The Ups & Downs Of Hindi GEC Genre

Hindi GECs or general entertainment channels draw some of the largest eyeballs across India. “My aim is to get that extra tear from the housewife’s eyes during primetime. I want to keep her riveted to my programmes, to my channel,” the head of a cluster of channels in South India once said. Hindi GECs are certainly the most important medium for any media planner.

Even as the TV industry is reeling from the macro-level aftermath of demonetisation and GST, the Hindi movie channel space has thrown up a surprise. While ad spends have plummeted across television in FY18 compared to the previous fiscal — by 9.5% in the Hindi GEC genre and 4.2% in the Hindi news genre — the Hindi movie genre has managed to register an increase of 24.5% according to a recent KPMG report.

Hindi GECs command the lion’s share of ad spends (27.7%), followed by the Hindi news genre (7.9%) and the Hindi movie genre (6.3%). “If we look at the data from the previous years, there are fluctuations across all genres. The only one that has held steady is the Hindi movie genre,” says Neeraj Vyas, business head, Sony SAB, Hindi movies and music cluster.

Development

Appointment viewership has always evaded Hindi movie channels. “Hindi movie channels are neither about on-demand nor appointment viewing. You go through movie channels and if there is something interesting, you  watch it,” says Girish Menon, partner and head, media and entertainment, KPMG. “This is why the big movie premieres happen on GECs and the second runs happen on movie channels.”

The four major broadcast networks — Star India, Zee, Sony and Viacom18 — operate multiple channels in the Hindi speaking markets (HSM). Vyas believes that the Hindi movie genre, over a period of time, has managed to establish itself as the “backbone” of the Hindi entertainment space. Not just Hindi movies, but dubbed versions of South Indian movies too are gaining fandom in HSM. “The prolific South Indian film industry has infused a lot of freshness in the genre. Some South Indian titles get 1-plus ratings every time they are aired on TV and that is not something we can say for a lot of Hindi movies. Hindi films have failed to sustain, which is a big worry for us,” he says.

Given that the Hindi movie genre appeals primarily to male audiences, it attracts specific categories of advertisers. “Hindi movie channels form a substantial part of the media spends for automobiles, telecom, mobile handsets, e-commerce, consumer durables and such companies, which are big spenders in the media ecosystem,” says Premjeet Sodhi, SVP, Mindshare Fulcrum, South Asia. The genre also adds to incremental reach for male audiences (beyond the regular sports and news channels), and is often used as a reach and frequency builder in media plans, he adds.

Wealth power

As per industry estimates, the size of the Hindi movie genre is pegged at Rs 1,800 crore with more than 25 (pay + FTA) channels in this space. A 10-second slot during a big movie premiere such as Baahubali could go up to Rs 10 lakh, while for a low-key movie it could drop to Rs 1 lakh.

“This is a genre where the content has a lot of repeat value,” says Ashish Sehgal, COO, Zee Unimedia. “When it comes to the overall viewership share, the Hindi movie genre is only second to Hindi GECs; however, the level of monetisation still does not correspond to the rating it generates and that is a big challenge.”

Clearly, Hindi movie channels often struggle to command larger spends. Sehgal believes this could be a perception problem. “Planners and buyers have always used the Hindi movie genre for frequency,” he says. But because the time spent on Hindi GECs is more, advertisers tend to gravitate towards that genre, even though the reach of movie channels is comparatively higher. “We are trying to correct that but there is a lot of resistance in the market, because advertisers are used to buying slots cheap,” he adds.

Then there is also the theory about the mushrooming of OTT platforms eating into the share of the Hindi movie genre on TV. With more than 30 streaming platforms, is the threat real? “Not in the next three years at least,” says Menon. “That is because India is a single-TV household market. The primary members of the family and the older generation decide what to watch on TV, and it is the youngsters who are watching content on OTT platforms.” Furthermore, over the next few years, OTT viewership in India is likely to be different from TV viewership, he sums up.

