How South GECs are managing the lockdown

They are adopting various strategies to keep viewers engaged

MUMBAI: When the going gets tough, the creative ones get going! This could be said about all those GECs that found themselves in a unique situation of entertaining the masses during the ongoing lockdown. Call it a quirk of fate! People are home throughout the day, doing nothing except turning to television most of the time for entertainment; but how could these television channels serve them brand new programmes when productions have come to a standstill due to the ongoing lockdown? Dishing out fresh content thus has posed a huge challenge for all these broadcasters in the entertainment segment.

So how are they managing?

Indiantelevision reached out to a crosssection of GECs in the south. And discovered that some have been working on keeping existing shows on air, while others have revived old popular shows, and yet others are managing with movies.  

The national broadcaster DD went back to its archives and revived yesteryear hits like Ramayan and Mahabharat. Colors did the same with Dil se Dil Tak, Luv Khush, and Mahakali, among others. Regional channels are not far behind as well.

According to the third edition of BARC and Nielsen report on crisis consumption during Covid2019 on TV and smartphone, return of old classic shows Metty Oli and Thangham improved Sun TV’s viewership. Metty Oli helped the channel to garner 23 per cent growth in viewership from week 2 to week 13. It witnessed 63 per cent week-on-week growth from week 12 to week 13. Thangham helped the channel’s viewership to grow by 11 per cent from week 2 to week 13. Metty Oli was originally telecasted in 2002; the channel started airing the show every Wednesday to Friday at 1 pm. Thangham is currently running at 3 pm timeslot every Wednesday to Friday. The show was originally telecasted in 2009.

Zee Kannada and Zee Telugu continued the running of originals till the first week of April, but after that, the channels scheduled re-airing of popular shows.

Zee Kannada and Zee Picchar business head Raghavendra Hunsur says that the channels have begun playing the title songs of daily soaps that go up to a little more than a minute and air the highlights of the serial with the corresponding visuals.

“Currently, this is being done for two of our best serials, Gattimela and Jothe Jotheyali. A similar concept of adding detailed title songs is being incorporated for other serials as well, without high points. For popular fiction serials, we will showcase them from the beginning for the benefit of viewers to catch up on missed episodes. In addition, we will add voiceovers to narrate the story and have our lead actors share anecdotes from the show to keep the audience’s curiosity piqued through this season,” he says.

Zee’s Kannada movie channel Zee Picchar will telecast movies like Doddmane Huduga, Shravani Subramanya, Bhagyada Balegaara, Aruna Raaga, Parva, Kissmat and Jodi between 16 to 19 April

Similarly, Viacom18’s regional channels have added some of its most popular and highly-acclaimed shows across genres like family dramas, comedies and mythological series.

Viacom18 regional TV network head Ravish Kumar says: "Since the lockdown, we have been working towards keeping our regional audiences entertained minus any interruption or disruption. We have reworked our programming to ensure that we cater to viewers across ages with content that is diverse and appealing, spread across genres. We have introduced dedicated slots for movies and special events thus keeping our viewers entertained at all times. We have also added a variety of content specifically for kids to ensure that they aren’t missing out on their dose of entertainment while being at home.”

The network has created a PSA campaign #RahoSafeGharPe that spreads awareness on the need to stay home, to regularly wash hands and to maintain social distancing.

In Telugu, Zee Telugu is doing re-runs of the popular original shows like Muddha Mandaram as well as some of its OTT shows from Zee5 such as Mudda Pappu Avakai, Mrs Subbalakshmi, Nanna Kuchi, What’s Up Panimanishi, and Ramya Krishna-starrer Queen. Zee Cinemalu, the Telugu channel, has scheduled blockbuster movies like Devdas, Jersey, Srimanthadu, Spyder and A AA.

“Unprecedented times call for unprecedented measures. Ensuring non-stop entertainment from across genres catering to every family member to drive away lockdown blues, we are presenting dedicated blockbusters of comedy, drama, romance to give you the best content in the absence of the regular content. As we all try to get ahead of the pandemic, we want to continue being the audience companion for entertainment,” Zee Telugu and Zee Cinemalu business head Anuradha Gudur says.

Production of shows has been shut across the country. Pixel Production founder-CEO Prashanti Malisetti says that the company is also doing its best to adapt to the situation while keeping in mind health advisories. In the current situation, Malisetti says that it is impossible to work on the ground with 150-200 people, either in studios or outdoors.

She says: “Despite not having banked episodes, in the safety of our cast and crew, we have stalled our shoots in Hyderabad, too. I am sure the economic impact would be both immediate and long term. It’s a great challenge to be asked to wait patiently for weeks at home to fight an enemy you can’t even see but the need of the hour is to stay calm and rational. The humanity, patience and determination that people are showing to fight this war and keep their loved ones safe is awe-inspiring. We are eager to be part of it until the end."

Zee Keralam, however, is confident of bringing the original content for its viewers. Zee Keralam business head Santosh J Nair informed that they have sufficient content in the bank to run during this lockdown.

“Zee Keralam, the latest entrant among the general entertainment channels in Kerala, has no such issues of the dearth of original contents. We have already stored sufficient content in our ir bank. We are working on a plan for now and the coming days. Most of our fiction shows have episodes banked that can be aired for a while. It's not only fiction but nonfiction shows also. We will try our best to give original content," he said.

The old shows and the programming strategies adopted by the channels are going well with regard to viewership and hopefully this would bring some money to their pockets.

Joel Multmedia founder and CEO Varghese Thomas says: “As far as GECs are concerned, their main source of Ad revenue is from the fiction shows which consume major time slots. Then we have reality shows and movies adding to the genre mix of these channels. Since the shooting of fresh content is suspended due to COVID19, channels are under tremendous pressure to air content that will fetch more viewership.”

“However, they are left with the option of airing either old shows or movies. Irrespective of the show being a super-hit in the past, it may not have great traction or enthusiasm among the audience as time has evolved. At the same time, movies are a better bet when it comes to repeat airing. Movies always garner decent numbers for their repeat telecasts. However this would help these channels to generate some revenue during this tough time,” he added.

Thomas says that the other major concern with regard to advertisement is that many categories are not active at this point in time.  Either they are mute or lying very low.

“Categories such as food & beverages, pharmaceutical products, personal care products, etc. are active with minimum exposure. Many advertisers are staying away from the game because of non-availability of their products in the market and supply chain issues due to the current situation. However, some of India's leading advertisers such as HUL, Wipro, Cipla, Mankind Pharma, etc. are advertising during this period. This would help these channels to an extent.”

He also informed that this could be an interesting time for brands such as online games and OTT platforms to advertise during this period as there is a surge in demand for these products or services.

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