The Hindi GEC Colors' fiction show Naagin has been ruling the ratings charts for about 18 weeks now, barring the occasions when the T20 World Cup matches snatched away some eyeballs. The show slotted for weekend prime-time, seems to have opened the gates to weekend fiction, with most GECs now extending their dailies from five days to six, and even seven days a week.
The 'extended' shows
From Feb 29, all weekday fiction shows of Star Plus started airing Monday to Sunday. These are Mere Angne Mein, Suhani Si Ek Ladki, Saath Nibhana Saathiya, Ye Hai Mohabbatein, Siya Ke Ram, Silsila Pyaar Ka, Diya Aur Baati Hum, Ye Rishta Kya Kehlata Hai, Tamanna, and the recently-launched Dahleez. The channel has earlier done this sporadically - with six shows in 2014, and two shows in 2015 getting stretched into weekends. But, it is only now in 2016, that all its 10 fiction dailies have got this extension, and have occupied slots emptied by non-fiction shows like Aaj Ki Raat Zindagi and On Air With AIB, as well as weekend movies.
Colors, the channel riding high on its weekend fiction success has extended telecast time for three of its six fiction shows. Thapki Pyar ki and Sasural Simar Ka air six days a week, while Ishq Ka Rang Safed began airing all seven days from March 27.
Zee TV made this move early, by the end of 2015, extending its Monday-to-Friday fiction in the 7-9 pm band to Saturdays as well. Two of its shows Satrangi Sasural and Sarojini was already on air six days a week, but properties like Kala Teeka, Qubool Hai, Tashn-e-Ishq and Jamai Raja were also extended post the launch of Sunehra Shaniwar on November 29. As a result, its weekend show Neeli Chatri Waale had to shift to Sunday, 8 pm.
Sony Entertainment Television has stuck to the Monday-to-Friday schedule for its fiction content, with the exception of two mythologicals -- Sankat Mochan Mahabali Hanuman and Suryaputra Karn, with both airing six days.
The thought behind the move
Commenting on this strategic decision, Manisha Sharma, programming head, Colors, says, "Airing a show on all seven days a week is an instant fix on overall channel ratings. For Indian viewers, having these shows even on weekends gives them an all-round entertainment experience, which is a mix of fiction and non-fiction offerings. It also enables us to experiment with the show's storyline and highpoints."
Talking about the insight that backed this move, Sharma says, "Our early primetime shows have been airing six days a week for a while, and have garnered strong viewer support and feedback which has encouraged us to continue partaking in this trend."
A Star India spokesperson says, "Our prime-time shows and characters are immensely popular with a very loyal following, so we decided to take them closer to the viewers by airing all shows seven days. This step has re-defined audience viewing habits with the channel's Sunday primetime viewership growing twice with four of the top six shows on Sundays belonging to Star Plus."
Pradeep Hejmadi, Zee TV's business head, also says that extending the channel's weekday primetime properties to Saturdays was to "give its audiences more, and bring protagonists closer to the viewers."
Calling Colors' Naagin the game-changer here, Vanita Keswani, CEO of Madison Media Sigma, says, "Channels have tried and not succeeded so far with weekend soap programming, because somehow, weekends have not been fiction-format friendly. Audiences want something different. I think Naagin on Colors changed the name of the game of weekend GEC fiction. The show is occult -- its unique supernatural content has taken off very well. Its time-slot was just before Bigg Boss, which always had a good viewership on weekends. Star Plus' (its fiction shows, too, have been extended to weekends) prime weekday show Siya Ke Ram is doing well, and the content there is not drama fiction, but mythology."
How does this change impact production quality and talent issues? Ekta Kapoor, CEO, Balaji Telefilms, says, "Airing a show seven days a week increases a lot of pressure on the overall quality of content, owing to which the production quality, and storyline for a show could suffer, as well as bring in talent fatigue. As such, it is the joint responsibility of the channel and production house to ensure that the shoot schedules and storyline are so tweaked that the pressure is eased out across the board. At Balaji, we are cognisant of every aspect that goes into making a gripping proposition for our audiences and ensure that every partner in the show-making is treated fairly."
Is this a sustainable move for channels? Kiran Konsam, agency trading head, Mindshare, says, "Yes, this move could be sustained. The yields are two-fold -- incremental ratings for the total channel ratings, and incremental GRP buy options to advertisers."
Konsam adds that with the exception of blockbusters and high ticket events, weekends had a comparatively lower viewership - long supporting the belief that viewing is lesser during the weekends. "The TVRs that these programmes have now managed to garner, could have been more due to a lack of good viewing content options," he says.
In most cases, fresh content is replacing repeat content on weekends, and this implies increased costs. Has this move seen enough traction from advertisers to justify the added expenditure? Konsam explains, "The way FCT (Free Commercial Time) fill levels are seen in these channels, it looks like there is enough traction from advertisers. In a sense, it gives more proven options for advertisers to buy GRPs from."
Keswani says, "The advertiser trend follows the viewership trend essentially. Since the ratings of weekend GECs for such shows have really done well for the channels, advertiser support is not a problem."
Dnyanada Chaudhari, managing partner, Publicis Media, says, "The strategy to extend weekday programming to weekends is yet another tactic to increase sustainable stickiness. Weekends are well-known to be low-hanging opportunity. While the channels may be able to retain the same viewers over longer time, the downside is that loyalty comes at the cost of building newer audiences."
Also, with cricket fever in the air, does weekend viewership for shows get affected? "With the right content, the IPL has always had no or minimal impact on ratings of other channels. My belief is that barring some select IPL matches and some select markets, there is space for good content on any time band," says Konsam.