afaqs!

2009: Television in the times of slowdown

By Sangeeta Tanwar , afaqs!, New Delhi | In Media Publishing | January 13, 2010
The television broadcasting industry saw a few lows and many highs in 2009. At the end of the day, the industry registered a growth of 6 per cent - thanks to IPL and the General Elections; but there were debacles such as the GEC, Real to contend with too

The slowdown greeted the television broadcasting industry in 2009 with a gloomy face. According to estimates by media planning and buying agency, Zenith Optimedia, TV media grew at a slower rate in 2009, as compared to both 2008 and 2007. This was also the scenario for other traditional media - print, radio and outdoor.

TV media grew by Rs 1,105 crore (15 per cent) in 2008 over 2007; but it recorded a growth of only Rs 512 crore (6 per cent) in 2009 vis--vis the previous year. In 2009, the industry clocked total revenues of Rs 9,013.3 crore, as per the estimate.

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Things could have been worse for TV, had the second season of Indian Premier League (IPL) not brought in Rs 650 crore in 2009 - Rs 150 crore more than in 2008. However, there was only one beneficiary of this revenue: Max, the official broadcaster.

For many brands, IPL is a must-buy, and many of them diverted 50 per cent of their total spends during March and April to the tournament.

A senior media planner says, "The race for buying airtime in the IPL telecast is quite competitive. In fact, the top telecom brands have spent heavily during this tournament. But for other brands who couldn't make it to THE IPL, general entertainment channels (GECs) are the second option. Indirectly, the competitiveness of IPL helps other genres as well."

It must be remembered that this was despite several uncertainties around IPL-2, starting from the change of venue to renegotiation of broadcasting rights, which, finally, Multi Screen Media (erstwhile Sony Entertainment Television) managed to retain.

The other benefactor for the TV industry in 2009 was the General Elections, as political parties spent about Rs 350 crore on television last year. Together, the news channels are estimated to have cornered only Rs 12-15 crore of this revenue, whereas the lion's share was grabbed by the GECs and regional channels.

Overall, GECs expanded their market from Rs 2,800 crore in 2008 to Rs 3,000 crore in 2009.

The GEC story

In the GEC space, history of sorts was created in 2009, when relative newcomer, Colors toppled STAR Plus from the top position. STAR Plus had ruled this position for nine long years.

Interestingly, this was not a one-week fluke. Rather, Colors retained the leadership position for several weeks, except for a few odd ones when ZEE and STAR Plus climbed up the ladder.

As a result, Colors gained preference amongst advertisers. As a senior media planner says, "With 350 GRPs, Colors has become the most preferred channel amongst GECs."

Sony Entertainment Television, which had slipped down to the No. 5 position amongst GECs in the last few years, tried to reclaim its past glory. The channel was revamped and a new programming line-up introduced. However, the new shows failed to make a mark; and the channel had to go in for another repositioning with an exclusive content tie-up with Yash Raj Films.

The developments at the channel were a result of a change of guard at the company. Kunal Dasgupta moved out of the company and Man Jit Singh shifted back to Mumbai from the US, to shoulder the responsibilities for the entertainment channel, Sony.

In 2009, channels in the GEC space seem to have experimented more than in the previous years, both in fiction and non-fiction programming.

Shows such as Balika Vadhu and Na Aana Is Des Laado had sowed the seeds of differentiated programming in 2008. But last year, other channels followed suit and many similar shows, such as Yeh Rishta Kya Kehlata Hai, Agle Janam Mohe Bitiya Hi Kijo and Mitwa Phool Kamal Ke saw the light of day on other channels.

Even in the non-fiction genre, many new formats, such as Rakhi Ka Swayamvar , Pati Patni Aur Woh, Raaz Pichle Janam Ka, Perfect Bride, Iss Jungle Se Mujhe Bachao and Big Switch were tried and also created buzz.

One channel which needs special mention is SAB, which moved up the ladder in the weekly GRPs during 2009, proving that its comedy shows were finally drawing in new audiences, besides its loyal set of viewers. The channel has been on an upward swing with 81 GRPs in Week 49 (TAM, C&S, 4+, HSM).

On the programming front, another big change was that producers and broadcasters paid due importance to nuances of culture and dialect, while doing shows based on a particular region.

Besides, there was an increase of small-town or regional storylines in fiction programmes - a conscious effort to increase GEC penetration in small-town India, keeping future TAM markets, such as Bihar, in mind. This is why Bihar-based storylines were seen on almost every channel.

In 2009, the trend of repeat programming, which started in 2008, grew further. Broadcasters increased their repeat programming from 42 hours (2008) in a week to 84 hours in a week (2009).

Amongst the mishaps, after 9X, which opted to air only repeat programming in 2008, Real followed the same route in 2009. The channel, launched by the joint venture between Turner and Miditech, continues to be on-air with repeat programming.

Turner has now bought a controlling stake in NDTV Imagine. And Real's chief executive officer, Sunil Lulla, has moved to his old company, Times Broadcasting, as managing director and chief executive officer of all three channels - Times Now, ET Now and Zoom. There is no updated information of the JV between Turner and Miditech.

Another important development during the year was that Peter Mukherjea and Indrani Mukerjea, promoters of INX Media, gave up their controlling stake in 9X. They also sold their 50 per cent stake in NewsX to Vinay Chhajlani, one of the promoters of NaiDunia.

News, business and films

By the end of last year, UTVi, the business news channels from UTV group - which seemed to have had already lost the battle - entered into a tie-up with Bloomberg TV. Though it was expected to give a fresh lease of life to the business channel, the results are yet to be seen.

In the movie space, there was a new entrant in the form of WB. The English movie channel was launched by Turner and Warner Bros Entertainment.

For the news channels, 2009 was a learning experience, especially after the coverage of the terrorist attack in Mumbai on November 26, 2008. Many channels drew flak for being overenthusiastic and irresponsible in covering the tragedy. The News Broadcasters Association (NBA), therefore, announced a set of guidelines for the telecast of news in emergency situations.

Regional channels: A mixed bag

On the regional front, the slowdown also slowed down the regional expansion plans of many national broadcasters. For instance, Network 18 had plans to launch regional channels, including CNBC South and CNBC Gujarati, along with CNBC Channel 3. The channels have not seen the light of day yet, though they have received approval from the Information & Broadcasting Ministry.

In the regional TV space, the South witnessed the maximum number of launches, with as many as 22 new channels entering the market. The significant ones are two kids' channels by Sun TV and another kids' channel by Kalaignar TV.

Jagati Publications Group, the publishers of Telugu daily, Sakshi, rolled out their news channel, by the same name. Besides, Raj Television Network forayed into Karnataka, with the music channel, Raj Musix.

(Based on interviews with Mona Jain, India head, strategic investments, India Media Exchange; R Venkatasubramanian, vice-president, Lintas Media Group; Sriram Sharma, general manager, Bengaluru, Starcom Worldwide; Prabhakar, head, CMS (Centre For Media Studies); Niret Alva, chairman, Miditech)

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