Necessity is the mother of innovation. This holds true for the Hindi general entertainment channel (GEC), Colors. When the channel went on air in July 2008, it began with around 24 hours of original programming per week. This was quite low, compared to other channels in the genre, which had 30-40 hours of original programming every week.
To meet the programming demands, Colors decided to adopt a hitherto untried route. It decided to repeat its most popular show, not once, but five times in a day. Not that repeating shows was a new concept in India, but repeating it multiple times in a day was new for Indian television.
Until a few years ago, repeating shows was often considered taboo. In its glory days, a top GEC refrained form repeating its popular shows, fearing that that viewership in the prime time telecast would come down.
As a senior industry observer explains, "Earlier, the objective was to increase stickiness during prime time bands. But this formula doesn't work anymore. With newer players in the GEC space, viewership is fragmented and the rules of the game have changed."
Further proof of the changed times comes from the falling TVRs. There was a time when the most popular shows, Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi and Kahani Ghar Ghar Ki, would fetch TVRs in the range of 15 and 16. In comparison, the top two shows today - Balika Vadhu and Bidaai - do not even deliver a double digit rating.
It is here that the repeats play an important role. Both these shows are repeated five to six times in a day, and the interesting fact is that repeat telecasts add substantial viewership for the channel.
As per TAM Media Research, (C&S, 4+, HSM), in the month of December (1-27), Balika Vadhu garnered a GRP of 135 during prime time telecast. The repeat telecasts got a cumulative GRP of 132 - almost at par with the original telecast.
Even Bidaai had a good run with repeat telecasts. The show garnered a GRP of 117 during the prime time, and the repeat telecasts added another 44 GRP.
In fact, with increased competition in the GEC space, channels are fighting the GRP game. All GECs charge premium ad rates for the prime time shows (7-11 pm), which contribute around 40-45 per cent of the weekly GRPs. The remaining 55-60 per cent comes from the non-prime time shows, the ad rates for which depend on the GRPs attained in these time slots.
In recent years, the gap between prime time and non-prime time ad rates has also narrowed, due to decreasing TVRs of top shows. For instance, in the current scenario, if the prime time ad rates for 10 seconds are Rs 65,000, the non prime time ad rates work out to be around Rs 20,000 for 10 seconds. Therefore, considering cost per ratings, non prime time may even turn out to be more cost-effective than prime time for advertisers.
While there was a belief that advertisers are oppose to appearing on repeat telecasts, nothing could be further from the truth. For advertisers, as long as eyeballs are guaranteed and the cost of reaching audiences is efficient, there isn't much preference between original or repeat telecasts. As a senior media buyer puts it, "Different brands use programmes to build reach or frequency or impact. Repeats offer a faster reach at low cost which is a happy situation for the channel."
Besides, all the channels have package deals with advertisers. Media planners settle on a certain number of original slots, and for exposure to a wider audience base, they get slots in the repeat telecasts too. The package arrangement takes care of the high rates for prime time and other less lucrative spots.
Apart from Bidaai and Balika Vadhu, several other shows are repeated twice or thrice in a day on most GECs. In other words GECs have willingly adopted the repeat route.
To put things into perspective, a GEC needs a minimum of 15 hours of programming every week to complete the prime time lineup, assuming commercial breaks of 15 minutes per hour. Besides, the channel also needs to fill other time bands, especially the afternoon time band, which has a sizeable viewership.
However, for a new channel, it's always a challenge to complete it programming mix in different time bands. The first priority is to build the prime time slot on weekdays, which decides the fate of the channel.
The biggest consideration for the channel, especially a new one, is the cost of producing these shows. As per estimates, a fiction show with high production quality for a Hindi GEC costs anything between Rs 8-12 lakh per 30 minutes. So, in a week, the channel needs to spend a minimum of Rs 2.4 crore, which means an annual expenditure of roughly Rs 125 crore.
With a limited budget, there is little that a channel can do. For logical reasons, initially, a new channel always puts its monies in the prime time. Building other time bands is always a secondary priority.
For the other time bands, the channel has the option to either complete its programming with low budget shows, costing Rs 2-3 lakh per episode, or air average movies, which are not very expensive.
Since generating fresh content is an expensive proposition, most channels do not prefer to air original shows during non prime time bands. Therefore, repeat telecasts of popular shows make sound economic sense.
By resorting to repeat telecasts in non prime time bands, the channel not only saves production costs, it also doesn't have to spend money to promote the shows.
As Danish Khan, marketing head, Sony Entertainment Television, India, says, "Repeats don't need additional marketing support. So, from the production and marketing point of view, there is no ramification." That's a significant saving, considering that the average cost of marketing a a low budget fiction show is Rs 1-2 lakh per episode. This is on the basis that a GEC usually spends around Rs 50 lakh-1 crore, in a year to promote a low budget show. For high budget shows, this cost could be double or triple.
Salil Pitale, head, media and telecom, Enam Securities, says, "With high costs of generating content, the profit margins for broadcasters are being squeezed. To top it, advertisers are reducing their budgets and spending less for a specific slot. In such a scenario, it is also advisable for channels to cut down on expenses for such time slots."
The other myth that prevailed in the industry was that the repeat telecast would weaken viewership for the original telecast. However, it's been proved that repeat telecasts increase the sampling for the original show.
As Varghese says, "If the original programme gets high viewership, repeat telecasts will also be popular. It will reach out to both new viewers and repeat viewers, but the number of new viewers will be more."
Tarun Nigam, executive director, India - North & Pakistan, Starcom Worldwide, shares a similar opinion, "Multiple repeats help a show to cater to a wider viewer base. Lately, we have witnessed expansion in viewership. For example, Ramayan is also being watched by kids. Similarly, Balika Vadhu commands male viewers too."
Nitin Vaidya, business head, Zee TV agrees with the rest. "Repeat telecast ensures that the programme reaches all target groups at their convenient time which increases it viewership base."
In short, repeat telecasts have carved a niche for themselves, because of the advantages they offer to all stakeholders, including the viewers.
The game has finally changed.