afaqs! news bureau

Change of plan

Nothing is predictable in the TV business today. Viewers are fickle and ratings swing wildly, making life tough for planners. Just how well is everyone adapting?

Change of plan
For some time now, media planners have been busy poring over short-term plans. Most of their long-term planning dates have been torn out of calendars, especially when it comes to television. Just why they are doing this is plain from these examples.

Consider Hindi GECs. The weekly GRPs of the top few shows for the last three months indicate that the variations in viewership in any two consecutive weeks could be around 10 per cent. Now, infuse a flagship show into the channel's programming line-up and the fluctuations become even more pronounced.

Take a look at the performance of Sony Entertainment Television. The channel dislodged Zee TV from the third spot with 195 GRPs for the week ended August 13, 2011, and later -- with KBC on air -- witnessed as much as a 26 per cent rise in its GRPs, eventually racing ahead of Colors to become the No. 2 channel.

Now, for the programming itself. KBC raced to the No 1 slot across the Hindi GEC arena in Week 34. Cut to Week 35, and it dropped to No. 2. In Week 36, it went back to No. 1 and after falling to the No. 3 spot in Week 37, it was once again the No. 1 show in Week 39.

The Hindi movie genre too yo-yoed. Here, viewership is completely dependent on the movies shown. Therefore, if a Max showed a 17-18 per cent variation in its ratings in the last three months, the premiere of a film like Singham pushed viewership up by 46 per cent for STAR Gold during that given week. Just a week later, there was a 33 per cent drop in the ratings of the same.

The story is the same for the news and sports channels. Aaj Tak's GRPs, which averaged 30, swung wildly by as much as 125 per cent (see chart) during the last three months. What accounts for these swings? And, how do media planners keep pace with such a roller-coaster ride? Did planning become just that bit more difficult? afaqs! finds out.

Problem of plenty

Viewers have enormous choice, and they are armed with the remote control. "A channel has to work on creating a driver property that will shoulder not just audience growth, but also push its other properties," says K Satyanarayana, vice-president, R K Swamy Media Group. It is this constant flux that gives media planners sleepless nights. Everything depends on how quick they are on the draw. Time, for media planners, is getting shorter and shorter. With the increasing complexity in the media business, annual or predictive planning is tough.

Seven years ago, the Cadburys and the P&Gs started buying TV slots on the basis of cost per rating point (CPRP) because the days of Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi (read shows with long and steadfast life) were on the decline. But today, with viewership fluctuations and the abundant availability of GRPs which could be bought any minute, the 'shortened time horizon' has become a redefined norm for a brand's planning timeline on television. Result? Plans are now designed and re-evaluated every month, not annually.

Here today...

Change of plan
Change of plan
Change of plan
Frequent changes in programming time, more format shows, and the shorter shelf life of fiction shows affects the performance of channels and time-bands. "Shortening timelines enables planners to monitor the deliveries on a regular basis and tweak plans as per requirement," says Anjana Ghosh, director, Bisleri.

Add to this the ever-rising costs and its constraints, and it becomes increasingly difficult for an advertiser to sustain its communication throughout the year. A channel approach may not work anymore. Says Anurag Mehrotra, vice-president marketing, Ford India, "Not all consumers will be loyal. Therefore, the media plan has to be executed based on a filtered consumer insight that is adaptive rather than predictive."

That assertion is quite revealing since predictive planning has always been the Holy Grail for media professionals - decisions are still taken on the basis of historical data. Says Navin Khemka, managing partner, ZenithOptimedia, an RoI agency, "There have to be annual strategies crafted out for brands, and they have to be directional. But, when it comes to implementation, it has to be brought into action and auctioned in the nearest window possible depending on the GRPs, reach, and other functionalities. It's imperative to devise plans that range from being month-long, to something that could stretch to not more than eight weeks."

...Gone tomorrow

There was a period in television history when the players operated in isolation and were oblivious to changing audience expectations.

Then came the booming '90s. New players marched into the arena, and fragmentation hadn't set in. The boom led to overcrowding in the 2000s, with the addition of even more players. Regional TV, too, boomed. Ratings of leading programmes across GECs were falling, and channels had to introduce fresh content to hold on to their viewers. The reality format had made inroads, while sports channels were buoyed by the arrival of T20 cricket.

"When media people started accommodating last minute requests for re-scheduling, agencies lost control over deadlines," points out Ravishankar N, CEO, Media Planning Associates. The reasons for this change were three-fold.

