GEC 2 to woo migrating viewers

The declining importance of the conventional Hindi general entertainment channel (GEC) on Indian television has thrown up considerable challenges for all broadcasters.Confronting the gradual fall of this reigning genre as drifting audiences move towards niche specific offerings, most channels are looking to aggregate viewers one way or another. In this attempt, most broadcasters are looking to pull back migrating audiences by dissecting the GEC space into sub-genres and giving rise to the second GEC.

This phenomenon has given rise to a host of niche entertainment offerings through the support structure of a ‘flanking‘ channel. Here‘s a look at how industry experts perceive this growing trend within the dynamic television space of which GEC occupies 27-28 per cent of the total ad revenue pie.

The Scrum

The leading Hindi entertainment player in the country Star Plus was among the first to enter the fray with the launch of sister channel Star One in 2004. Sony was also looking to tread the same path with its acquisition of Sri Adhikari Brothers‘ Sab TV in 2005.

Action will start again two years later as Zee TV will unveil its sibling Zee Next, while Sahara is also poised to introduce a sister entertainment channel Firangi.

Sab TV business head Anooj Kapoor admits that a ‘fatigue‘ factor has set in to the GEC space as the main programming formula across frontline GECs is on the Saas-bahu theme.

Thus, entertainment networks are looking at a second entertainment channel to provide different genres of drama.

While some players are more willing to play around with new concepts, others prefer to play it safe with serials. Sab TV, for instance, is putting up a varied fare of youth focussed shows. Sahara‘s Firangi is also willing to give International dubbed a shot.

Star One, on the other hand, is betting on soaps as the main driver. "Soaps will always be the staple of this country and Star One will continue to focus in that direction. While there would be add-ons and new shows, soaps will be the main driver," says Star India president content and new media Ajay Vidyasagar.

From a media agency‘s perspective, GECs are adding second channels as an attempt to prevent audience migration. Says Mindshare MD R. Gowthaman, "Audiences are getting segmented into distinct types and channels are catering to their specific needs. Meanwhile, GEC is losing its reach potential and broadcasters are using the route of a flanking channel to avoid losing their share to the competitor."

Experimentation platform & Low risk factor

Rather than a mere add-on to the channel bouquet, the concept of a flanking channel serves a larger purpose of ‘experimentation at a lower risk,‘ which would not otherwise be possible on a flagship GEC. In order to service a segmented audience, the conventional GEC has been forced to slice up and dish out modifications of the same genre.

Starcom MD India - West and South Manish Porwal said, "The trend over the last three to four years in the GEC space indicates that the genre has been de-growing by 10 per cent, besides GEC programmes are also losing their importance. Networks have sensed the challenge and are creating niche platforms of special sub-genres within GEC to allow for experimentation."

According to media planners, this is a cyclic trend seen across mature markets. It allows networks to provide viewers with more choices within a genre.

The model also allows networks to take risks since the second channel is not a key revenue driver. Agrees Kapoor, "A second entertainment channel provides a platform for innovation and experimentation without the fear of greatly affecting business revenues of the network. It allows you to take risks, which can‘t otherwise be taken on the flagship channel."

Hit & miss approach

In this scramble to appease audiences, channels are attempting to fathom where their viewers are navigating to.

Star One was conceived as an upscale channel for metro audiences. Now it is attempting to broadbase the channel and is looking to tap the top 20 cities across the country.

"We do not want to be known as an urban niche channel. Star One is eyeing the Hindi heartland as a differentiated mass entertainment brand," says Star India VP Prem Kamath.

Ahead of several entertainment channel launches, Star One is infusing a host of fresh shows to combat the growing number of players entering the game.

Kamath, however, does not agree that the channel‘s attempt to expand its presence beyond the top metros is a response to mounting competition.

"The launch of new shows is a natural process to rekindle the content flow. That is what we are doing on Star One," Kamath says.

Sony also has repositioned Sab with the march of time. When it acquired Sab, it wanted the ‘male skewed comedy‘ channel to strengthen the network‘s position in the Hindi heartland. It soon dropped the ‘Only smiles, no tears baggage‘ to give way to light humour.

But sensing opportunity in the youth segment, Sab in 2007 went through a brand surgery and the channel was repositioned as an urban aspirational brand in the 15-35 age bracket.

ZeeNext will be pursuing still younger audiences (15-25 year olds) and has the tagline ‘Dil Wahi, Dhadkan Nayi‘. While the genre will largely remain the same as Zee TV, the upcoming channel is looking to tap into a more progressive segment of its female dominated audience base with more contemporary themes.

"We would like to offer our loyal audiences shows that give a younger treatment to the traditional stories. Zee Next will carry the attributes if being young, fresh and contemporary channel," said Zee TV business head and Zee Group director Punit Goenka.

Sahara, on the other hand, is looking to adopt a differentiated approach to entertainment with its offering. Firangi business head Rajeev Chakrabarti prefers to label it as a World television channel in Hindi rather than a GEC per se.

Chakrabarti says that the content would be spread across a variety of genres, one of them being GEC. He, too, agrees with Kapoor‘s stance that fatigue has cast a shadow in the overall GEC space. Firangi‘s attempt, thus, is to go beyond that and expose viewers to contemporary relevant content, he adds.

However, some media analysts say the drive is not just to get in a flanking channel. Says Lodestar Universal CEO Shashi Sinha, "This trend need not be thought of as a flanking channel concept. Broadcasters are realizing that audiences differ in their mindsets as some groups are more progressive than others."

Spot the drifters?

Although it is difficult to pin point which segment of the audience is abandoning GEC in favour of other channels, it is evident that the ‘youth‘ seem dissatisfied.

According to Sinha, the youth segment represents a fleeting audience base that are fickle and disillusioned. But the upside to this is that India is increasingly becoming a younger country, posing a massive opportunity for channels.

The attempt to win over these viewers is steeply rising among all television players even though youth television habits are often categorized as ‘snacking consumption.‘

During the repositioning this year, Sab came out with the "Buddha Tera Baap" campaign. Kapoor states, "Research suggests that 60 per cent of the population is below 35 years and for the network it made logical business sense to design programming for that age group. Besides, Sony Entertainment Television (SET) already offers full family viewing."

It works well as a network offering and as India progresses towards a two TV household it is advantageous to have differentiated entertainment channels for housewives and younger viewers, he adds.

Challenges Ahead

With each network looking to consolidate its position in the GEC space and garner the most eyeballs, the space is likely to give way to more clutter.

However, Sinha believes that there is enough room for more players and foresees no major cannibalization. "In fact, new segments will be created and the GEC market will grow."

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