche genre, its current ad revenue is R350-400 crore, growing at 10-15% year-on-year.
“English entertainment is a destination of premium audiences. So advertisers look at English GEC as a place for premium brands to reach out to premium audiences,” says Yagnik. “One of the biggest challenges of the category is that it is not subject to a very robust measurement system currently on account of a small sample size and hence, the parameters on which advertisers evaluate properties and channels are market share and perception.” By bringing the latest episodes of their successful global shows, these English GEC channels create a pull factor among the premium audience who are interested in this genre.
The advertising categories that drive the ad revenues for this genre include auto, e-commerce sites, telecom, accessories, hair care and durables. “Advertisers are keen as these genres are good catchment areas for the elusive TV viewer. The evaluation of such genres goes beyond CPRP (cost per rating point)/CPT (cost per thousand)/TVR (television viewership ratings)/TVT (television viewership thousands). It is more on perception and talkability. In a few cases, one has also used listening tools on the web to arrive at a conclusion,” adds Lakshminarayan.
With the premium consumer segment in India expanding, every premium brand wants to find a way to reach out to woo this segment. Thus a platform that is seen as premium and niche becomes essential. For instance, auto brands such as Audi, BMW and Jaguar, look at a very niche, premium and targeted segment like the English entertainment space to reach out to their definite target group. Similar is the case with high-end phones and luxury goods. “At the end of the day, it is about getting the right advertisers on board. If you go and chase a Surf, yes, it is a niche genre, but if you are actually chasing the right brands such as premium watches, cars, phones, TV sets, then there is a lot of money for the category to attract because this audience is their target universe,” says Vaz.
Sanjay Gupta, senior general manager and group head – marketing, Hyundai Motor India, says that Hyundai is optimising various English GECs for the distinct positioning of its cars. It is currently advertising on Star World for Hyundai Xcent with a new television commercial featuring Bollywood actor Shah Rukh Khan. It has also recently concluded a burst of television
advertising for its Elite i20 model with a spy thriller trailer specifically targeting the audience on AXN and FX. “The English entertainment genre is considered to be niche and advertising on these channels connects strongly with the premium segment of the audience. We believe the audience for English GECs is evolved, exposed and affluent in their tastes hence they consider the premium offerings from our line-up of cars. An association with these kinds of shows helps us in connecting with the target audience over a period of time and creates positive perceptions,” he says.
Meanwhile, in a bid to generate subscription revenues, networks have developed premium offerings to move to a subscription based business model. For instance, channels such as Star World Premiere HD, HBO Hits and HBO Defined give Indian viewers access to American television content in high definition at nearly the same time as it is telecast in the United States.
“Given the high content costs and the current low ARPUs, industry participants believe that premiumisation is required to pave the way for a subscription driven revenue mix to improve the financial viability of English entertainment channels,” observes the Ficci-KPMG 2014 report on the media and entertainment industry.
Interestingly, the entry of new players in this space is unlikely. This is because there could be unnecessary clutter created with content availability and cost barriers such as distribution and marketing. “However, large networks still have a reasonable chance to grow by adding premium and subscription based channels. Nevertheless, the biggest challenge is that the subscription market is not completely addressable and there is a high level of price elasticity from a viewer’s stand point,” says Yagnik.