Anirban Roy Choudhury

“Non-prime time is the new prime time”: Samrat Ghosh, ZEEL

This lockdown has re-established that TV is the most dependable source of entertainment for Indian families, says the cluster head of Zee Entertainment Enterprises Limited.

Global consulting firm EY estimates that viewership of regional language television channels in India will continue to grow, and reach 55 per cent of the total (national) viewership by 2025. However, the recent explosion witnessed in television consumption during lockdown might just take regional TV to that mark sooner. Regional TV continues to be the growth driver for television. In 2019, when the new tariff order (NTO) was implemented, national channels witnessed a six per cent drop in ad volumes, while the regional ones saw a four per cent rise.

Post NTO, Bhojpuri movies witnessed a 60 per cent growth, while overall viewership in the Bhojpuri market grew by 45 per cent. Bangla, another key market, grew by 10 per cent, making the eastern part of the country a large playing field for TV players.

“This lockdown has re-established that TV is the most dependable source of entertainment for Indian families,” says Samrat Ghosh, cluster head, Zee Entertainment Enterprises Limited (ZEEL). He says that the consumption of TV content has increased manifold in the eastern region. “That growth is led by the increase in television viewing minutes per viewer, which is 4X of the minutes spent streaming videos,” Ghosh adds.

Samrat Ghosh
Samrat Ghosh

The production of fresh content all across the country has been halted, and there was a perception that people would move to video streaming platforms and get habituated to that medium. Ghosh, instead, is of the opinion that television will secure further growth in the regional markets, particularly the eastern ones.

“Normally, the prime time and non-prime time ratio remains at 70:30, we are now at 50:50. Non-prime time has become the new prime time, and that behaviour is going to stay, even when the lockdown is over. So, my estimate is that it will be a 45:55 ratio going forward, which means the time band that was under-indexed will find new avenues,” adds Ghosh.

He asserts that there is a shift in the male-female ratio, too. “The share of male viewership has gone up, and that is not due to less females tuning into television, but there are more men watching content now. In the morning and early afternoon time slot, we have witnessed a significant spike in kids’ viewership,” says Ghosh.

Viewership change post NTO, source EY report
Viewership change post NTO, source EY report

Apart from broadcasting content, various channels have now also opened a dialogue with the viewers. Ghosh says that it is an attempt to understand the new normal. “We are constantly talking to our consumers to understand what their new normal is. We ask them how they are spending their 24 hours, the new lifecycle. We are getting a lot of interesting insights, which is helping us decide which programme to slot at what time,” he informs.

However, there is still no clarity on when the channels can start filming new episodes of their shows. Recently, an Indian Broadcasting Foundation (IBF) delegation met Prakash Javadekar, Minister of Information and Broadcasting. He hinted that the state governments will decide on production activities. According to Ghosh, there has to be a ‘Plan B’. “See, GECs are driving on nostalgia, and movies are getting good viewership. We are trying our hands at content from home, and at the same time, our older shows are doing well. So far, we are going ahead with the FPC we had finalised for FY21, and the rest will depend on when we can start shooting, which won’t be that easy, as most of the technicians have returned home,” he adds.

In 2019, regional channels received 13 per cent more advertising, compared to national channels. However, due to the outbreak of COVID-19, many advertisers have either pulled out of ongoing campaigns, or have refused to issue new release orders. “We are operating at 50 per cent of our production capacity,” informs Ghosh. He says that when large advertisers manage to open their factories and ramp up production, the advertising money will flow back to the television industry. “We need to plan on a weekly basis, and it will be essential to get that (weekly planning) right. If we manage to do that, I don’t see anything to worry about,” asserts Ghosh.

Amarpreet Singh Saini
Amarpreet Singh Saini

Meanwhile, talking about the Bhojpuri category, Amarpreet Singh Saini, business head, ZEE Biskope & Big Ganga, says, “It has grown by about 30-40 per cent, and most of it is being dominated by movie channels.”

Saini says the entire family sitting together and watching television has become a phenomenon in the Bhojpuri market, like elsewhere in the country. He believes that Zee has enough movies in its library to keep the viewers intrigued, and for general entertainment, there are plans to released dubbed content as soon as possible.

To meet the content crisis in the regional space, Ghosh says he is in discussion with OTT platforms. “We have seen how Zee TV aired ALTBalaji shows. The problem in the regional space is that there isn’t enough content available with the OTT platforms, which we can telecast on TV. But, we’re evaluating all the options we have,” he concludes.