In a 1980s & #BANNER1 & # song titled 'Nobody Home', the psychedelic rock group, Pink Floyd, assailed television with the lyrics: "Got 13 channels of trash on TV to choose from". Change the figure to 300 (Ministry of Information and Broadcasting figures), and you might be talking about today's India. We've never been inundated with so many channels.
Amidst this deluge of channels, it is pouring GECs. We already have half a dozen of them, and if that isn't enough, more are waiting in the wings, readying for launch in the next 12-18 months. INX Media, NDTV, Viacom-CNBC, Miditech and BAG Films are all eyeing the GEC space, while older players such as Zee and Sahara are set to launch their second GEC. GEC leaders such as STAR and Sony Entertainment Television Network already have two each on air. So, how many GECs are too many?
Experts say one of the signs of the evolution of any medium is when it breaks into genres. After the explosion of C&S in the early 1990s, the only way television could have evolved was by breaking into genres. If you consider music, for instance, you can count at least half a dozen music channels from Channel [V] to VH1. Is breaking into genres the future for GECs?
"That's the only way to exist. Clones can't co-exist in television. You can liken it to a monopolistic market where goods serve the same purpose, but have different characteristics. Similarly, there can be many GECs or music channels or sports channels, with each one differentiated through one or more characteristics. For instance, Neo Sports and STAR Cricket are cricket based sports channel, while ESPN, STAR Sports and Zee Sports are general sports channels," explains Mona Jain, executive V-P, ZenithOptimedia.
Chowdhary adds, "We can already see that differentiation in GECs. SET's two GECs - Sony and SAB - are as different as apples and oranges. One is woman-centric, while the other is more youthful. Similar is the case with STAR Plus and STAR One."
Second GEC is a new trend that all big broadcasting houses are following. Recently, SaharaOne and Zee have announced plans to launch second GEC, exploring different TGs.
Says Tarun Mehra, head, marketing, Zee TV, "Two GECs can be differentiated on the basis of target audiences. One GEC can target the fairer sex with more drama, and another can target the youth with music based shows or reality shows."
Echoing Mehra's view is Seemanto Roy, head, SaharaOne, which, like the other entertainment giants, is making the most of the entertainment boom. "One can never get enough of general entertainment. For the first time, we are exploring the untapped opportunity in the entertainment space," says Seemanto Roy, head, SaharaOne.
General entertainment was associated with women-oriented channels, but now things are set to change. "General entertainment is entertainment for all and not just for women. Media houses are realising that. There is talk of youth channels, lifestyle channels, men's channels, and other categories currently considered niche," adds Chowdhary.
Among the various GECs that will see the light of day within the next year are: a lifestyle and glamour channel by BAG Films; an entertainment channel, 9X, by INX Media; an entertainment channel by the Viacom-TV 18 combine, and a lifestyle channel each by NDTV and Miditech.
"The key phrase now is specific audience. No new channel is out here to capture what Doordarshan did in the 1990s because that is not possible now. Instead, niche channels are in," says Jain.
Whether a larger number of GECs will lead to more entertainment or more chaos will be clear when all the new players hit the television screen. Whatever be the case, stand by to be spoilt for choice. Call it a problem of plenty!
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