The TightRoPe Walk

The TightRoPe Walk

Hindi general entertainment space is not only about who’s got the best TV shows on air.

The weekly toss-up in the Hindi general entertainment space is not only about who’s got the best television shows on air,but about fighting for a share of the R3,200-crore ad pie. From new formats to second-line channels,networks are pulling out all stops to stay on top.

Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown. Star Plus,the leading Hindi general entertainment channel (GEC) from Star India,finds its numero uno status on the GEC roster frequently challenged,where channels swap places on a regular basis. Recently,Zee Entertainment Enterprises promoted GEC Zee TV pipped Star Plus for the number one place. The grand finale of dance reality show Dance India Dance gave Zee TV the rush of ratings,allowing it to score 283 gross rating points (GRP) in week 33 (August 12-18) while Star Plus came second place with 255 GRPs,according to data released by television audience measurement agency TAM Media Research. In week 36 (September 2-8),Zee proved that its ratings climb-up was not an aberration and zoomed to top position again. A year back,it was Viacom18’s GEC Colors that had dethroned Star Plus and was the major cause of worry for the channel.

According to the latest data available, things have rolled back into place for Star Plus. In week 37 (September 9-15),Star Plus leads the Hindi general entertainment pack with 250 GRPs,while Zee comes second with 240 GRPs.

The weekly toss-up implies an increase or decrease of ad revenues,since rates are validated on the basis of these GRPs. The fight is for the lucrative R3200-crore general entertainment ad pie,in an overall television advertising market of R12,000 crore. With one of the contenders—Imagine TV from the Turner Broadcast Networks stable—having called it a day earlier this year,it is also a fight for survival,say media buyers. As Ajit Varghese,managing director of media buying company Maxus,part of GroupM India,points out,gross rating points (GRP) are equivalent to market share. “Your confidence in a particular channel or network grows if it manages to retain the number one spot consistently,” he says.

Race into the weekend


The GEC slugfest now spills over to the weekend. Star Plus has brought in an action-crime investigation series called Arjun and a short story format called Teri Meri Love Stories for its weekend slot. It has also brought on another series called Lakhon Mein Ek for Sundays,which focuses on social issues and replaces the hugely successful Satyamev Jayate. Rival channel Colors has gone one step ahead and has entered into a strategic tie-up with Hindi GEC SaharaOne for a singing reality show Sur Kshetra. The show is a cross-border musical competition featuring both Indian and Pakistani artistes and will simulcast on SaharaOne. Zee TV has also brought on the epic Ramayan and placed it in the morning slot,which is also being simulcast on public broadcaster Doordarshan. The biggest trump card is,of course,from Sony Television,the GEC from Multi Screen Media,which has placed its marquee show,the Amitabh Bachchan starrer Kaun Banega Crorepati (KBC),in the weekend slots (Friday-Sunday).

Anita Nayyar,chief executive officer – India & South Asia,Havas Media,agrees that entertainment channels are far more serious today about weekend content than before. “Most of the GEC broadcasters are evenly matched. It makes the process of media planning and buying increasingly complex. Many of the channels resort to short-term tactics of placing big events and films on weekends,etc.,to ensure a quick spurt in the ratings.” Nayyar says that media buyers tend to average out a channel’s performance over the last few months before arriving at a buying decision. “Sudden spurts and drops are also averaged out,” she said.

For MSM’s Sony,placing KBC in the weekend slot has been a huge risk,say media buyers. Ideally,it should have run in weekday slots and could have worked as tentpole programming for some of Sony’s daily soaps such as Bade Acche Lagte Hain. NP Singh,chief operating officer of MSM,however,says that weekly ups and downs don’t bother the network. “Television rating points (TRP) and gross rating points (GRP) is the currency for the industry. But we don’t react to it on a week to week basis. Sony has been in the television business for more than 17 years and we’ve seen enough competition from others.”

He says it was a conscious decision to place KBC in the weekend since it would enable viewers to keep their daily tasks aside,and enjoy this family programme. “This way,no one misses any episode of KBC,which was the complaint from our viewers earlier. We have always had one marquee non-fiction property in the weekend. Earlier it was Indian Idol.”

But Singh makes it clear that marquee non-fiction properties aside,Sony’s staple fare continues to be soaps. “We have launched a new show called Honge Juda Na Hum which is a love story with a twist for our weekdays. The fact is that good fiction is sustainable. Where most shows fizzle out in an year or two,CID is one of our longest running shows spanning the past so many years,” he says.

Search for different formats

Channels are pulling out all stops to be part of the game. While some are improvising existing formats,others are launching into big themed reality shows. Then there are the few that are exploring niches (in storylines and formats) Colors has incorporated a 9-year leap for the characters of its serial Parichay made by Balaji Telefilms. Ekta Kapoor,who devised the show,said that the show is about life’s second chances and that the turbulent storyline will now have two lead protagonists—twins who were chosen from a nationwide hunt. Colors is also set to telecast the sixth season of Bigg Boss early next month even as the latest season of yet another reality show India’s Got Talent gets underway this month.

Varghese from Maxus likes the way viewers are included in the programming process. He says that it is the little things that go a long way in grabbing the attention of viewers and consequently the media buyers. “Colors is advertising for people to come and be part of Bigg Boss. A common man could actually be a part of the show,along with the celebrities. It’s a great way to add freshness to the theme,” said Varghese. Colors has also devised an online game for its show Jhalak Dikhhla Jaa. Small tweaks lead to big impact,maintains Varghese.

