What Onam heralds for Kerala's TV channels

When it is half a year for the rest of the world, the new year dawns in Kerala when the Malayalam calendar heralds the arrival of the month of Chingam. In agrarian Kerala, Chingam was the most vital month of the year for it was the harvest season with the promise of year long prosperity. Add a dollop of ancient history of a wronged, but redeemed king (Mahabali) who visits to check if his subjects are as prosperous today as when he last saw them, and Chingam has all the glamour of a superstar’s new movie.

Kerala has long since been shorn of its glory agrarian days and having never tried its hand in industry, has now settled down to being a service economy bolstered by tourism and money from the Middle East (the (in) famous “Money Order economy”). Yet, for the average Keralite there are no spring- summer-winter season shopping nor end-of-season sales as tempting and as awaited as the Big Fat Onam Shopping !

About four weeks leading to Onam and a couple of weeks afterwards, the consumer in Kerala watches as national brands and local biggies line up launching advertising blitzkriegs and never before offers . New launches, exchange offers, scratch-and-win schemes, BoGo offers, raffles, the works! The retail industry goes into an overdrive. And why not? White goods brands reach 40-45 per cent of their annual sales target for Kerala in the tiny three month (even lesser) window of opportunity that Onam offers. The buyer meanwhile, having deferred purchase to make a kill at the Big Fat Onam Sale, slowly loosens her purse strings. It is Win-Win all around.

In 2015, Onam was on Friday 28 August. A study of TV consumption in the Top 10 Malayalam channels (Asianet, Asianet News, Asianet Movies, Asianet Plus, Surya, Kiran, Mazhavil Manorama, Flowers, Manorama News and Kairali) reveals many interesting insights into the melee that Onam is. In August 2015 (source: TAM), the jewellery category, which is anyway among the top consumers of TV ad space, hiked its presence by 56 per cent over July and promptly slashed it by 59 per cent in September.

No surprise there, as auspicious Chingam is sandwiched between two inauspicious months, hence is a very busy wedding season. There can be no Onam without Onasadya (a grand meal), who would know it better than Instant Mix brands (payasams etc) that upped their TV presence more than two fold! Onam is as synonymous with Onakkodi (new clothes) as it is with the Onasadya. Textile retailers wishing to make hay while the Onam sun shone, hiked their TV presence by 120 per cent in August from July, and almost went incognito with an 84 per cent slash in September. The same trend was seen in the readymade clothes category as well.

The category that has the highest stake in Onam, retail- durables/electronics ,was out there on a limb with close to fivefold (370 per cent) increase in TV presence ! Following Onam, there was almost total silence from this category. They were probably laughing all their way to the bank.

Automobile manufacturers (cars/jeeps) and their compatriots – two wheeler makers increased TV presence by 44 per cent and 69 per cent respectively in the run up to Onam which they promptly slashed in September. Bright, sunny days of Chingam after the monsoons were a welcome reprieve to the paints category which hiked its presence by a whopping 80 times, and bucking the general trend, hiked it by another 25 per cent in September. On the other hand, the usual top three TV advertisers in Kerala -chocolates, toilet soaps and milk beverages- piped down during Onam month, reducing their TV presence by 18 per cent to 20 per cent.

Leading brands earmark close to 25 per cent to 30 per cent of their annual ad budget for Kerala for the Onam season alone. For TV channels, this is the season to air film premieres, special events, programs with celebrities, all aimed at capturing eyeballs and at creating the right content to place the sudden surge in advertising. Total advertising duration (in the 10 Malayalam channels under study) shot up by about 35 per cent in Onam month compared to the previous month. Asianet and Mazhavil, the top two Malayalam GECs, garnered close to 45 per cent MORE advertising in August 2015 compared to the previous month.

The viewers, in whose honor all the fuss is made, were very obliging on their part. Time spent analysis shows that on the days prior to Onam an average 40 minutes was spent on Asianet, which shot up to 57 minutes on the first Onam day and further to 65 minutes on Onam Day (day two of Onam a.k.a ThiruOnam is the actual Onam day). The same trend is visible across all Malayalam GECs. Mazhavil Manorama’s viewers, for instance, who used to spend an average 12 minutes on the channel pre-Onam, hiked their viewing to 16 minutes and 18 minutes on first and ThiruOnam days respectively. Surya increased its channel share to an average 14 per cent on the two days of Onam from its usual eight per cent to nine per cent . As the day finally drew to a close on 28 August 2015, the Bhima Jewelers Jewelers group had garnered the highest presence having spent 3790s on air (excluding promo tags and other promotional activities of the brand). In terms of Impact, another jeweler Josco got top marks garnering 493 GRPs.

In 2016, Onam is scheduled to arrive mid-September. Every brand worth its salt is already out there with guns blazing to woo the consumer and make the most of the Onam fervor. It is no secret that Kerala economy needs a boost, and Onam shopping is just what the doctor ordered. All that remains to be seen is whether the consumer will be lured by the offers and whether she will script the Onam of every brand’s dreams.

The author is the managing partner of Chennai based adMax Media Consultants.

(The views and data expressed in this article are entirely the author’s. is a medium on which they are being expressed)

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