Hindi GECs Are Losing Audience Share Must Go Through Immediate Reform

They have lost a fifth of their audience share in three years. Is the typical Hindi TV viewer finally ready for a change? If events in the mass-driven Hindi general entertainment channel or GEC space are any indication, it would seem the time is ripe for the 20 year leap in this soap opera. Hindi GECs get by far the biggest audiences and share of ad revenues in the world’s second largest TV market. They are the bellwethers of the Rs 660 billion Indian TV industry. Over the last three years, however, Hindi GECs have lost a fifth of their share.

In almost every serial it is a woman character who wants to destroy the family; family life continues to be driven by age-old practices and little attempt is made to highlight how it should adapt to new demands of the society. I feel many women watch such serials to learn about new jewellery styles and sarees. Two, Hindi movie channels exhibit repeatedly a limited set of movies as if by rotation and rarely one sees classics like Do Bigha Zameen or trending movies like Hindi Medium.

Three, in most Hindi channels, you read news at the bottom of the monitor as you watch astrological issues or clippings of Hindi serials. Thoughtful analysis of issues is non-existent —experts shout at one another with the anchor watching the fun nonchalantly. It is time the information and broadcasting minister pays more attention to reforming GECs than curbing.

Switching off

Hindi general entertainment channels (GECs) have lost over a fifth of their viewership in three years. From 28.5 per cent of total TV viewers watching a Hindi entertainment show on Star Plus, Zee TV, and Colors among other Hindi GECs in 2015, it fell to 22.6 per cent, according to the Broadcast Audience Research Council (BARC) data.

The number of overall TV viewers, however, increased from an average of 21.2 billion impressions in the last quarter of 2015 to 29.2 billion this year. Except for Zee TV and Sony, almost every major Hindi GEC has lost share. The Rs 110-billion Star India’s flagship, Star Plus, has been the worst hit. Hindi GECs are the bellwether genre for India’s Rs 660-billion TV industry. It got roughly a third of the Rs 267-billion advertising money that went to TV last year. “If a Hindi GEC does well everything falls into place. No other channel can drive network growth,” said Shailesh Kapoor, chief executive officer, Ormax Media.

Zee TV for Zee Entertainment, Colors for Viacom18 or Star Plus for Star India drive distribution, advertisement and pay revenues and the perception of leadership. This is true, even though other languages such as Marathi, Telugu or Tamil are significant contributors to both audience and revenue share for all these networks. “There is no problem with consumption. What has changed is the measurement universe,” said Punit Mishra, CEO, domestic broadcast, Zee Entertainment Enterprises.

From a panel of 20,000 homes that covered about 90,000 people, the BARC now has 30,000 homes covering 135,000 people and going up. One-third of the sample is now rural, with south India having a significant share, though the BARC refuses to reveal how much. As a result, the share of non-Hindi GECs has been going up; not because more people are watching, but because more of those watching are getting captured in the sample

Other reasons

There are other reasons as well. “Hindi GEC is affected by movies and news. Especially since demonetisation Hindi news has seen a huge rise in female viewership,” said Partho Dasgupta, CEO, BARC. “There is huge audience fragmentation due to too many choices; element of urbanisation is also adding up,” said K Satyanarayana, senior vice-president, RK Swamy Media Group.

The viewership of Hindi movies for example jumped by 21 per cent in the same period that Hindi GECs have taken a fall. Some analysts point to online viewing as a reason. But if that were correct, the overall numbers too would have fallen. For now online is growing over and above TV viewing. Kapoor disagreed that only changes in the BARC’s sampling or fragmentation was the problem. “There is a problem with the whole category. There is fatigue with fiction. Non-fiction on the other hand has done well. Of the top 10 shows in 2017, the top seven were non-fiction. In the last two-and-a-half years, not one big (fiction) show has worked. In 2017, of the 50-60 fiction shows launched on mainstream GECs, not one has been a hit,” he said. Mishra agrees that quality of content is an issue. “Stories have to be unique and relatable. The tyranny of sameness needs to be broken. There are no great characters and interesting breakable stories,” he said. He pointed to Zee’s Ishq Subhan Allah which opened to a 2.4 rating, a good number in an overcrowded market. Zee is among the lucky few that has increased their share on the back of shows such as Kumkum Bhagya and Kundali Bhagya. It would seem all Hindi broadcasters need is the next big hit.

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