Anirban Roy Choudhury
Road To Recovery

Television: Advertisers heading back, cameras rolling again, recovery gaining momentum

Things seem to be looking up, and if all goes as planned, then shoots will begin, either by the last week of June, or early July

Normally, advertising spend is directly proportional to television viewership. As per EY estimates, about Rs 34,100 crore of advertising money was supposed to be spent on TV in 2020 to garner more eyeballs. However, it will no longer be the case.

The COVID-19 outbreak has brought advertising in the Rs 79,000 crore TV industry to a standstill. Although research kept showing unprecedented growth in viewership, most advertisers stayed away from any sort of advertising.

"The spends completely correlate with the market activities," says Sujata Dwibedy, group trading director, Amplifi, Dentsu Aegis Network India. With ‘Unlock 1.0’, the economic activities have, somewhat, started in most parts of the country, and so has the TV industry’s recovery.

"Recovery is underway, and the pace is increasing week-on-week. Having said that, certain categories have come back more sharply, while others are yet to begin," says Ashish Sehgal, chief growth officer, advertisement revenue, ZEE Entertainment Enterprises Ltd (ZEEL).

Sujata Dwibedy
Sujata Dwibedy

Dwibedy believes that FMCG, beauty, and food categories will see ‘full-sized’ advertising. Health and fitness-related products will also start advertising gradually. "Auto (two-wheelers, etc.) should come back and take advantage of the condition, as people may want their own vehicles, instead of public transport during this social distancing mindset. E-commerce will continue being active for all verticals, including essentials, durables, and also education."

Sehgal has also observed that auto, as a category, is ‘heating up’ its advertising activities. He feels that the broadcasters have already lost certain advertisers for this year. "Seasonal categories, such as consumer durables, have been lost," he says, adding, "The premium segments of FMCG, retail, apparels, and jewellery are yet to start advertising."

Ashish Sehgal
Ashish Sehgal

With the virus and fear among people still around, recovery can be a bumpy road for the TV industry. However, Sehgal is optimistic, "As we are a consumption economy, within a couple of months, we will see advertising revenue resetting itself. New categories are expected to emerge in the ‘next normal’, and balance the equilibrium."By June-end, we should see 25-30 per cent additional spends coming back, projects Dwibedy. "While July-August may see 60-70 per cent," she says, adding that it will all depend on how the pandemic settles in.

Dwibedy feels that the spike in viewership, thanks to shows like ‘Ramayan’ and ‘Mahabharat’, gave Doordarshan (DD) a new lease of life during lockdown. "On DD, the old mythology shows were a hit with the audience, as well as the advertisers. The (ad) rates went up within a fortnight due to the heavy demand."

Her estimation is that once the general entertainment channels (GECs) are back with ‘originals’, they would be taking away most of the advertising pie, followed by GEC 2, which has just gone back to the Freedish platform.

As far as new episodes go, the producers association recently met Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray and, as per his advice, submitted a standard operating procedure. After evaluating the same, the state government sent a revised SOP, which suggested that shoots need to happen with one-third of the original crew size, and sans senior citizens.

Television: Advertisers heading back, cameras rolling again, recovery gaining momentum

The government also made it mandatory for the producers to have at least one doctor and two nurses on set. While the producers, running out of resources and losing people, agreed to most of the terms and conditions, they wrote back to the government asking it to revise the age limit.

"Going by the SOP, Amitabh Bachchan can’t shoot for ‘Kaun Banega Crorepati’. Similarly, other senior actors will have to stay out of work. We have written to the government, seeking an alteration to this restriction. We have also explained that in the current circumstances, it is impossible for us to find so many doctors," says a member of the producers association on condition of anonymity.

If sources close to the development are to be believed, then the government is set to approve the alterations. Thackeray has already said that the TV industry is important, and the government will help it to get out of ‘coma’. Each producer will now have to get a fitness certificate from the authorities, and only after can they start filming again.

A producer, who makes a dance reality show for Star Plus, says that it has become very difficult for them to decide the ‘33 per cent’ they will retain. "It is not that you can use your crew in shifts, you have to get 33 per cent workforce insured and accredited, and only those 33 per cent will be allowed to enter the set. We have been told that there will be surprise inspection, and if anyone outside the list is found in the set, it might just get sealed."

The producer, however, is optimistic and feels that by the last week of June, or early July, the cameras will start rolling again.

Meanwhile, the GECs have already started engaging with their star cast. If sources are to be believed, then the channels have asked the lead characters to film ‘We missed you’, and ‘We are coming back’ videos for on-air promotions. Balaji Telefilms’ Ekta Kapoor also uploaded a post on her social media recently, stating, "We will be back soon"

The broadcasters have reportedly slashed the commission cost per episode by 30-40 per cent. "… We need to understand that the advertising is still far away from what it normally is. In these circumstances, everybody will lose something, unless you know how to make a sanitiser," says a producer, who has shows on ZEE TV.

During lockdown, the ‘news’ genre on TV saw good traction of viewers, as well as advertisers. Once the cameras start rolling again, and GECs get their software supplied, this genre may see a slight drop. The numbers will be higher than pre-COVID, but lower than lockdown, believes Dwibedy.