On weekends, Indian television viewers break away from the daily pattern and tend to shift to different genres, channels and programmes. Leading general entertainment channels (GECs) have always struggled to retain their weekday viewers on weekends by adopting various strategies to attract and retain the audience.
Be it on consumers' demand or for the sake of experimentation, the channels have tried everything, from airing film awards, organising internal awards, airing recent movies and scheduling special fiction or reality shows for the weekend audience. The idea was to continue with the viewership trend, it enjoyed in the weekdays.
Some of these initiatives worked, while many didn't. Sony Entertainment Television, for instance, rode on the successes of popular shows such as CID and Aahat for many years to claim its leadership during weekends. On the other hand, many of these initiatives turned out to be very costly affairs for the channels as acquiring telecast rights for film awards nights or movies often went up to several crores.
Amongst the top three GECs, Colors and Zee have found an innovative way to beat the blues.
The two channels now air special episodes of their daily fiction shows to retain their weekday viewers. The strategy seems to be working for the channels.
Colors claims that one of its first trysts with a weekend special of its daily soap, Uttaran, fetched a TVR of 8 plus. Normally, a major film awards event, where the cost of acquiring telecast rights is very high, would have garnered such a high TVR.
In comparison, it's almost effortless on the channels' part to air the weekend special episode, which can be made at little extra cost and marketed by running promos of the show within its network to educate the audience.
However, not everyone agrees with this view.
Divya Radhakrishnan, president, TME, comments, "The channels cannot hope to draw in fresh audience with such experiments because airing an elongated episode of a soap is nothing but the continuation of a channel's regular viewer."
According to her, "the practice is another tactic and ploy of seeking viewer attention in a hugely competitive GEC space".
Such experiments only help a channel in getting incremental GRPs, which are crucial for proving the leadership for the entire week, when the gap between the top three players is often less than 20 GRPs.
It works like this: On an average, a GEC gets 30-40 GRPs in a day. These special one hour episodes manage to get around 3-4 GRPs. Sometimes, this becomes a deciding factor in the weekly race.
The channel executives, though, put these initiatives as a creative need.
Sukesh Motwani, fiction head, Zee TV, shares, "An hour long episode gives you the flexibility and luxury to adequately capture the high-twist in the plot of a story." However, he also accepts the marketing need, adding, "The idea is to showcase one of your best products and get those extra ratings."
Ashvini Yardi, programming head, Colors, voices a similar opinion. "The idea is to build anticipation through the week and display the twist or the major event that would probably change the course of the story during the one hour special. This strategy allows us to generate a lot of interest in the audience regarding the show, while at the same time presenting the major twist in a better manner."
At times, these week end specials perform at par with their weekday episodes.
As per the TAM data (HSM, 4+, January 18-22), regular episodes of Uttaran fetched Colors an average TVR of 7.1, whereas the one hour special episode on January 23 delivered an average TVR of 6.7.
For Zee TV, as per the TAM data (HSM, 4+, January 25-29), the regular episode of its show Pavitra Rishta did an average TVR of 6.3. In comparison, the special weekend episode of the show on January 30 delivered an average TVR of 6.1.
So what do these special episodes mean for the advertisers?
Radhakrishnan for one believes that in the past, with big drama points in the shows, channels did command a premium but this no longer holds true in a day and age when the GEC space is highly fragmented.
With only the regular audience tuning in for the show, advertisers are getting no additional benefits other than having another programme to buy.
However, another senior media planner says that if weekend specials deliver consistently, they could give advertisers a safe slot to get medium-high TVRs.
Though weekends have higher premium attached, in the case of weekend specials, this would not be true. This is primarily on account of a package deal, which would render even weekend exposure to a loyal audience, a cost effective platform for advertisers.