Will non-fiction shows witness growth post IPL?

Industry experts weigh in on the revival of the non-fiction genre.

MUMBAI: IPL 2020 was the first major live sporting event since the lockdown began. Despite a delayed start owing to the pandemic, it proved to be a respite for Indian audiences who were wilting on a diet of TV news and reruns. Not to mention that it gave a new lease on life to advertisers to once again build a connect with consumers and attain the pre-Covid reach levels. BARC reported that the 13th edition of the league, which has an estimated brand value of $6.8 billion drew record television and digital viewership. The IPL opener was viewed by 200 million plus audiences and a staggering 31.57 million watched the tournament, clocking a 23 per cent rise in eyeballs.

This year, marquee non-fiction properties Kaun Banega Crorepati (KBC) season 12, Bigg Boss season 14, Fear Factor-Khatron Ke Khiladi, India’s Best Dancer, The Kapil Sharma Sharma, Super Dancer were launched while the IPL was underway. Indian Idol season 12 started after IPL ended. The upcoming non-fiction shows are Taare Zameen Par and Dance Deewane 3. While the league may have gone relatively unscathed in terms of sponsors and revenue (BCCI being cagey about financials notwithstanding), several media experts had pointed out that the overlap of the tournament with the festive season and audience shift to OTT platforms would impact the revenues of television networks.

By the by, both shows managed to rope in a sizeable number of sponsors and partners (KBC – 10, Bigg Boss – 15). But they failed to make a splash in their opening week – BARC data reflects that none of them broke into the top five shows in the Hindi GEC category. However, the report also stated that Bigg Boss clocked 3.9 billion minutes in the same period, the highest in the last three seasons.

BARC is yet to release data on how these shows have performed since they premiered this season.

But the question remains that with IPL over, viewers of the non-fiction genre need the next big thing for their daily dose of entertainment. Will this quest for serotonin give a boost to the genre and viewership? 

The industry is divided, where some believe that now the IPL is over, things will get better for non-fiction shows in terms of ratings and revenue. Others think that overall market sentiment is low with the festive season behind us. Revival will come, but not before January 2021.

The Media Ant CEO and founder Samir Chaudhary said, “Both KBC and Bigg Boss have not performed as compared to last year. IPL definitely has a role to play, given that both shows launched during the tournament, which is an unusual scenario. Diwali was the peak season for all advertisers, but now overall ad volumes have gone down. The volume was driven a lot by automobile and e-commerce companies, and both have now come out of their peaks. We are expecting the volumes to come back by mid-December when the second round of sale comes up."

He further qualified this by saying that since the IPL is over, the shows may see traction and gain a new set of advertisers by mid-December, but that remains to be seen.

Wavemaker India managing partner Mansi Datta echoed the sentiment and added, “Post IPL (data for four days post IPL), these programs have seen an increase in viewership across different cohorts by 5-15 per cent. This indicates that the audience viewership movement is to be further expected across both genders/age groups. This would also hold the case as momentum for these episodes gain, the viewership will climb.”

Traditionally, Dussehra-Diwali is the reaping period for TV networks as they launch big-ticket fiction and non-fiction properties, helping them attract advertisers. Estimates are that marketers signed checks to the tune of Rs 24,000 crore during the festival period last year. The pandemic and the lockdowns over the past six months have resulted in Indian advertising expenditure shrinking by as much as 39 per cent since. Soothsayers predict that 2019’s festive season ad-ex will not be breached this year.

Elara Capital vice president Karan Taurani observed that both ratings and ad volumes of non-fiction shows have gone up but the issue is pricing. Viewership ratings have increased by 10 to 15 per cent but compared to last year the rates are still low. “From October to November, the TV advertising segment grew by 10 to 12 per cent. But post festivities, the entire media plan was put on hold based on how the market functions in terms of consumption pattern. The growth was not sustainable.”

Taurani projects December to be slightly down in terms of advertising. “But hopefully, January and February will see some relief and the market will bounce back,” he added.

In terms of ad volumes, both properties have brought in a lot of advertisers, in fact the difference in the total number of advertisers onboard with the IPL and Bigg Boss was just 10 per cent. Others emphasise that these programmes got new sponsors, even those that stayed away from IPL, and the inventory level is almost full.

Havas Media buying national head R Venkatasubramanian pointed out that now advertisers have the option to choose between HD and SD platforms separately. Hence, the number of advertisers are more in both properties, a win-win for brands and channels.

During the pandemic, the lines have blurred between primetime and non-primetime. Content consumption patterns have also changed. In an average household, while women and family audiences have been glued to fiction serials, young viewers have taken either to the IPL or to online content that is slowly attracting Hindi-speaking viewers.

Omnicom Media Group chief investment officer Mamatha Morvankar shared that initial trends post the closure of IPL 2020 are certainly encouraging. Both KBC and Bigg Boss, Sa Re Ga Ma Pa, have shown an uptick in TVRs. In the case of Bigg Boss, the increase was largely attributed to time spent by viewers, whereas for KBC the surge was both with regards to reach and time spent. KBC had its one crore winners in the weeks following IPL and that aspect would have had a positive impact on ratings.

A media professional, on the condition of anonymity, mentioned that Bigg Boss – which is already on the verge of completing two months – is introducing new formats and twists to lure viewers. And while advertisers are coming on board, they’re doing so on discounted rates.

But despite challenges, reality shows are slowly but steadily gaining the power to create an impact in the wake of IPL. Morvankar explained, “This is also showing in terms of the ad volumes. Both these reality programs are signing on new sponsors post the IPL 2020 season and going full-on their inventory. KBC has even gotten an extension of four weeks, now stretching to end in January, which should also extend the ratings momentum. These early signs are promising enough for us to anticipate that impact reality shows such as these are set to take the coming quarter by storm.”

If reports are to be believed, the IPL has already eaten up a Rs 2,500-crore slice of the ad-ex pie. But some experts still hold that non-fiction shows are on a growth trajectory. It will be interesting to see if the genre will hit it out of the park in the coming months or if it’s samay samaapt for it.

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