Until recently, general entertainment channels (GECs) were experimenting with extending the primetime till midnight with original programming. Now, it seems they've adopted a different route. They are trying to begin the primetime sooner, as early as six in the evening.
While Colors starts its primetime with original programming at 7.00 pm with Bhagyavidhaata; STAR Plus begins its original programming at 6.30 pm with Sabki Laadli Bebo. Zee TV now plans to start its original programming at 6 pm on weekdays. What is interesting here is that Zee TV was the first Hindi GEC to taste success in the early primetime band, when it woke up the 7.30 pm slot with the launch of Chhoti Bahu.
Come November-end, the channel will launch two new properties in the 6-7 pm slot -- Apno Ke Liye...Geeta Ka Dharma Yudha and Bhagonwali...Baante Apni Taqdeer.
"Their aspirations, dreams and issues will be brought to the fore in a manner that will surely captivate the audiences," says Sukesh Motwani, head - fiction programming, Zee TV, adding optimistically, "It is a paradigm shift, and we are hoping that they will become appointment viewing like our other primetime shows."
On the new primetime slot, Akash Chawla, marketing head, Zee TV and Zee Cinema says in an official communiqué, "Audiences are always on the lookout for superior content. With winter round the corner and days being shorter, families are sure to gather in front of their TV screens; and it is our endeavour to give them original content. These launches are symptomatic of a broader change that we hope to pioneer in viewership trends."
Is this risk of launching original programming in the early time band worth taking? afaqs! spoke to a few media observers to get their opinions.
Most media executives believe that additional room given to original programming a couple of hours prior to the 8-8.30 pm slot would help in attracting audiences towards national GEC networks, and would also create revenue potential.
Speaking to afaqs!, Manas Mishra, EV-P & country head, Mudra Connext says, "Channels always want to generate more eyeballs and maximize their inventories. And with this extended time slot, it is not about generating the same eyeballs as a 9 pm band would garner, but about maximizing the eyeballs in that particular slot."
Navin Khemka, senior V-P, ZenithOptimedia adds that there is an absolute need to extend the viewership slot, because "There are audiences waiting to be tapped."
According to him, repeat shows across top GECs capture decent ratings; thus, advertisers who are not able to pay high entry cost buy these inventories. "With original programming filling up these slots, the inventories will surely come under a higher benchmark," he says. "Additionally, such a strategy will also help the channel negate the loss of GRP due to high viewership fragmentation during primetime."
According to Nandini Dias, COO, Lodestar UM, currently, most GECs air repeats during the 6-7 pm band, thereby limiting channel viewership. Hence, original shows in such slots would logically help create more eyeballs.
"But it also depends on the actual content and the quality of the production. Needless to say, the slot will not be seen as primetime, even if it performs better. If the efficiencies remain competitive or the same, media buyers will surely look at the slot," she adds.
The GECs currently claim an airtime rate of Rs 7,000-10,000 per 10 seconds; but with original programming, the rates could just double to Rs 15,000-20,000, depending on the performance.
However, this does not mean that the move is risk-free.
While it will surely pull in more audiences early into the channel and help in content sampling, the channel will have to constantly measure the risks. "This is because television content is an extremely perishable commodity. Therefore, if it does not excite the viewers, they may decide not to stick on to the channel," says Mishra.
Not to forget, Colors will also launch its new property, Pratha on November 15 at 7.30 pm. The show is produced by Spellbound and Walkwater Media and will run from Monday to Friday.
For the record, in the 6-7 pm time slot for the period October 24-30 (according to TAM Media Research), the average share of STAR Plus was 11.5 per cent; while Sony had 7 per cent average share; Colors had 5.5 per cent; Zee had 4.3 per cent;.
In the 7-8 pm slot during the same period, the average share of STAR Plus was 23.1 per cent; Colors had 5.2 per cent; Zee had 7.4 per cent; while Sony garnered an average share of 3.6 per cent.