Yet, when it comes to television in India - a platform expected to reflect society at large - the youth, as a category, sorely lacks representation. Yes, there are channels galore that define themselves as youth channels and claim to vie hard to tap into this specific audience set (broadly defined as the 15-24-year-olds). But the reality seems different. Uptil now, the so-called youth channels haven't managed to succeed spectacularly, while for the general entertainment channels (GEC) the youth are secondary viewers. Are TV channels doing enough to entice this huge audience-set?
Facing the music
In the television broadcasting business, each genre represents a core group of viewers, on the basis of which the channels are sold to the advertisers as well. For instance, news is bought for males, GECs primarily for females and kids for children (4-14 years). Similarly, the music channels represent the youth brigade.
Over the years, more than half a dozen channels jumped on to the music bandwagon, but none could create any kind of differentiation. Besides, the growth of the internet and FM radio gave the youth a more interesting alternative. Music, for instance, could be downloaded anywhere, free.
MTV and Channel V tried to rejuvenate themselves with differentiated content hoping to hold on to the youth brigade. From English, they first moved to Hindi music to be more mass. This was followed by non-fiction content. Now, they are trying their luck with fiction.
Channel V, for instance, has launched five new fiction shows (based on teenage romance, college romance, real life issues) in the last one year which are aired during prime time. The 'M' in the MTV no longer stands for 'music' - the channel refers to itself as 'multi-dimensional' and 'multi-platform'.
MTV and Channel V's attempt to position themselves as youth channels was also triggered by the launch of a new channel UTV Bindass in September 2007, which, with its differentiated controversial reality content, laid claim to the youth GEC leadership. It is not as if the youth formula hasn't worked at all. Channel V increased its average weekly GRPs from 10 to 21 between 2008-2011(C&S, 14-25 years, All India).
Bindass and MTV, haven't achieved such steep growth but have managed to retain viewers. For Bindass and MTV, numbers have grown from 14 to 19 and 23 to 27, respectively. However, for MTV, the peak year was 2009, when it averaged 32 GRPs while for Bindass, 2010 was the year when it averaged at 21 GRPs.
Are GECs doing enough?
For most GECs, the female member of the house is the primary audience. It's because the woman controls the remote in a single TV household, that the youth is forced to follow. But according to Jai Lala, principal partner at MindShare, "If the sole objective is to achieve GRPs (media plans are primarily led by GRPs), this strategy works."
The indifferent attitude towards the youth has cost channels dearly. The sudden spurt in growth of non-fiction content on general entertainment is a lame attempt to correct that imbalance. Shows like Indian Idol, Dance Indian Dance, Bigg Boss, Kaun Banega Crorepati and now Satyamev Jayate have brought the youth closer to TV sets but more needs to be done.
For instance, KBC in its last episode of season five managed 17 GRPs from the youth brigade, while the 15-24 year olds contributed 12 GRPS to the first episode of Satyamev Jayate. There are quite a few things that have worked for Satyamev Jayate. While it had content which was sure to cut across the youth, the social media and digital buzz also popularised the programme further. The buzz on social media drove more viewers to the show.
But media practitioners strongly believe that GECs are lazy when it comes to the youth. That's where digital scores. Ravinder Pal Singh, vice president at Neo@Ogilvy says, "Two clear content areas that make digital platforms successful are: content that creates a sense of competition and content which lets them voice their opinion within their network." Going forward,what is the key? "Relevant content," responds Singh instantly, "which satisfies the passion points of youth."
Spanner in the works
While broadcasters are making desperate attempts to get in the youth, with different positioning formula, advertisers aren't buying in.
Another reason why specialised youth channels have failed to cut much ice is that there are several carriers of the 'youth flag'. For instance, sports and movie channels also sell the youth formula. Priti Murthy, director, consumer insights, Maxus, says, "The youth brigade is highly fragmented and advertisers use them accordingly." For instance Euro Cup and F1 are used for super urban youth while cricket is for middle India mass youth. Similarly, only reality shows on GECs are used to target youth while movie channels are used for cost per rating points (CPRP) and reach.
The way ahead
Talk about television programming for youth and the predicament that plagues a broadcaster is 'low attention span' and a 'targeted universe' (22 million viewers). Consequently, there is a huge fear at play that 'substantial' investments in content may not attract the requisite RoI. Therefore, genres targeting a larger audience base (GECs, sports and news) prefer not to delve deep into this category.
Aditya Swamy, EVP and business head - MTV India admits that there is a lot more to be done. He says, "Content that is targeted towards the youth is a growing curve for sure. But having said that, there is more possibility to create content for youth because 60 per cent of India is young."
Many are of the opinion that youth will go for content that makes a difference to their lives and is 'relatable'. It also needs to have universal appeal. For instance, the quality of an Indian Idol on Sony has to be equivalent to that of an American idol because the youth is already exposed to the latter content online.
"We all know that attention span is low in the youth. Hence, standard formats will not work as well. Digital has shown that anything short would be the best thing that can work for youth. It also needs to break traditional norms and involve users," says Karthik Lakshminarayan, COO, Crest, Madison Media. He goes on to add, "Measurement is another factor. Sample sizes and the youth's unwillingness to share their exact behaviour is a deterrent to get better quality information. We should try other research techniques to gather information."
The youth genre on television is facing competition elsewhere. Compare this: channels like MTV and Channel V have a monthly reach of 12.5 million youth respectively (15-24, Sec A, B, and C) versus digital platforms like Facebook (18 million), yahoo.com (15 million) and YouTube (12 million). Around 60 per cent of Facebook and social media users are in the 15-24 age group. Nearly 80 per cent of these users access these platforms at least once a week and a healthy 15-20 per cent accesses it daily. Their main access points are cyber café's and home and of late, mobiles.
Fifty five per cent of mobile Internet users are in the age group of 15-24. On an average, they spend 2.5 hours a day in accessing Internet on mobile. Further, among YouTube users in India, 38 per cent of users are in the age group of 15-24 years and they access YouTube at least three hours a week
To make sure that they are not swamped out of the youth game, television programmers need to move doubly quick now.
Additional interviews: Amogh Dusad, Pix; Avinash Kaul, TTN; Nikhil Gandhi, Disney UTV; Luke Kenny, 9XO; Ferzad Palia, Viacom 18; Tarun Abhichandani, IMRB International; Divya Radhakrishnan, Helios Media; Shekhar Banerjee, Madison; Amol Mohandas and Shripad Kulkarni, Allied Media.