While most Hindi GECs have seen a slow start in their respective launch weeks in the past few years, &TV has managed to start on a high. A look at what went behind its promising debut.
With 15 channels already vying for eyeballs in the Hindi general entertainment (GEC) space, one would consider it a mammoth risk to launch another one. What must a channel do to stand out from the crowd? While content may be a strong point, does launching with a big bang also work in favour of a channel? In the past few years, a number of channels have tried to enter the crowded GEC space, but some either fared abysmally and shut down, or have been struggling to stay afloat. However, &TV - according to viewership data - has had a phenomenal start. What did it do differently to get such viewership? What can new channels learn from the most successful channel launch in recent history?
&TV launched on March 2, 2015, with the philosophy Jashn Jeene Ka - celebrating the spirit of life. It is backed by a team comprising Rajesh Iyer - business head, Rachin Khanijo - marketing head, Doris Dey - fiction programming head and Sunanda Gupta Jenna, non-fiction programming head.
The first Hindi GEC from Zee Entertainment Enterprises' sub-brand '&', and the sixth from the network, took the total count of Hindi GECs to 16. &TV took a dive into the biggest television genre, which, as per FICCI KPMG report 2015, commands a viewership share of 31.2 per cent and advertising share of 27.5 per cent.
On the need for a new Hindi GEC, Punit Goenka, chairman and CEO, ZEEL, says, "We believe the mindset of the Indian viewer has evolved, and there is always room for more players - at the end, it's a content game. Like Zee TV and Zindagi, &TV too has differentiated content that will help us consolidate our position further in the genre. It's a great opening and the number will only grow from here. We understood the consumer psyche and have provided them with content that is relatable and contextual - reflecting the progressive value in them."
Shailesh Kapoor, CEO, Ormax Media, recalls that Imagine TV too had a good opening, but after six months, it could not add layers to the programming in order to take it to the next level. "Opening well is just one part of the story, but they still have to double, or more, their viewership to remain a strong player, and that is the level of a SAB TV or Life OK."
According to him, the next three months will be crucial for &TV, in terms of maintaining a consistent growth curve. "It's a great launch, but there is still time to see where it goes," he notes.
As per industry sources, usually, an investment of around Rs 500 - 700 crore goes into launching a mainstream Hindi GEC. While Rs 250 - 300 crore goes into programming, the rest goes into marketing, distribution and the recurring cost to keep it going for a year.
As per TAM data (HSM, C&S, 4+), the channel debuted with 90,612 GVTs (gross viewership in thousands), making it the highest-rated channel launch, in absolute numbers, at least since 2007. Having said that, it is pertinent to note here that the TAM universe has been expanding every year and has started covering LC1 markets. Digitisation too plays an important role now in the performance of TV channels.
In terms of launch day ratings, Colors was the second highest with 72,281 GVTs (week 30, 2008) and Imagine TV was third with 49,218 GVTs (week 04, 2008).
The other channels launched in this period include 9X, Real, Zee Next, Firangi, Sony Pal, Zindagi and Epic. Life OK was also launched during this time, but it was a rebranding of STAR One and, hence, is excluded from the list.
In its launch week, &TV ranked No. 7, ahead of Big Magic, Zindagi, Epic, Sony Pal and the FTA channels Rishtey, Star Utsav, Zee Anmol, Zee Smile and 9X. The overall viewership share that the channel garnered was 3 per cent.
Iyer informs that the overall GEC PUT (people using television) expanded in week 10 when &TV was launched, but that, he says, could have been for various reasons. "It increased by 105 TVT points in the week, however, it normalised in the second week. It is too early to say whether we're hitting other channels' viewership at this point in time or expanding the genre. We need to give it two to three months to come to that conclusion, until the ratings settle."
Experts believe that for a new channel launch, there are three equally important aspects a network needs to consider - content/programming, marketing and distribution. &TV, apparently, got them all right at the time of launch.
Iyer shares that the intent of the group was clear since the start - to launch a mainline Hindi GEC. "We did an extensive research to find out what the consumers have to say, understand what mindset is prevalent and where can we find need gaps. We started to build content from thereon and, after the content was selected, we went back to the market, tested it across HSM markets and across TGs," he explains.
India is a one-TV household market and, by definition, GECs target everyone in the household, and so does &TV. The differentiation here comes in terms of the audience mindset that is targeted.
"We thought of changing the paradigm or the slant a little bit. The effort was not to be very different from the market place, otherwise we would be niche. We wanted to play in the marketplace, but with a point of difference. Our stories are universal, but the slant which we take has to be contemporary and progressive," Iyer states.
