Why are English GECs reluctant to experiment?

By Anushree Bhattacharyya , afaqs!, New Delhi | In Media Publishing | December 02, 2010
More often than not, English general entertainment channels seem to shy away from producing original local content for Indian viewers. What stops them from experimenting?

The English GEC space is in desperate need of rejuvenation. For years, programming on English channels has solely relied on an imported library, except for a few home-grown products -- notable amongst these are Koffee with Karan and Rendezvous with Simi Garewal, both on STAR World.

Both shows have also been received well by the Indian audience -- proof of this is the fact that Koffee with Karan is now in its third season. Uday Shankar, CEO, STAR India, corroborates this. "The reason behind the shows doing so well is that both shows are celebrity-based and have high aspirational value."

However, there were other, less successful attempts too. Zee Café tried its luck with two reality shows, Bombay Talking in 2005 and Café Mic Testing in 2009, but both of them bombed.

Apart from these few and far between instances of mixed successes and failures, Indian English entertainment channels haven't tried their hand much at Indian content. What prevents them from experimenting?

First, English entertainment channels have found the easy route of importing dated episodes of popular international shows, which come in at much lower costs than producing original content for the Indian audience - the cost of which could run up to Rs 20-30 lakh per episode for a fiction show, and around Rs 1-2 crore for a big ticket reality show, like on Hindi GECs.

The other argument is that there aren't any takers for original content in English. The rationale is that these shows are targeted at an audience segment that is exposed to international shows. This audience expects the production quality of Indian shows to be at par with that of Hollywood studios, which is a nearly impossible feat, given cost considerations.

A senior media observer adds, "Though we all speak in English, we like to be entertained in Hindi or our regional language, which in a way, has restricted the growth of English entertainment channels in the country."

Thus, even special interest channels, such as Discovery and National Geographic, have opted for Hindi or regional language feeds to broaden their reach.

In addition, English GECs enjoy a larger revenue share in comparison to their viewership. The English entertainment channels garner a viewership share of only 0.13 per cent (as per TAM Media Research, All India). In the six metros, they enjoy a slightly higher viewership of 0.17 per cent. However, their total revenue adds up to Rs 100 crore a year.

In comparison, the Bengali GEC market is estimated to be around Rs 200 crore, while Marathi would be around Rs 150 crore. If one divides the total revenue of English GECs amongst the three channels (AXN, STAR World and Zee Café), their individual share would be comparable to any of the second-rung Hindi GECs or many regional channels.

Normally, the English entertainment channels claim an ad rate of Rs 3,000 for 10 seconds. But with original content such as Koffee with Karan, the rates have even gone up to Rs 50,000- 60,000 per 10 seconds - almost at par with Hindi GECs.

Koffee with Karan could be considered an exception - it commands a premium because of its celebrity and Bollywood quotient. Nevertheless, original content can increase both viewership and revenue for the English channels, provided they hit the right chord.

As Sudha Natrajan, president and CEO, Lintas Media Group, says, "Most people who watch international shows on English channels find it difficult to follow the accent. A local show will certainly help the genre grow - the only thing required is a good concept and hard work to make that content work."

Other Industry players voice a similar opinion. Amin Lakhani, head, exchange, Mindshare Media, feels that to change the rules of the game in English, one channel needs to unearth the magic formula. One success will lead to many others.

The industry seems hopeful that newer players such as CBS Prime could disrupt the market and thus, benefit the industry. As Anurag Bedi, business head, Zee Café, says, "With the influx of new players, there will be a demand for variety; and hopefully, viewers will develop an appetite for original content."

However, not everyone is as hopeful.

Ajit Varghese, managing director, Maxus, feels that the growth of the English GEC space is a long way off. "At present, only two genres are witnessing growth - that is, Hindi and regional. It will be a long time before media companies invest in original content in the case of English GECs."

Currently, according to TAM data (C&S 15+, Six Metros Nov 1-27), AXN is leading the number game among English GECs, with a relative share of 49.3 per cent. It is followed by STAR World, which has a relative share of 30.5 per cent; while Zee Café has 20.3 per cent.

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