Emergence of convenient technology: As basic TV sets gave way to remote controlled sets, swapping content became easier. Then came bigger technology changes like digital set top boxes, and the revolution was complete.

New formats with sleek and glitzy content: New formats and newer packaging of content (HD transmission, for instance) created more engagement with the audience. Add to this, live broadcast of big sporting events and wars kept audiences on the edge of their seats.

The multi-platform generation: In the last 20 years, a new generation of viewers demanded the best value for their time. As access devices rained, they became platform agnostic. Their aspirations and expectations, in conjunction with technology and content changes, fuelled more dynamism and unpredictability.

"Data delivery to advertisers and broadcasters has moved from a once-a-week exercise to a bi-weekly one. It will sooner than later, depending on market evolution, move to daily," says L V Krishnan, CEO, TAM Media Research. The process gained momentum in 2008-09 with the global recession. "It was a period of great uncertainty," recalls Dinesh Singh Rathore, vice-president, MediaVest.

Advertisers today seek value addition, which can only be decided closer to the date of activation. Events or awards are decided only a couple of months ahead of their telecast. As a result, the media plan presentation moves much more quickly to the last slide which talks about cost, negotiated savings, and value additions. "Shorter campaign durations and promo-led campaigns have compounded the issue by making the environment even more volatile. You want to be seen on the right programme during your campaign," says Shailesh Kapoor, CEO, Ormax Media, a consumer knowledge and consulting firm. The rates become as volatile as the ratings.

Change of plan

Of TRPs and GRPs

Both planners and clients watch the weekly TRP data with an eagle eye. Many brands have monthly GRP benchmarks to achieve, at a fixed CPRP, in various markets. "Nowadays, advertisers take higher frequency spots to compensate for the drop in reliability. Exposure is accidental rather than incidental, and therefore, advertisers have to repeatedly pump in money into different programmes for visibility," says Kunal Jamuar, executive director, MPG, West India, a media service group.

Volatile TVRs and GRPs shake up the ad rates to a great extent. As a result, rates are being negotiated continuously before every campaign burst. So, how does it all work now?

Deals are now stitched on a combination of gut feel and analysis. So, if KBC has a six-month lifespan, the planner will park a part of the client's budget on the property wherein a 'big advertiser' will pay on the basis of cost per rating point. Small brands, on the other hand, may plan their media spend on a CPRP analysis, but not buy on that basis. Based on information gathered from historical data and investigation, smaller brands arrive at a CPRP and then devise a rate for a 10-second spot.

"This is because channels are not ready to sell on rating point basis to smaller advertisers. Big guys play the CPRP game and smaller brands have to take the risk," says Sundeep Nagpal, director, Stratagem Media, a media specialist company. This means that if the show or event does not perform well, the smaller brand loses.

Change of plan

Channelising the energy

How do broadcasters cope under the circumstances? The bigger ones seem to be immune since their performance and programmes do not fluctuate that much in the short-term as compared to second line performers. Advertisers tend to plan for a longer period with the top channels. This also helps them get cost-effective buys and inventory assurance for the brands.

But, even here, a certain flexibility has crept in. Advertisers are known to negotiate on contracts that are fixed. For instance, they may say that 50 per cent of the amount signed will be paid without any questions asked. The rest becomes negotiable. If a show doesn't perform to expectations, the advertiser moves his brand to another that is doing better.

"The qualitative operations of the second-rung channels and genres are low compared to the top players. They may get into the TV media plan of a brand only if the latter wants to get incremental reach," says Sukhpreet Singh, head marketing, Kansai Nerolac Paints.

Many times, niche and small broadcasters walk into annual deals at low rates since the risk levels are much higher. They do not prefer going the CPRP-led way since they are not sure about the ratings delivery for the channel. If five households start watching MTV suddenly, its ratings will increase by 50 per cent.

This is because one household represents approximately 7,000 households. With that kind of susceptibility to errors, small channels cannot take the risk of charging advertisers on a rating basis.

Change of plan

Here to stay

Media planning, especially implementation planning, will continue to be a process with a provision for mid-course corrections. Nothing can be sacrosanct. Channels and agencies understand this and benchmarks are being redefined in accordance with market conditions, as well as performance.

However, the basic principles that look at strategic allocation of communication resources will continue to be governed by longer term planning. A shorter time frame, on the other hand, will force media planning and buying to become more innovative. Since targeted reach and frequency won't be compromised just because time is short, it forces planners to devise strategies that will achieve that extra mile in terms of innovation and integration for a brand to get extra mileage within the limited period.

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