Kapoor is of the view that, for both Life OK and &TV, the parent groups would want to differentiate the second GECs from their flagship channels - Star Plus and Zee TV, respectively. "The idea is that at least 80 per cent of the shows be different than what the viewers see on other channels. They don't want to cannibalise into their own viewer base. Therefore, &TV is saying that it is a channel that caters to a slightly different mindset, than what Zee TV appeals to," he says.
Industry observers believe that &TV launched with a good mix of content that caters to everyone in the household. The channel has a variety of content, which Colors had too, at the time of its launch. It included strong fiction as well as non-fiction/reality properties.
&TV launched with over 21 hours (per week) of original content, comprising five fiction and three non-fiction/reality shows. The fiction portfolio consisted of a historical drama Razia Sultan, a daily soap Bhaghya Lakshmi, a story of a child widow Gangaa, Begusarai set in the hinterland of Bihar and a sitcom Bhabi Ji Ghar Par Hain.
The key driver property for the channel during launch was its reality show hosted by actor Shah Rukh Khan (SRK), India Poochega...Sabse Shaana Kaun? (IPSSK), aired on weekdays.
Harsha Joshi, EVP - group trading, Dentsu Aegis Network (handles Libero - a sponsor on Gangaa), observes that &TV's launch approach was similar to Colors'. "They have fiction with different set-ups. Balika Vadhu on Colors was set in Rajasthan and &TV's shows are set in MP, Bihar or other parts of the country. Beyond a point, even audiences are looking for something fresh."
The idea to launch IPSSK, an Indian version of Who's Asking? and to get SRK to host it was for the 'pull' factor. Being a Bollywood star, SRK had an unmatched appeal that promised sampling for the channel. The show fetched 880 TVTs in week 10 of TAM. However, the highest rated show on &TV was Gangaa with 1,338 TVTs. The show, just like Balika Vadhu, has a female child protagonist.
Here's an estimation of the monetary might that went into &TV's content: as per industry estimates, the production cost of an episode in fiction is around Rs 7-10 lakh. For its reality show (total 20 episodes) hosted by Khan, the channel may have shelled out roughly Rs 2.5 crore per episode.
&TV also aired movies namely Agneepath, Ramaiya Vastavaiya, Phata Poster Nikla Hero, Chennai Express, Entertainment and Happy New Year, in its launch week.
Right since its launch, &TV was available on all digital cable, analog and DTH platforms. The channel was placed on Dish TV, Tata Sky, Airtel DTH, Videocon d2h, Reliance Digital TV, Ditto TV, DEN Networks, Siti Cable, Hathway and Incable.
On some distribution platforms, &TV was placed on Zindagi's (one of ZEEL's GECs) position, as the latter, owing to loyal viewership, was moved farther in the channel order.
"There is only that much space as far as the distribution pipe is concerned. Our ambition was to be closer to the GEC set," Iyer reveals.
One of the best examples of a channel that suffered a blow on account of distribution issues is Sony Pal. The reason it didn't get initial sampling was because it wasn't optimally present everywhere, at the time of launch.
Apart from being promoted extensively on Zee Network channels, the launch of &TV was also announced on high-impact properties like ICC World Cup 2015. The network partnered with 9X to launch a small segment with 'Bade Chote' (animated characters) on IPSSK.
A highly visible campaign across print, cinema and OOH was executed by the channel.
Infectious and MEC worked as the creative and media agency, respectively.
With the buzz catching up, &TV, through web, mobile, social media, YouTube and Google, ensured engagement and impressions on the internet. As of March 25, &TV had around 136,452 fans on Facebook and around 12K followers on Twitter.
"They had actually used media very effectively. Not just above-the-line, but also activations. It was clear from their marketing efforts what they actually wanted &TV to be seen as. OOH has played an important role in their promotional game. That also helped promote sponsors. &TV had a base of the Zee Network, which they leveraged effectively to get mileage and the initial pull," says Amol Mohandas, business head, Allied Media.
The channel lined up a series of on-ground activations across UP, MP, Rajasthan, Punjab, Maharashtra and Gujarat. For instance, for IPSSK a live booth was set up across malls in the metros to heighten engagement.
To bring out the rustic flavour of Begusarai, a special entourage travelled in jeeps and marquee bikes. For Razia Sultan, a nukkad natak was designed in high-footfall areas across key locations, to emphasise its concept, whereas thematic branding was deployed for Bhabi Ji Ghar Par Hain, across relevant touch points like paanwalla shops, salons, chai shops and local stores.
Kapoor hails &TV's launch as "the most visible one since August, 2008," owing to the awareness, reach of campaign and buzz it generated.
It is believed that a marketing investment of around Rs 60-70 crore has gone in during the initial phase of &TV's launch.
