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#Throwback2020: For M&E industry, there’s no such thing as closing shop

Nina Elavia Jaipuria writes how Viacom18’s Hindi GEC business fared in 2020.

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MUMBAI: It has not been the easiest of years and none of us ever dreamt that the last couple of months would be the way they have been. But I always believe that there is always a silver lining and that there is a lot to learn from what has transpired in the last ten months. Having said that, I think we have stayed true to our promise of keeping our viewers entertained, even in a crisis situation. We made sure that we were there for them when they needed us the most because there were no other entertainment outlets available.

We adopted different strategies across different genres to make sure that our viewers get what they want. But, the one big thing that stood out for us as an entertainment broadcast company and the franchise that I oversee, is that we were true to our DNA. We were true to our promise of continuing to narrate great and relatable stories and keep our viewers engaged and entertained in a time when they really needed us the most. That to my mind, brings true value to my organisation and our brand.

Looking back at 2020

We didn't have a single minute or day of blackout despite the lockdown, which happened overnight. We continued to run our channels with content that engaged and entertained our viewers across genres whether it was in GEC, Hindi movies, kids, music, English, youth and regional portfolio. So, I think, resilience, determination and entertainment stood out for us, as storytellers, to do what we do best. Definitely, we all pivoted our plans to adapt to the new normal.

If you look at Hindi GEC, which is the biggest and the most mass genre of them all, a big surge in non-prime time viewing was noticed because of the lockdown. We did lose out on some viewership to the other genres in the primetime slot due to lack of original content as a result of the shoots coming to a halt for some time. We witnessed a comeback strategy in Hindi GEC because we realised that there was a lot of family bonding and family viewing happening – a big trend that has continued to stay. Keeping this trend in mind, we went back into our libraries and brought back shows like Mahakali, Shani Dev and Jai Shri Krishna. We even looked at external libraries as well and aired Om Namah Shivay and Mahabharat. Some of our old legacy shows that brought back a lot of nostalgia included Balika Vadhu, and Uttaran, to name a few.

Post the opening of the lockdown, we launched many new shows. Some of them were shows that had a social commentary and became household conversations. With shows like Molkki, Namak Issk Kaa, which is a romantic drama, or Ishq Mein Marjawan which is a romantic thriller, or Pinjara Khubsurti Ka, we managed to launch a lot of new content including our biggest reality television show Bigg Boss. So, variety in entertainment was a trend that we managed to keep. With the resumption of original content, viewership during primetime and non-primetime have more or less gone back to pre-Covid2019 levels now.

How shows have performed

Colors has had a fantastic run. We were the first ones to start with original content once shoots resumed. We are slot leaders with Ishq Mein Marjawaan and are slot leaders at 7 to 7:30 pm with Choti Sarrdaarni and then at 8 pm with Shakti. Bigg Boss continues to rule the roost from 10:30 pm onwards which is a very good slot for us. Barrister Babu has also given us superb ratings. Post the unlock, we have a robust 19 per cent market share. We are also a very strong number two in our all-day primetime. With a 22 per cent market share, we had great launches and out of the top five launches in the unlock, three of the launches belong to us, which includes Naagin, Pinjara Khubsurti Ka and Namak Issk Ka. All the shows have propelled our prime time viewership on weekdays and weekend viewership with Bigg Boss.

We couldn't be happier because our entire prime time from 7 pm onwards has kicked in. Molkki is doing very well for us at the 10 pm time slot. So, variety entertainment is at its peak across genres along with family drama, romantic thriller, romantic drama, social issues, and adventure. We even experimented and innovated during the lockdown with Khatron Ke Khiladi Made In India for the first time, followed by Hum Tum Aur Quarantine with Harsh and Bharati. 

Some of these strengths have sort of rationalised themselves over a period and some of these trends, such as co-viewing, relatable, relevant characters and storyline continue in Hindi GEC. At Colors, we do our best in terms of fiction, as well as reality television. And we are hoping to launch our next reality show once Bigg Boss concludes.

