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TV ad revenue poised for healthy growth - MSM president network sales, licensing & telephony Rohit Gupta

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2010 has certainly brought the smiles back to the television networks as it has been the best year the industry has seen in the last decade. Ad sales growth rates are expected to be close to 20 per cent, up from the original estimates of 15 per cent made after the first quarter.

The irony is that as an industry, we need to thank the recent economic slowdown since it changed the way clients looked at their overall media spends. They made huge reductions in budgets and the scenario looked bleak for us all, with no quick recovery in sight.

 

But for me, the big story of 2010 was the rise of non-fiction. Amidst scepticism, Kaun Banega Crorepati (KBC) returned on the small screen - with the original host (Amitabh Bachchan), a revamped format, and a new channel. The programme‘s consistent deliveries on tough weekdays at the 9 pm slot surprised many cynics who thought Sony was flogging a dead horse.

Bigg Boss too reached its best-ever performance, across four seasons. But what caught most by surprise was the incredible opening ratings of Jhalak Dikhhla Jaa on Sony. Truly, the fiction vs. non-fiction divide is not the way we have known it till 2009. It is far more balanced today.

In a highly cluttered environment characterised by ever-decreasing loyalty levels, the role of marketing became ever so important. If a new non-fiction show did not generate enough buzz when it launched, it stood very little chance of resurgence. However, for fiction the resurgence could come over weeks, as content evolved. Many fiction shows opened to good numbers but struggled to hold on, while many others showed consistent growth on the back of powerful content.

Clients wanted more accountability - they needed maximum impact for every rupee spent and television was the only medium which gave them those efficiencies and better ROI as it delivered by far the lowest cost per contact across various media platforms.

There was accountability for every spot that got aired and suddenly marketing heads and agencies started seeing television in a more positive light. Discussions shifted from a 10-second rate to more value creation. Big money shifts started to happen from other media like print, outdoor and below the line marketing budgets to television as all other media showed negative growth. Television was the only medium with a positive growth during this period. I say this with a lot of conviction as during this period I was in close contact with all the large advertisers. The fact that we close to doubled our IPL revenues in the worst economic scenario goes to show the power of television.

The continuous growth, the C&S households and the very positive trends in the DTH business will continue to fuel this very aggressive growth in our business and help the profitability of broadcasters, in line with other industry trends. Acquiring content, whether it is sports‘ rights, movie rights, reality shows and even the basic daily fodder of soaps has seen costs reaching alarming levels. This increased profitability will eventually lead to better quality of content reaching out to the millions of viewers.

Also, the overall increase in households every year will continue to help the industry grow at a dynamic pace for many more years, like it did for us in 2010. What was heartening to see was that overall trading levels across all genres went up substantially during the year with the exception of news.

We are currently seeing an overall increase in the size of our market, with the Indian economy at its best and GDP growing close to 9 per cent. This has prompted large segments like the FMCG to increase their marketing spends substantially. Increased competition in the telecom industry has spurred a growth of overall spends and has also opened up a huge new category for us in the handset business.

Other categories like consumer durables and automobiles no longer spend only at festival time, but advertise across the year. One more interesting fact is that despite the large number of channels within each genre, there is still room for growth for everyone. Next year, despite two large sports properties back-to-back (the World Cup and IPL) pulling away over Rs.15 billion from the market, other genres will continue to grow at a healthy rate. This would not have been possible a few years ago.

A key look at some of the main genres:

Hindi GECs - This genre will continue to grow and be the main revenue driver for broadcasters. Like last year, we expect trading levels to grow continuously based on the reach it delivers to media. There will be further consolidation here as this is an expensive business and only the fittest companies or those with deep pockets will survive.

Impact properties will continue to propel the growth in this genre and the industry expects new benchmark rates to be set. We saw this happening on KBC this year and for our network we now have two channels - Sony and Sab- figuring in the top 5 in this genre.

Sports - Previously major growth in this genre would only be seen when a cricket World Cup happened. This is not the case any longer and it has now become a huge genre with the coming of IPL, four to five India series and some ICC tournaments taking place every year.

In this segment also rates will continue to grow as cricket continues to deliver on media plans. We are also seeing more brands now using Cricket as their core medium for communications. IPL has expanded the overall advertiser base for cricket as large FMCGs are now taking big positions on the league and are no longer restricted to only brands with a male TG skew.

Hindi Movies - This has been a rock steady genre for a long time and revenues have been growing at a consistent pace over many years. In 2010, despite a minor drop in overall viewership, the revenues were not impacted. Over 80 per cent of the revenues are still controlled by the top three players -Max, Zee Cinema and Star Gold, despite some new players entering in the last couple of years. Trading levels in this genre have been traditionally low but that has changed and the genre now operates at the same levels as the GECs.

Regional Channels - This genre has significantly consolidated its position over the last few years and now contributes close to 30 per cent of the overall revenues. Apart from the southern states which were the mainstay for this genre, Bengali and Marathi saw substantially high growth rates last year. In the south, Tamil continues to dominate, with Kannada doing extremely well last year.

English Language Genre - This genre across the Movie, Entertainment and Infotainment segments has seen a massive growth this year which will not only continue well into the future but also be a key genre to reap the benefits of digitization. An increase in the number of homes with a 2nd television set and greater penetration of DTH in the metro markets will benefit all channels, as there is a substantial growth in the SEC A & B segments of viewers, that most large brands are now targeting. An increased affluent middle class population is a key consumer of this genre. Another big consumer of this segment in the metros is the youth which is also a key segment for most brands.

Kids‘ Genre : This segment has not witnessed the dynamic growth seen in other segments. The leading players have been losing their audiences to GECs. This has impacted their overall revenues which have only seen a marginal increase this year. The kids‘ channels need to develop compelling content to win back their audiences in order to achieve the high growth rate they have had in the past. Herein lies a great opportunity for them to increase their stake in the pie.

News Genre : From the quarterly financial results as well as from my personal discussions with media agency heads, it is evident that the news channels have hit troubled waters. I am sure the senior management of these channels must have had numerous brainstorming sessions over the drop in revenues. English news channels seem to be particularly badly hit and are probably heading toward negative growth. However, there is a slight possibility of the Hindi news channels posting a minor positive growth. Personally, as a keen follower of the news, I feel that the channels need to bring back quality news to Indian television and leave the entertainment to the GECs.

Although 2010 has proved to be a great year for Indian television, one question still remains unanswered: Is television still an undervalued medium? My honest answer to this would be: Yes. Approximately 10 million new households are added each year in India, translating into 45 million new eyeballs. Yet, the cost per contact of television remains lower than other key media.

Out of the overall 134 million TV homes, 103 million are C&S homes, of which we only get data for a mere 39 million homes. The balance data from 64 million homes remains unaccounted for. This is representative of the huge opportunity cost that we bear and it needs to be addressed immediately, so that television can get its fair due.

Another cause for concern is the narrow vision of the channels. We tend to concentrate only on our individual businesses, and thus miss the larger picture. The immense potential of this industry continues to go unnoticed

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