Colors, in July, 2008, launched with shows that appealed to viewers instantly. The key driver for the channel was Fear Factor - Khatron ke Khiladi, hosted by actor Akshay Kumar. The variety of good content offered got people to sample the shows and stick on.
During this period, there have been other launches like Real, Firangi, Sony Pal and Zee Next, which failed to grab eyeballs. Experts believe that one of the reasons these channels failed was the lack of strong driver properties, like a Gangaa and IPSSK on &TV.
Firangi aired dubbed international content and could only clock 1,315 GVTs in its launch week (week 9, 2008). Zee Next, aimed to bridge generation gaps with its fresh content, was axed after the recurring losses it incurred.
Zindagi and Epic have not managed to garner viewership at par with Hindi GEC standards either. However, it should be noted that the two channels operate in the niche space.
Zindagi, a premium Hindi GEC from Zee Network, is currently airing content acquired from Pakistan. "It started with a lot of promise, but the biggest drawback was that all the content was available online. People saw the content, liked it and then watched it online. All these channels were launched as some niches and eventually didn't work. &TV wants to play in the national GEC space and not regional or niche space," opines Navin Khemka, managing partner, North & East, Maxus India.
Ashish Sehgal, chief sales officer, ZEEL, shares that all of &TV's inventory was sold out before the channel went on air. The network worked on a different ad-sales model this time, wherein it got show-based partners and sponsors who consumed the whole ad inventory.
"The idea came about from our marketing campaign wherein we were promoting the shows and then saying, 'Watch this on the new Hindi entertainment channel &TV', instead of promoting the channel," Sehgal explains.
HUL, which came on board as a channel partner, bought 50 per cent of the channel's ad inventory through sponsorships on different shows. Sehgal reveals that the FMCG sector occupied around 70 per cent of the channel's inventory, while the rest were occupied by other categories.
As per industry sources, the sponsorship rate of the shows was in the range of Rs 3-5 crore and that the channel earned around Rs 25 crore on IPSSK.
On the logic behind investing in a channel that doesn't have any prior data, Ajay Gupta, CMD, Capital Foods (brand owners of Ching's - a sponsor on Killer Karaoke), says, "Considering the mother brand here is ZEEL, one can be assured that it will be aggressively promoted on the network channels. They were putting a whole lot of muscle behind &TV's launch. I want to get my brand name continuously into my consumer's head and that is happening. It is value for money."
Bharath Sastry, business head - consumer, Cartrade.com, says that the brand was prompted to take up spots on the IPSSK as it covered prime-time on weekdays and was hosted by Khan, who appeals to its TG. "I have got some good qualitative feedback from people who have watched the show. As a brand, we always look forward to leveraging innovative programmes."
This is just the beginning, and a good one at that. But, the performance of any new Hindi GEC in the first six months is most pivotal.
According to Khemka, &TV has managed to get the programming mix right. Around 80-100 GRPs in the first three months would imply that there is enough sampling happening. "Then, if the content grows on people, you never know, it may become a 150-200 GRP channel (like a SAB or Life OK). I think, they have had a promising start. If they are able to maintain this, they will be strong contenders in the GEC 2 space and, eventually, in the GEC1 space," he predicts.
A Note From the Editor
We talk casually about overcrowded markets. As far as I can make out, though, in most categories in India new players rush in faster than old ones can die out.
Indian television is a great example. There was a time when we believed that three Hindi General Entertainment Channels (GECs) presented a wonderful example of choice. Last month, when &TV was launched, it became the sixteenth Hindi GEC. And mind you, we can be sure that it is not the last.
The marvel is that even in a market as chockablock as this, &TV has got off to a strong start. The tough question is joining a swarm of rivals is always this: How different should the new offering be?
If it is similar to what is available, why would viewers want it? If, on the other hand, the content is drastically different, the new player might be treated as being outside-the-category and condemned to be a niche player. &TV has managed to find a smart balance between these two extremes.
The fact is that the failure rate in Hindi GECs is high - Imagine and 9X are among the better known major disasters. Why then do new brands keep popping up?
All the new entrants are part of large, existing television networks. Each new launch is an attempt to push up the overall share of the network. This gives the broadcaster clout in dealing with two other creatures of the ecosystem. One, with extreme consolidation in media buying, broadcasters need greater muscle in dealing with media agencies.
Meanwhile, in the distribution game, Direct to Home (DTH) operators have brought transparency and grown the broadcasters' subscription revenue. However, as they get larger, they can now squeeze money out of TV networks. So, greater network muscle helps here too.
Getting a Hindi GEC is a notoriously expensive business - but the rewards are fantastic too. Ask relative latecomer Colors.