English GECs: The challenge of converting snackers into loyalists

Getting in new audiences without losing the core identity. This is one of the main challenges facing the English general entertainment genre as the Indian television landscape gets more competitive. The genre is also at an interesting phase where the different players are working on new formats and varied scheduling strategies.

Tam data (c&s, 15+, six metros) shows that AXN has maintained its lead. From January to June, the six-month average share of AXN is 52 per cent. Last year, in the five-month period (as it was off air in January), it had a share of 47 per cent.

On the other hand, Zee Café has lost share. For the period last year excluding that one month (when AXN was banned), its share was 32 per cent which made it clearly ahead of Star World. This year its share has come down to 18 per cent. Star World, meanwhile, has managed to improve its share from 21 per cent to 28 per cent (January to June).

In terms of the top shows, The Simpsons on Star World heads the list. AXN has 14 shows including its local show Magic Asia India, Video Zonkers and David Blaine. Zee Café is represented with shows like The Next Best Thing.

AXN Asia executive director Yan Jong-Wong notes that to continue its strong focus on the action/adventure genre this year, the action-oriented broadcaster showcased new seasons of World’s Most Amazing Videos, Whacked Out Sports and Video Zonkers. “We have also introduced one of America’s latest hit reality-competition hit shows So You Think You Can Dance. For the new drama series, we have the Emmy-nominated Damages in our line-up,” says Jong-Wong.

Local shows

The original production area continues to grow in importance. One of these was Magic Asia: India which she says captured the hearts of the Indian viewers with two American magicians, Chris Korn and JB Benn. Jong-Wong says, “They brought the real excitement of street magic to the streets of India. They performed magic amongst its people and in the process, discovered the magic of India themselves.”

Another local initiative that the channel is doing is called eBuzz. This show -- hosted by Indian celebrity Archana -- gives viewers the lowdown on Bollywood and Hollywood.

“Our original productions are meant for all of Asia and India is very much a part of this. Our biggest original property for this year -- The Amazing Race 3 -- will be back on Thursday nights at 10 pm from 11 September with 20 new faces, 10 new teams, two of which are from India: a pair of cousins and a father and son team. This will be the toughest race ever. Our viewers can expect more buzz, more excitement and enjoy the thrill ride in this all new season” she explains.

Jaong-Wong notes that the two slots of Elite Weekday (Mondays to Thursdays at 11 pm) and Elite Weekend (Saturdays and Sundays from noon to 3 pm), are especially branded for viewers who look for classy, high quality entertainment. “Shows like 24, CSI, Damages, House etc are perfect for the upwardly mobile, influential, well-heeled, affluent executives clued in to the best in TV entertainment,” she adds.

Meanwhile, Star World VP-programming Jyotsna Viriyala says that a new structure with well-defined slots catering to specific target groups has been created. The aim is to expand the viewer base. “We created a strong afternoon line-up, we are strengthening our weekends and we’re working towards further optimising our timeslots,” she notes.

The aim of the channel has been to strengthen the mix of sitcoms, dramas, talk shows and reality-driven content. Within this, bands like ‘happy hour’ are created which look to clearly communicate the nature of the slot. If shares are anything to go by then the channel has succeeded in its aim.

Key Learnings

When asked about what the learnings have been from operating in India for many years she notes that the broadcaster is fortunate to be one of the GEC channels that has a very distinct brand identity. The aim going forward will be to capitalise on this and strengthen it further.

