Sangeeta Tanwar

What keeps 9X and Real up and running?

For several months now, Hindi GECs 9X and Real have been surviving on repeat programming and library shows with negligible viewership. What keeps these channels afloat? afaqs! explores

It's been more than a year since 9X, the general entertainment channel, has been running repeat content, except for the odd show, Black, which was launched in March 2009. The channel's monthly GRPs are down to a mere 39, as in December 2009. This is the fate of the channel, which once upon a time, challenged the No. 3 position amongst GECs.

Another GEC, Real met an even worse fate. The channel, which garnered its highest weekly GRP of 10 in Week 28 of 2009, managed to get only 4 GRPs in December 2009.

With such low viewership and no new programming to speak of, the two GECs would be of minimum interest to advertisers. afaqs! explores what keeps these channels running in such a scenario.

A senior executive previously attached to one of these channels says, "The sole motive is to attract investors. If the channel is up and running, there is a possibility that the promoters could find an investor. Else, who would buy a closed channel?"

While this could be the primary reason for keeping these channels switched on, there are several other contributing factors too.

One reason why it has been possible to keep these channels alive is low operational cost, which is in the range of Rs 1-2 crore for such channels. Considering that hundreds of crores of rupees have already been invested on the channel, a few additional crores to keep it running is not too huge a cost.

The channels currently rely on their libraries. 9X, for one, is heavily dependent on feature films and film songs. In fact, 75 per cent of its viewership comes for these two genres. The GEC had acquired 25 Dev Anand titles, such as Guide, Des Pardes, Prem Pujari and Awwal Number. And some of these movies still have a decent viewership.

Besides, 9X also runs about six dedicated hours of retro music, coupled with songs from a few freshly acquired movies. Real, however, is more dependent on reruns of its old shows, such as Vicky Ki Taxi and Namak Haraam.

What keeps 9X and Real up and running?
What keeps 9X and Real up and running?
What keeps 9X and Real up and running?
Moreover, these channels are learnt to have already spent a significant amount of money on distribution. So, it makes more sense to keep the channels on-air.

Another factor that's keeping the channels on-air is the advertisers, who haven't completely switched off, especially in 9X's case. In fact, 9X is learnt to be recovering its operational cost from its advertising revenues.

Sidharth Parashar, national trading head, Maxus, says, "A channel such as 9X becomes effective for FMCG companies, as they buy it for frequency." As per market estimates, 9X today seeks Rs 800-1,200 for a 10-second ad spot.

On the other hand, it is learnt that Real - the joint venture between Turner and Alva Brothers Entertainment - runs ads for free. According to sources close to the company, Turner will continue to fund this channel till March 2010, while it looks for interested parties. The other possibility is that it could be revamped into a completely new genre - perhaps as a lifestyle channel.

Sriram Sharma, general manager, Bengaluru, Starcom Worldwide, says, "This year, we might witness mergers and acquisitions in this space, wherein smaller channels will get absorbed by larger channel networks. If these channels keep their operating costs low and manage to stay afloat, chances are they might find buyers."

Amit Ray, president and chief operating officer, Lintas Media Group, says, "Media brands in our country keep chugging along; and they get lucky, when they are rescued by some international company who is looking for a business opportunity in the country."

"The only channel that failed to remain afloat was Home TV, which shut shop in 2004," he concludes.

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