The chief content and creative officer at Zee TV,Bharat Ranga,maintains that non-fiction programming such as Dance India Dance has worked very well for them. The channel recently took on a new positioning “Umeed se saje zindagi” and the challenge for the channel was to get new shows and formats that fit into the same premise. “We are not averse to rejecting formats if they don’t go along with our brand positioning. All our shows sync with our brand. For instance,Punar Vivaah – Zindagi Milegi Doobara talks about second marriage and the fact that there is hope if you’ve been unlucky in love. Zee will also launch a brand new season of Sa Re Ga Ma very soon.” While Ranga is happy with the grand finale of Dance India Dance and the fact that it catapulted them to the top position,he is looking for sustained viewership growth over time and not sudden spurts. There are a handful of fiction shows that the channel is set to launch soon,he says. In Ranga’s view,the war among GECs is a positive development and can further grow the category. The urban-rural divide is fast receding and complex subjects and relationships are being touched upon.

“We will soon reach a time when general entertainment becomes truly general. Right now,most GEC content is skewed towards females. In time,GEC channels will have some content on offer for everyone — males,kids,teenagers,etc. We are reaching there and this will be aided by digitisation,” he said.

A lot of the hype and the hoopla is around film premieres on some of the GEC channels. Sony,for instance,has already premiered Paan Singh Tomar and the Dirty Picture. Some other big acquisitions lined up include Rowdy Rathore,Ek Tha Tiger and Talaash. Colors recently premiered Vicky Donor on its channel. But Star Plus is clear that its direction has always been soaps,and now they are seeking stories and scripts that speak to a far wider range of viewers.

Big movies are reserved for its movie channel Star Gold. Nachiket Pantvaidya,general manager of channel Star Plus,said that as a market leader,Star Plus has been constantly pushing boundaries and trying to address a wide variety of subjects. “Satyamev Jayate brought in a new set of audiences who don’t traditionally consume Hindi general entertainment. Lakhon Mein Ek which replaced Satyamev Jayate also focuses on real people and their stories. Other launches such as Arjun and Teri Meri Love Stories are a departure from family drama. Arjun shows a cop with a sensitive side and Teri Meri Love Stories brings the short story format back with a cinematic touch,” says Pantvaidya. He says that the new approach is born out of the insight that Star Plus must cater to varied audiences. “Our approach with reality television is also slightly different,” he says,“While most of the channels look at reality content as song and dance shows,we are looking at real stories and subjects that people can relate to.”

Besides Zee TV,another channel that believes in a distinct brand identity is Star Plus’s sister channel Life OK. Ajit Thakur,general manager,Life OK,said that in its case,the brand itself stands for something. Life OK speaks to middle-class Indians and is a reminder that in the quest for material things,one must not forget what one has. “Our shows reflect positive emotions,and changing life for the better. It is also about cherishing the good things that you have. Mein Lakshmi Tere Aangan Ki,a serial on this channel is about a middle-class girl who has to choose between love and money. There is Dil Se Di Dua Saubhagyavati Bhava,which is about a perfect marriage gone wrong,and what the protagonist must do in order to deal with the situation. Mahadev is about faith and balance in one’s life. Our shows are about positive re-inforcements,” he says. Thakur says that in the gross rating points (GRP) race,Life OK has fared reasonably well. “Star One,which was Life OK’s previous avatar,registered some 30-odd GRPs,while we are in the 130-GRP range today.”

By the end of next year,Life OK is hoping to be one of the top three general entertainment channels in terms of brand equity and recall,says Thakur. “I wouldn’t neccessarily base our goals on GRPs alone. One of the big shows that we are launching is 26/12 which is the common man’s fight against terror. We are also launching a kids show tentatively called Hindustan Ke Hunarbaaz which will feature talent from across India. One big thing that differentiates this talent show from talent shows on other channels,is that there are no winners. No one in the first place or the second. If you are on the show ,you’re a winner alread,” said Thakur. He added that it was a matter of concern that kids in talent shows on competing channels were worn out from the entire excercise. “This show will just be for the enjoyment of it all,” he maintains. “It’s not a race or a contest.”

GEC set to leapfrog further

Advisory firm KPMG’s media and entertainment report released in 2012 in association with industry body Ficci states that the Hindi GEC space led amongst the genres with a 27.8% share in viewership. Southern language channels came second with a share of 23.7% and Hindi movies with a genre share of 11.9%. Some key themes observed in 2011 among Hindi GECs were a focus back on fiction programming,continued rapid rise in movie acquisition cost,and increased attention to flanking channels.


The Hindi GEC genre will continue to grow,and be the main revenue driver for broadcasters due to the significant reach and viewership levels. Fiction shows on general entertainment will be more popular than non-fiction on an average,generating higher television ratings,says the report. Ashish Pherwani,partner (advisory services) at Ernst & Young,another management consulting firm,says that currently,there is not much competition for Star Plus. You have challengers that emerge every now and then but Star Plus bounces back to top position. He said that the real differences will come about when digitisation kicks in. “Once subscription revenues increase and dependence on advertising money comes down,general entertainment content will really leapfrog. Differences between various players will become that much more acute. The real competition will come in then,” he said. In a digitised scenario,second-line GEC channels such as Life OK and SAB TV will have a critical role to play. “I see a lot more broadcasters coming up with second GEC channels. While GEC is a cost intensive,high GRP game,second-line GECs are about low-cost programming and frequency. While one can focus on a set of viewers,the other can try and capture a different set. This space is lucrative enough to absorb them all.”