What ails the English genre on television and how it is fighting back

One of the most affected genres on television in terms of ads during the COVID-19 lockdown last year was the general entertainment channel (GEC) genre. The broadcasters were dependent on re-runs of famous and old shows as shooting and production stopped due to the constraints. This led to the steep decline in advertising on GECs. However, from July 2020 onwards, when fresh content arrived, it propelled the advertising on the GEC genre. As per TAM AdEx report, GEC Ad Volumes saw a 74% growth during the Unlockdown period. Among GECs, regional channels had thrice the ad volumes compared to the national channels.

While Hindi and regional GECs thrived in the Unlockdown period, the story was different one for the English GECs, which also saw some shutdown of channels. The COVID-19 crisis and the subsequent lockdowns majorly hit the English GECs, which had already been reeling under the impact of the implementation of the TRAI mandated new tariff order (NTO). Post the NTO, consumers started choosing the channels that they “wanted to have” versus what was “just good to have”.

Explaining the situation in the English genre on television, Sujata Dwibedy, Group Trading Director, Amplifi India, dentsu, said, “English is considered premium content on television, with only 1.5% to 2% of the audience viewing the English content. The same audience has been shifting to other screens and they are mainly glued to the good content – it could be catch-up TVs connected on TV or any other screen or it could be Global/ Local OTTs. Additionally, all the big networks also have powerful OTTs with their TV content as well as their originals on the OTT. So, the success metric as well as the strategy to succeed must be carefully thought through.”

Dwibedy further said, “In OTT, there are global players too, who have been ahead on the preference list; but their model is not dependent on advertising, it is more subscription-based. Secondly, content other than the originals is finite everywhere. So, it is a matter of time when the audiences would recognise that. Hence, the strategy needs to be clear on content to pull audiences better and to capitalise on and collaborate within the network’s multiple platforms for the channels with larger network. All this, also while creating a lot of buzz on social media.”

The pandemic has accelerated digital transformation in all spheres, including in our media choices. People who were never on digital earlier, or were fencesitters, also made the switch to OTT platforms or connected TV as fresh content dried up on television.

Keerat Grewal, Partner, Ormax Media, elaborated, “Post NTO in 2019, the overall English GEC category has seen a decline. English GECs started off in India to cater to an audience that was seeking access to international content. With OTT witnessing a surge in the Indian market in 2020, thanks to the COVID-19 induced lack of entertainment options and the low data costs, the choice for latest international content in ad-free formats on SVOD platforms is making the market extremely competitive for the English GECs. Adding to that, none of the big and latest international series are available on linear TV, with the last one being ‘Game Of Thrones S8’, which had a simultaneous telecast on both Disney+ Hotstar and Star World in April 2019.”

With the new Code of Ethics announced by the Government last week, OTT content will now be regulated as per the new guidelines, whereas prior to this there was no censorship on OTT content. How this will impact international content and whether it will have any impact on the viewer base of OTT platforms is a wait and watch.

Owing to the current situation, a larger audience at home is looking for quality content. The lockdown has shown that viewers chose to watch television for the curated content experience that it provides to not just individuals but the entire family.

Kartik Mahadev, Business Head, Premium Channels, ZEEL, said, “&flix has consistently looked to solve the consumer challenge in the English movie genre with a focus on improving fan experience on television, and a key disruption in this space is reducing the wait time for Hollywood premieres by half. With our fastest TV premieres of Hollywood’s biggest hits, we truly aim to take this experience to the next level in the year ahead.”

At a macro level, interest in English content is growing. There is a whole set of audience moving from regional to English content as they become more comfortable with English as a professional and conversational language. Today, Hollywood movies aren’t just for the English-speaking audiences living in the metros, as we see movie enthusiasts in Tier 2, 3 and 4 markets having the same level of passion and connectedness to the global fan following. Findings from the &flix study further validate this by revealing that 9 out of 10 movie lovers watch both English and Hindi/ Regional movies. The study also indicates how 7 in 10 Bollywood/ regional enthusiasts enjoy dubbed versions of Hollywood films, but find limited options of movies in their preferred language.

“We have designed unique offerings such as World Television Premieres, Multi-Language block, Flix For All on &flix and locally nuanced content on Zee Café, that will stand out as enablers of bringing an aspirational, English-comfortable audience onboard. Moreover, our offering of bringing multiple blockbuster premieres on &flix within months from their theatrical release and in the language of your choice along with ZEE’s pan-network property ‘Ticket To Hollywood’, has helped engage with a broader pool of enthusiasts thus fortifying our position across markets,” Kartik further added.

Sony PIX was quick to realign its programming strategy to cater to the changing consumer needs and the spike in daytime viewership by introducing a new programming IP ‘Family Viewing Mornings’. Additionally, Sony PIX premiered a couple of big ticket premieres like ‘How To Train Your Dragon’, ‘Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw’, ‘Secret Life Of Pets 2’; introduced new programming properties such as Superhero Festival, Premieres 2020 and Thank God It’s 2021 and continued successful IPs like the PIX Premiere League, Diwali Dynamite and Onam multi-language special festival.

Tushar Shah, Business Head, English Cluster, Sony Pictures Networks India, said, “While the consumption patterns changed, love for Hollywood blockbusters grew, helping Sony PIX reaffirm its popularity among the viewers. This led to Sony PIX emerging as the #1 channel in both SD and HD with 25% and 38% viewership share, respectively.”

Adding further, he said, “The year 2020 prompted Sony PIX to adapt to the changing trends. This year, too, Sony PIX will continue to entertain and amaze the viewers with the best of Hollywood blockbusters and will find newer ways of engaging with the audience via various programming and marketing innovations. The channel will resume on-ground activations when possible and in the meanwhile, it will continue to invest in building strong digital properties.”


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