Colors has made quite a splash debuting at number three in the Hindi general entertainment genre. Despite having a couple of industry veterans at their helm, peers NDTV Imagine and 9X couldn’t really pull off the kind of gross rating points — 116 in the second week — that Colors notched up. The show’s not over yet, the jostling for the number three slot will continue for a while. But the key takeaway from the Colors launch is that the days when a channel stayed put in one slot, for a reasonable length of time, are gone. Star Plus’s record will be hard to break; it has truly been a remarkable reign at the top. Zee has tried hard to get back its position and almost got there; towards the end of 2006, it was within 20 GRPs of Star but couldn’t make it. The gap has since widened to nearly 120 GRPs and Star retains its enviable reach of 65 per cent. It may not be long before we see a new number two — Zee is no longer the most watched channel during all prime time slots and its prime time GRPs are now down 30 per cent in seven months. It seems to be losing its touch in the regional space too — after years at the top, Zee Bangla has been upstaged by ETV Bangla.
With so much happening in the gec space — by far the biggest genre attracting a third of viewership and also advertising revenues — one would have expected to see some action from marketers too. But that doesn’t seem to be the case. While viewership for the genre has risen by about 26 per cent since November 2007 when 9X was launched, media buyer Mindshare reckons that advertising revenues on gec channels might actually have grown at a lower pace in the first six months to June 2008 compared with the same time last year. With several first time advertisers like Havells or Citibank sponsoring cricket, Mindshare figures that the total advertising revenues may have grown at 14-15 per cent on the base of Rs 3,600 crore. That’s clearly higher than the 12 per cent trend seen in the last few years. But with the IPL 20-20 matches taking away Rs 200 crore worth of ads from the pool of roughly Rs 4,100 crore, the rest of the pack, including gec channels, may have lost out. Mindshare reckons gec channels may not have done too well in July either.
Judging by the success of the 20-20 tournament, marketers will surely divert a substantial part of their adpsends to cricket next year. But it’s not just the IPL that will make life difficult for gec channels. While some variety in the programming put out by 9X and NDTV Imagine and now Colors may have had viewers tune into these channels, thereby growing the space, a younger, more educated and westernised audience will increasingly look for different fare. Notice how quickly INX’s Mahabharat was out of the top 100 — the K factor didn’t help too much there. And also how the Shah Rukh Khan hosted Paanchvi Pass was a near disaster. Today’s youngsters — the key segment being targeted by marketers — are looking for variety and will flirt with channels more than their parents did. The market in India may not be ready for the kind of salami slicing of programmes that Fox has done in the US, where there are entire channels devoted to select sports or even crime serials, but clearly that’s the way to go. Viewers will be fickle because there are more demands on time. One Indian Idol cannot a Sony make. Colors may have caught the attention of viewers but it will probably be at the expense of a Sony or a Zee or a 9X because there clearly isn’t enough room for nine or ten players.
Already, the average television viewing time, according to an estimate by CRISIL, is down to 112 minutes a day. And it won’t be long before the Internet and mobile phones lure youngsters away from television sets. GRPs for channels are coming down as are television rating points for programmes; from 14-16 TRPs for Star not so long ago in 2005, top content now notches up between 4 and 5 TRPs. Meanwhile, advertising inventory is increasing and already Star TV’s ad rates are 30 per cent off their peaks. Historically, advertising revenues for the genre have fallen faster than viewership: between 2003 and 2007 the genre’s share of advertising slipped from 53 per cent to 35 per cent. Collectively broadcasters could take home Rs 10,000 crore by 2010 from advertising revenues and with some luck subscription revenues could fetch them another Rs 5,000 crore. A 30 per cent share would see gec revenues hit around Rs 5,000 crore across all channels regional and national. This may not be good enough given that costs are huge with 80 per cent of expenses being running costs — content and people — and so the bill doesn’t really get smaller with time. On the contrary, with increasing competition they are only rising faster — carriage fees for the industry today are estimated to be more than Rs 1,000 crore. There’s plenty of cash to burn because an estimated $8-10 billion is expected to flow into television space over the next few years with $2 billion flowing into the broadcast business alone. But, the economics of the business cannot but deteriorate.