Top rated shows of English GECs in 2008, (Jan-June)
Rank Channel Programme TVR
1 Star World The Simpsons 0.19
2 AXN David Blaine 0.17
3 AXN Video Zonkers 0.17
4 AXN Ultimate Guinness World Records 0.16
5 AXN Magic Aisa India 0.14
6 AXN Chuck 0.14
7 Zee Cafe Comedy Inc 0.14
8 AXN Magic Asia India 0.13
9 AXN Sony Style 0.13
10 AXN The Contender 0.12
11 AXN Ultimate Guinness World Records 0.12
12 Zee Cafe Bikini Destinations 0.12
13 Zee Cafe The Next Best Thing 0.12
14 Star World Seinfeld 0.11
15 Star World Koffee With Karan 0.11
16 AXN Ultimate Guinness World Records 0.11
17 AXN Anaconda (film) 0.11
18 AXN Top Chef 0.11
19 AXN Whacked Out Sports 0.11
20 AXN Video Zonkers 0.11
Sorce:- Tam

Dwelling on the kind of content that works, Viriyala notes that most successes in the US and UK like Desperate Housewives and Grey’s Anatomy end up doing well here, but not all. “We will continue to be cautious keeping in mind the many factors that influence the preferences and lifestyle of the Indian viewer.”

As far as AXN is concerned, Jong-Wong points out to three key learnings. “We need to focus on the brand to keep us top-of-mind with viewers. We also need to be bold, daring and innovative. It is key for us to experiment with new genres and formats that have an Indian relevance. Therefore, we have done shows like AXN Extreme, Top Chef (with Padma Lakshmi) and Top Design. Most important though for us is not to have a herd mentality but to ensure that our position is clear, our content is unique and our offering is attractive.”.

Viriyala strikes a note of optimism in saying that the English-speaking base is growing well. The sampling of English content is on the rise. According to her, the challenge is to get newer audiences without compromising on the core identity. Viewership for this genre is growing beyond the metros. Gradual growth has been noticed in places like Andhra Pradesh -- 1 million+, Tamil Nadu -- 1 million+ Kerala and Maharashtra she explains.


Offering a media buyer‘s take Mindshare’s Amin Lakhani says that in terms of audience deliveries, this genre has a lot of room for improvement. “I would first look at the English film and infotainment genres before coming here as they fare better in terms of the rate versus efficiency equation.

The demand side by clients for the English general entertainment genre has not increased. There has not been a big increase in terms of the number of clients who use this genre. So, the rates have not gone up by more than seven to eight per cent over the past year. This genre is used by clients who target upper scale viewers who view television as a light snack.”

Lakhani adds that for AXN one generally looks at males. If the product also targets women then you add Star World and Zee Cafe into the mix as shows like Desperate Housewives air.

“Star World has got aggressive this year. They have brought in new slots, which should help. Last year, Zee Café created a lot of buzz by bringing in shows immediately after their premiere in the US. The question though is does the yield justify the big rise in acquisition costs? The challenge in this genre is that you have to constantly innovate and invest. Audience’s expectations keep rising as they get exposed to the latest content from the West.”

That according to Lakhani is the first challenge.

The second challenge he says lies in distribution. New Hindi GEC channels are launching and are willing to pay huge carriage fees which smaller channels cannot afford. Ensuring visibility is hence going to be an issue for this genre. Of course you have digital platforms like Tata Sky which would want to have these kinds of channels in their bouquet.”

Looking Ahead

Jong-Wong notes that the growing affluence in India is helping the English general entertainment genre become the choice of entertainment for the Indian viewers. The challenge is that as the viewers get more sophisticated, they begin to demand a lot more. AXN and the other channels will have to keep pace with this. The expectation is that more thematic, unique content channels will launch in the coming years.

AXN’s sibling AXN Beyond is expected to launch later this year. “The pie for English general entertainment will increase and the quality of these viewers will be become more valuable to our advertisers” says Jong-Wong.


At the end of the day, the English language viewer has more entertainment options other than TV viewing. So, nailing down this viewer and building loyalty gets that much tougher. A lot of snacking and a lower degree but still a fair bit of appointment viewing is noticed.

Obviously, the challenge will be to convert the snackers into loyalists and get new audiences to snack. As has been pointed out earlier, the genre is at an interesting phase where all players are working on new formats and scheduling strategies. One will have to wait and see how this effort pays off.

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