Biggest Trends

Apart from that, we saw a lot of the viewership moving to kids, news and movies. Existing for almost two years now, Rishtey Cineplex, in a very short period of time, has acquired a seven per cent market share which is a great beginning as far as we are concerned. We have grown tremendously by focusing on premieres, festivals that we do every month. Movies is a genre that we at Viacom18 are very serious about. With the Freedish and FTA trend, we re-entered with Colors Rishtey and Rishtey Cineplex. I am glad we did so, because there has been a huge amount of growth in terms of viewership and in terms of monetisation in the FTA space. In a very short span both the channels have secured a 15 per cent market share in their respective genres. We are really very happy to see that because we are actually sweating our assets even more and that makes our ROI much better. So from that perspective, the Freedish trend is here to stay.

I think the other big piece which cannot be denied, is that the last ten months have reaffirmed our view that in India, unlike the western countries, OTT and digital is going to co-exist with linear television and broadcast television. This is particularly a market, which is an ‘and’ market and not an ‘either-or’ market. Thanks to this co-existence of digital and linear, as storytellers and content creators it is a fabulous opportunity for us, since there is a huge growth in demand and consumption of content. Therefore, as an organisation, we are looking at creating stories, shows and content that is sometimes pipe or screen agnostic. This is a huge and I think 2021 will only reaffirm this further as a trend.

Consuming content in regional languages is also seeing an upswing. As marketers, we have pivoted our plans to ensure that we engage and interact with our viewers outside of the formal mass media vehicle. We have moved our engagements to digital, to our websites and social media. We engaged and created communities in the online world and engaged our audiences and told stories with games, through Instagram and many other innovations.

Adapting to the new normal

We have already adapted to the new normal with shows that we launched in the recent past, which is Namak Issk Ka and Molkki. Some of these shows are already being stitched together with the fabric of the nation, which is about family bonding and family viewing. It is about catering to human emotions and narrating relatable and relevant stories. So, I think a large part of it has already been actioned. As far as we are concerned, I think we will continue to see this trend for a while until Covid2019 vaccines are in and life and economy comes back to normal. I think the economy is recovering and so is the broadcast industry and so is Viacom18 and all our brands.

So, one is of course, to tell relatable and relevant stories. The other one is to cater to the need of action, adventure, and voyeurism reality, which Colors is known for. Coming up in 2021 is the finale of Bigg Boss, followed by the launch of several impact properties, including Dance Deewane. Our machinery is on and we will see some disruptive content coming this year as well.

Performance in terms of revenue

We did see a very soft q1 and Q2 because the economy had slowed down big time and now as the economy recovers and as unlock happens, we have had a great comeback in Q3. We saw a fabulous festive season. In fact, we were able to slightly surpass quarter three of last year. Q4 looks good. A lot of advertisers are coming back to us because we are the only means of reaching out to a mass audience in light of the other vehicles falling off. TV continues to deliver mass reach, relevant reach, captivated reach, and therefore a measurable reach as well. Due to this, advertisers have come back to us and continue to come back to us post festive season as well. When we launched Bigg Boss, we actually got 17 sponsors.

Ad spends in the foreseeable future

I think the ad spends will continue to remain stable because the economy is on a path of recovery. We have seen demand coming back, consumption going up. I think the power to spend is also returning and with that advertisers will have to continue to create and gain their share of voice. In my view, there is no better medium than television, which will continue to be one of the single largest mode of advertising in the future as well. There is a grown advertiser interest in digital too. But having said that, television will be advertisers’ favourite. We do see a trend of television continuing to monetise ourselves and advertiser interest continuing to be at an all-time high in Q4 as well.

Investment in Hindi GEC

When a lockdown happens, you can cut costs and you can shut down your factories and save and not spend or manufacture and therefore save your cost. But in the entertainment industry, there is no such thing as closing down a factory. We need to continue to grow and churn content every single day to ensure that we entertain our viewers. So there is no pulling back on content costs at all.  We are preparing to enter 2021 with a whole new plethora of primetime and weekday and weekend content. 

There is no lack of good investment in any of the genres. We will continue to buy movies and movie catalogues and premieres.

Creating other revenue streams

I believe ancillary revenue streams are here to stay and I think they will only be more relevant in the years to come. Advertisers are looking at innovative ways of reaching out to their audiences and for me, brand integrations, product licensing, promo licensing and brand solutions and brand integrations are a win-win for all the stakeholders because the advertisers are able to convey the message to viewers in a very interesting and clutter-breaking manner.
(The author is head of Viacom18 Hindi mass entertainment & kids TV network. Indiantelevision.com may not subscribe to her views.)

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