FTA Hindi GEC channels

A 2017 Pitch Madison report estimated that Hindi GECs including FTA Hindi GEC channels had about 28 percent or Rs 5,500 to Rs 6,000 crore of the advertisers’ television ad expenses pie, which the report pegged at Rs 19,650 crore. Reports of various agencies spoke about the growth of FTA channels – be it the number of FTA channels, growth in viewership or growth in advertisements and revenues from FTA channels. FTA Hindi GEC channels contributions to ad revenue to grow from 20 percent in 2017 to 25 percent in 2018. Fears were voiced about FTA channels’ cannibalisation of subscription revenues.

Explaining the growth of FTA, an Ernst & Young report in 2017 said that FTA growth was supported by the entire ecosystem. The greater visibility on rural viewership made the FTA option very attractive for Hindi news channels, almost all of which had turned FTA. The EY report said broadcasters opened up to the idea of providing many FTA options because the free TV market in India was poised to grow primarily due to the rise of DD Free Dish, which had become the largest DTH operator in the country and the availability of increased rural data from Broadcast Audience Research Council of India or BARC, which had provided greater visibility to broadcasters. This, in turn, opened up avenues to advertisers who could not earlier afford the higher ad rates of the mainstream GEC said the EY report.

A September 2018 KPMG report on the status of the Media and Entertainment Industry (M&E) said that besides increased digital access resulting in increased consumption, growing demand from rural and regional markets was attracting the attention of both advertisersand content platforms. The KPMG report said that in the long term, these markets – digital and rural are expected to provide significant support for growth of the Indian M&E industry.

BARC data for 2018 seems to substantiate the conclusions by a number of reports. It is rural HSM that drives ratings up for FTAs and consequently in combined HSM (U+R). BARC publishes weekly data of the top 10 Hindi GEC channels in the combined urban and rural hindi speaking markets or HSM (U+R), and the HSM urban –HSM (U) and HSM rural – HSM (R). BARC defines HSM as all states in the country except for the four South Indian language markets. These languages are Kannada, Malayalam, Tamil and Telugu. The latest data available at the time of writing this paper was for week 40 of 2018.

According to BARC data for weeks 1 to 40 of 2018 (Saturday, 30 December 2017 to Friday,5 October 2018), four of the seven channels that appeared for each of the 40 weeks of 2018 in HSM (U+R) were Pay TV channels and three were free to air or FTA . In the case of HSM (U), of the nine channels that appeared in BARC’s lists of top 10 Hindi GEC urban weekly lists during each of the first 40 weeks or 2018, six were pay TV and three were FTA. In the case of rural HSM, five of the nine channels that have appeared in their respective BARC weekly lists, five were FTA and four were pay TV.

The four major networks that cater to the HSM GEC market – Star India, Sony Pictures Network India (SPN), Viacom 18 and Zee Entertainment Enterprises Ltd (Zeel) each have at least one FTA Hindi GEC each.  It is Zeel’s FTA Hindi GEC that has been the most consistent in terms of presence in BARC’s weekly lists in the combined HSM urban and rural, as well as in HSM rural. Overall, it was the most watched Hindi GEC during the first 40 weeks of 2018. Next in terms of ranking is Star India’s pay TV Hindi GEC Star Bharat that has also dominated HSM (U+R). In individual HSM (U) and HSM (R) Star Bharat had the fifth and fourth most weekly impressions respectively during the first 40 weeks of 2018. Urban audiences seem to prefer Pay TV to FTA based on weekly data for first 40 weeks of 2018. Six of the nine top Hindi GECs were pay TV, followed by three FTA channels. Based on BARC data, Sony Pal was the most watched FTA channel among urban HSM. In the case of rural audiences, FTA channels ruled in terms of weekly impressions during the first 40 weeks of 2018. The first four ranked Hindi GECs during the first 40 weeks of 2018 were FTA. Zee Anmol’s dominance in HSM (U+R) in based on HSM (R).

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