afaqs!

Can Sunday morning viewership be revived again?

By Anindita Sarkar , afaqs!, Mumbai | In Media Publishing | May 04, 2011
Dressed in episodic content and with the right kind of scheduling, Sundays can offer a huge opportunity for broadcasters to tap into the audience set at the back of customised Sunday content to fill that huge gap.

Sunday is no longer a day for families to jostle together before their television sets and pay undiluted attention to the much-awaited narratives of the Mahabharata. Children no longer wait with bated breath to watch Mowgli (of The Jungle Book) jump from one tree to another. Women of the households are in no hurry to finish their domestic chores to grab a seat before the television. Why not? What exactly are the influences that have led to the fall in Sunday TV viewing?

Fragmentation of television space...

According to Navin Khemka, senior vice-president, ZenithOptimedia, one reason attributed to the loss in Sunday viewership is the ever-rising fragmentation of the television space and an increase in specialised channels.

Currently, there are approximately 475 television channels that are up and running, nationwide. The increasing number of television channels, along with an upswing in the number of genres and sub genres available, has enhanced the entertainment options offered to the viewer. And, on a Sunday, when viewers are in more of a casual television viewing mood, rather than the weekly appointment viewing experience, channel surfing is more of a customary phenomenon.

As a result, channels fail to accumulate enough GRPs on a Sunday as compared to a normal weekly day.

Social and lifestyle changes...

Evidently, the elaborate lifestyle of today's urban society, navigates the otherwise loyal viewers of the television world into a different, distant territory outside their homes on Sundays.

Today's television consumers are part of an extremely hectic lifestyle and this leaves them with no time to spare for enjoyment on weekdays. This, coupled with the indisputable rise in their dispensable incomes, urges them to move out of their couches on Sundays so as to enjoy the enormity of the entertainment and recreational options available to them at scale. Also, the declining viewership in urban areas, and more so in metros, is also as a result of people choosing to go out of town.

Family structures have also changed from being joint to nuclear, observes Prabhakar, head, CMS Media Lab. And, along with this, the Sunday time utilisation patterns have also witnessed transitions.

"In the days of joint families, work was distributed evenly and people had time. But, with the rise in nuclear families, people want to finish off everything they have at hand on that day. Therefore, they have much less time on hand to watch television," he opines.

Lack of enough original and consistent programming...

There is a universal consensus that broadcasters aren't trying enough either. Channels aren't investing to grab audience attention on Sundays with original programming. While Colors did try to keep the viewers hooked onto the channel on Sundays with Jai Shri Krishna (produced by Sagar Pictures), eventually the property was moved to Nick, its sister channel in the kids' domain. Sony tried its luck with the YRF (Yash Raj Films) line up, but the strategy did not meet with much success in garnering viewership.

Says Anita Nayyar, chief executive officer, MPG, "Slots are built over a period of time and therefore, channels need to be consistent in what they show. They should not pull out a show based on the initial TRPs, since audiences need to get accustomed to that slot which can happen only with time."

Now, while STAR India has built a fresh programming package, the other Hindi general entertainment channels (GECs) have voluntarily chosen to stay away from originals and instead show repeats, movies and events all through the day.

Anamika Mehta, chief operating officer, Lodestar UM, says, "It's a typical chicken and egg situation -- no great content, hence, no viewers and vice-versa. It's a case of myth turning into reality in the absence of strong content!"

High input costs while advertisers get reluctant...

If observed carefully, it's quite evident that there is a radical and consistent drop in viewership of top daily programmes over the years, wherein the fall in ratings is faster than the increase in cable and satellite households.

Sunday, meanwhile, does not create as much stickiness as a weekday. It's more about casual viewing. Therefore, it can never create as much viewership as a weekday primetime.

"Advertisers are reluctant to invest because they doubt that they can reach out to their target audience with much impact," says a media observer.

On the other hand, while the input costs of a channel's programming have moved up by as much as 25-30 per cent in the last two years, the advertising rates have remained almost stagnant. As a result, channels are reluctant to invest in experimentation and instead, keener to walk the tried and tested path to get revenues in. Broadcasters prefer to show movies and events on Sundays since such properties easily attract advertisers where the association is chiefly in terms of sponsorship.

Can episodic content be the key solution...?

If channels want to raise their viewership on Sundays, the content shown on that day has to be episodic, opine many. These could include formats such as talk shows and game shows wherein each episode is different and the consumer does not need to understand the previous flow.

Says Rajni Menon, assistant vice-president, Carat India, "Fiction is more of a daily viewing characteristic in India. Therefore, it is tough to lock viewers and advertisers when it comes to weekly fiction formats."

Sony's YRF shows stand a good example to this. Despite exhibiting strong quality, the shows that the channel designed for Saturday and Sunday viewing failed to keep the viewers glued. This is because Indian audiences are groomed to watch daily strips.

Indian television viewers do not have the time to wait for an entire week to watch the next episode. Therefore, it is imperative to create content which is episodic -- such as KBC (Kaun Banega Crorepati) or a much lower-budgeted show like BQC (Bournvita Quiz Contest).

Additionally, the content created has to capture family viewership. This is because, unlike weekdays when remotes are under the supervision of the women in the house, Sundays demand content for mass viewing since along with women, the men and children also fight for their television space on such a day.

And, some right scheduling, too...?

Yes, the much-hurried (read harried) people today do have special engagements on a Sunday, but there are certain times of the day when they are in control of the remote and could be tapped skillfully.

Sundays can fundamentally be divided into three segments -- the mornings, the afternoons and the evenings.

While evenings bring in unpredictability, mornings and afternoons are the slots that could be used competently. Mornings can be used effectively to attract kids' viewership with content that appeals to this segment as parents can participate as passive viewers.

Khemka says, "While weekend primetime (Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays) are mostly booked for events and reality shows, few channels are making special efforts to capture viewers on Sunday mornings."

The 10 am-11 am band can be used extensively to get kids on board and to some extent the elders too, with mythological series and quiz shows. As per industry experts, a channel would need to spend approximately Rs 12-15 lakhs to produce a BQC-like show. And, while the format could have the potential to pull in viewers, it could generate revenues through sponsorship associations.

The slot can also be used for attracting viewers through mythology wherein the costs could vary between Rs 3-4 lakh and Rs 18-20 lakh.

Afternoons, meanwhile, call for more mass viewing and therefore, demand programming that has a mass appeal. Thus, it's the blockbuster movies that have the potential to drive viewership.

The unpredictable evenings can be meanwhile used to attract viewership thorough show repeats, movies, events and sporting events - primarily, cricket.

Colors' strategy to repeat its afternoon movies during evenings is extremely tactic, notes Nayyar. "The channel has been consistently repeating its afternoon movies during the evenings, she says. Consequently, viewers who stay at home in the evenings know that they can watch the same in the evening if they have missed it and vice versa.

Therefore...

Dressed in episodic content and with the right kind of scheduling, Sundays can offer a huge opportunity for broadcasters to tap into the audience set at the back of customised Sunday content to fill that huge gap.

"The revenue equation with good quality content shouldn't be such a bad bet at all!" says Mehta.

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