Anindita Sarkar

TV Channel Promos: Quick and Snappy

Channel promos are getting more innovative by the day, creating a sub-culture of communication. What is pushing the television business to try so hard?

Observe this: When STAR World decided to launch the first season of Grey's Anatomy in India last September, it did not cut regular episodic shots from the series and promote it across the network. Instead, it created and released a music video with Anushka Manchanda. The video had Meredith (the protagonist of the show) and moments from the show inter-cut with the band playing and Manchanda singing. It was the first time that a show was promoted through a music video.

TV Channel Promos: Quick and Snappy
TV Channel Promos: Quick and Snappy
Now check this: As part of its launch announcement, apart from getting in Salman Khan as its brand ambassador (a fascinating choice for an infotainment channel), History TV18 created an anthem that was Indian, catchy and hummable. It created a 30-second montage of the best shots from its shows. Today, the creative is re-packaged every month with footage from the latest shows. The tune brings out the USP of the channel and works as an effective teaser for all the upcoming shows.

Hindi GECs have not lagged behind, either. Remember the promo of the crossover episode of Bade Achhe Lagte Hain and Kya Huaa Tera Vaada, which lasted more than a week and made its loyal audience pray for Ram Kapoor's (of BALH) life only to realise that death had chosen Pradeep Singh (of KHTV) instead? Well, the promo created such curiosity that the maha-episodes telecast on December 4 and 5, 2012 (Week 49) generated an average TVR of 3 together; and this was at a time when BALH and KHTV were averaging at around 2.7 TVR and 1.4 TVR (Week 48), respectively.

Promos are not new. In the early 1990s, Zee TV, India's first satellite operator, asked its producers to cut promos from the content, quite like state-owned Doordarshan used to. Promos got better gradually but the really big leap happened when STAR relaunched in India in 2000 with Kaun Banega Crorepati. The channel equally paid attention to the promos of its two other biggies, Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi and Kahani Ghar Ghar Ki. This was when promos began gaining in importance; STAR began shooting spots for its shows individually with the intention to grow the primetime slot from 9 pm to 10.30 pm.

Evidently, the days of promos directly cut from episodic content are fast disappearing. Instead, they are now being looked at and worked upon as individual creative projects which have specific storylines and thus an agenda, a script and a USP.

Promo paramount?

Promos are to channels what window displays are to retail brands. According to Udayan Pradeep Shukla, VP and creative director, on-air promotions, SET, today, every on-air promo, marketing and programming team has started looking at their content or show as a product.

TV Channel Promos: Quick and Snappy
TV Channel Promos: Quick and Snappy
TV Channel Promos: Quick and Snappy
"So when you treat a show like a product, you also have to market it scientifically. It's this science which has been applied and it has been extremely effective. Unlike the West, we have not evolved to the level where the content looks very swanky and is shot on high quality format. So, promos become all the more important to create an audience pull," says Shukla.

Promos play a crucial role to drive sampling and communicate imagery for the channel. According to Mallikarjun Das, CEO of Starcom MediaVestGroup India, promos today play a two-way role for a channel. First, they help to get the initial set of viewers; and second, if rightly created, they help retain that audience.

Promos go a long way in taking a story forward week on week. Viewers follow a character's journeys through these shows and promos help build characters, which ensure show and brand loyalty.

Ajit Thakur, general manager, Life OK, informs that every two-three weeks, the channel creates a blockbuster promo for its flagship properties such as Mahadev, a move that is generally done only for shows which are about to be launched.

"The promos reflect the content of the show but they make a promise which is equivalent to a launch promise. We have been doing that consistently for Mahadev and it has worked for us. The promos are not cut from the episode but they are very much the story of that episode. Also, the episodes are shot much closer to time, while the promos are shot much before with a lot more advanced planning," he avers.

The 'Mahakali' promo created by the channel helped the Mahakali maha-episode on Mahadev generate as much as 8.2 TVR.

On air promotion is also a signature style created by each channel to showcase its programming to its best potential. Promos have the key responsibility of driving tune-in to the promoted slot. Promos also aid in establishing a channel's imagery through various forms such as content composites, coming attractions, channel indents and image spots.

Additionally, promos on the home channel, when valued, constitute 80 per cent of the annual marketing budget for most channels. Therefore, it is critical that promos are effective and drive maximum viewer conversions and ROI.

"Apart from only creating promos, it's also critical to get the effective promo planning and scheduling strategy right," says Rasika Tyagi, senior VP, English Programming at STAR India. She adds that the promos should be placed across time bands to generate curiosity and interest in audiences with varied profiles. It is important to note here that FCT (Free Commercial Time) of about 2 minutes per hour is devoted to channel promos.

"Promos are the most significant way of communication between the channel and its viewers. They also help break competitive clutter in the category since viewers can easily confuse one channel with the other. An effective promo delivers clean and direct communication, which in turn helps drive consumers to a particular time slot or property," says Amogh Dusad, programming head, Pix.

Creative dare

So, while promos are steadily gaining importance with time, the creative challenges across genres is also growing.

TV Channel Promos: Quick and Snappy
TV Channel Promos: Quick and Snappy
For example, for genres which are driven by original programming (Hindi and English GECs), the task is to first create enough curiosity for a completely new show and design elements that connect with the viewer at an emotional level. To communicate a unique storyline, the plot, and characters never seen before, in a short duration of 30 or 20 seconds is tough.

Now, for genres which are dependent on acquired content, the challenge is being different. Take, for instance, the movie category. The genre often shares content, which means that films circulate amongst multiple players. Hence, a key challenge is to ensure that promos establish a direct connect between the films and the channel. Innovation and clutter breaking on-air campaigns are also a must to promote library films which the viewer would have seen many times earlier.

Now, for a channel which is driven by information clubbed with entertainment (NatGEO, Discovery), the process of making a promo gets harder still.

"A good promo is one which can convey the USP of a series. Normally a series has around 6-8 episodes which makes it all the more difficult to have a crisp message in a short span of a few seconds. What's more, the message should be simple enough to be translated in multiple languages (History TV18 is available in eight languages)," says Sangeetha Aiyer, general manager marketing, History TV18.

Promos will continue to be an important part of any media campaign on the networks. With the penetration of High Definition and 3D TV, the experience will become more exciting. And as media clutter grows, it will get harder as well.

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