Anirban Roy Choudhury
Media

Will it be easy getting TV audiences back to the age-old ‘appointment viewing’ phenomenon?

The Coronavirus-induced lockdown resulted in a ban on filming in India. No fresh episodes were airing on the small screen and so, the audiences got exposed to on-demand viewing on streaming platforms, many of them for the first time.

Starting today, the broadcasters will gradually start rolling out fresh episodes of daily soaps for the first time since the Coronavirus-induced lockdown in March. On a typical evening, the television set in Indian households is always tuned to one of the hundreds of dramas on air. These dramas, or daily soaps, tend to become a part of the daily life of viewers, especially women.

For the first time since the penetration of satellite television in India, the households were forced to spend time without their daily dose of escapism. As a result, households got exposed to on-demand viewing on streaming platforms, many of them for the first time. Will it be easy getting them back to the age-old ‘appointment viewing’ phenomenon?

“A lot of daily routines have been disrupted during this lockdown, appointment viewing being one of them,” says Ashish Golwalkar, head – content, Sony Entertainment Television and digital business. He adds, “It’s a matter of habit forming, and we are certain that gradually the TV audience will come back to their routine.”

Prathyusha Agarwal, chief consumer officer, Zee Entertainment Enterprises Ltd (ZEEL), is of the view that the habit was still as strong as ever, only the content driving the tune-ins have changed.

Prathyusha Agarwal
Prathyusha Agarwal

“Appointment viewing, as a phenomenon, is as old as the habit of TV itself, and we did not see that erode even due to the lack of original content on GECs. Even during lockdown, the nostalgic content and all-time favourite shows reintroduced by broadcasters to ensure the much-needed levity in family viewing saw viewers tuning in by appointment,” she opines.

With people staying at home, Agarwal says the TV viewing time was spread throughout the day, and non-prime time surged to newer levels. “Having said that, with India slowly in ‘Unlock’ mode, fresh content is making a comeback, and the habit of the family congregating together in front of the television is growing even stronger,” she adds.

Agarwal talks about Zee Kannada, as an example. The regional general entertainment channel had returned with fresh content in Week 22, and is now “nearly 30 per cent above lockdown levels.” “The trend is even clearer in Odisha, where Zee Sarthak saw a 2x increase in prime time viewership after returning with fresh content,” she asserts.

Sapangeet Rajwant
Sapangeet Rajwant

The last few months have been life-altering, and the country is now striving to get in sync with the ‘new normal’, believes Sapangeet Rajwant, head, marketing and digital, Hindi mass entertainment, and head of brand solutions, Viacom 18. Her view is that the content consumption habits have changed. Colors, the Hindi GEC owned by Viacom 18, has now made a shift in its promotional approach.

“We are looking at different ways to renew the experience of appointment viewing, and build a dynamic connection with our audience,” says Rajwant, adding, “We will have to keep on engaging with the viewers, and reminding them of the show tracks and the time slots. Traditionally, we are looking at achieving that through shows promos across our network and non-network channels to build intrigue around the new content.”

While planning promotional activities for the shows, Rajwant says it is important to consider the “manifold” growth in consumption of content on digital platforms, especially social media. “We have been creating interesting video vignettes showcasing our characters, while reiterating the time slots. We are also looking at creating clutter breaking communication for our shows, along with high points, as all the channels will be starting their respective communication as well.”

ZEEL’s Agarwal argues that the audiences were never really disconnected from its (ZEEL’s) content during lockdown. “In fact, the lockdown period served as a unifier for our protagonists and audiences, who navigated the challenging times together,” she says.

Ashish Golwalkar
Ashish Golwalkar

“Through its vibrant presence on social media as well as extensive PR-led visibility across news, our channels continued to engage with audiences through a variety of engaging and contextually relevant activities – be it diet and fitness tips by the stars, or participation in special days, like International Yoga Day, World Dance Day, etc. Apart from this, viewers continued their engagement with us through consumption of our prime time shows on ZEE5 as well,” adds Agarwal.

ZEE has already rolled out its comeback campaign, “We used our characters to rebuild excitement around the comeback of our shows through authentic and engaging 360-degree communication,” says Agarwal.

Golwalkar of Sony feels that from an audience perspective, it’s the characters that they associate themselves with. “Therefore, positioning the characters becomes critical. It’s the characters who will invite the audience back to the show,” he opines.

The marketing plan will change for sure, “Prior to the lockdown, the promotions were largely track-based (weekly), but now, we’ll have to consider a seamless integration of the promise of the show, and build on the progression of the character journey through the narrative,” adds Golwalkar.

“To announce our comeback with fresh content, we are harnessing the power of digital and social platforms, PR, print and our biggest asset of all, our network strength, which has been entertaining 600 million-plus loyal viewers every week during lockdown,” says Agarwal.

Colors, Sony, and most other broadcasters are also doing the same. Apart from that, “Keeping the safety guidelines in mind, we are also engaging with our actors to create innovative video diaries, showcasing how they are prepping for the first day of the shoot. With similar activities, we intend to spark viewers' interest, while making it easy for them to pick up from where they left off,” says Rajwant, of Viacom 18.

Broadcasters are also relying on ‘Kahani Ab Tak’, ‘Mashup’ videos and recaps to connect with the audience before they roll out new episodes. GEC represents more than 50 per cent of the total television viewership, and about Rs 7,000 crore of advertising money is spent on Hindi GECs. It is important for the broadcasters to ensure that new episodes are viewed, and the promotions will play a vital role.

“We are certain that with our relevant, authentic and engaging communication with our viewers, our channels will continue to win hearts across the many ‘Bharats’,” concludes Agarwal.