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Music genre reflects the health of television industry: 9XM's Pawan Jailkhani

The genre has bounced back from the impact of Covid2019.

NEW DELHI: 90s kids in India will recall the MTV of yore - the holy grail of music videos that had everything from the latest Bollywood hits, Hollywood chart toppers, to indie artistes and global sensations. But as the network later admitted, it never made much money from playing music - so it undertook an irreversible shift in its content strategy and more or less hit the pause button on songs. MTV's non-music programming was an undeniable success, but its music-watching base migrated to rival channels, and later found succour in audio streaming services. Globally, online music streaming services have been gaining strength, chipping away at the hold of linear TV music channels.

However, Covid2019 has changed things - while more people have been tuning in, both mediums have experienced a slowdown in terms of growth and revenue. TAM data showed that music channels bounced back in the July to September quarter and have been growing since then. But where does the music genre on TV actually stand? spoke to 9X Network executive board member and chief revenue officer Pawan Jailkhani to know more about how the genre is recovering from the crisis, how music genre factors into media plans and how the network is growing. Excerpts:

On Covid2019’s impact on music genre

In the first quarter, the music industry was down 80-85 per cent (compared to pre-Covid level). Even though the viewership of channels increased during this period, but it could not be monetised. There were not many brands advertising during that time, and if there were any, they were all asking for discounts across mediums. Those brands were taking a risk by advertising because there was no supply chain available for them. And, every publisher and broadcaster had unutilised inventory and they did not hesitated to pass it on to these advertisers even at a discount as it meant revenue during those tough times. It was a bad period for the first three months. Our viewership share went up by two to three per cent but it did not help.

On advertisers making a comeback

The comeback has been much stronger.

In the first half of the year (April-September 2020) the industry was down by 60 per cent but it recovered in October-December quarter by around 90 per cent. Supply chains were functioning, demand was growing and brands were coming back. FMCG, which is the backbone of television advertising, was back at 90 per cent level of spending. Other categories – consumer durable, e-commerce, new categories like gaming, digital first players, and start-ups – have all come back. At an industry level and for us, the recovery stands at 80-85 per cent of the pre-Covid level.

Music genre is the real barometer of the health of the industry. It delivers you reach equivalent to a GEC. It also provides a much more diverse audience including- youth, male and female. If a brand is advertising in full force on music, then that brand is back.

On how digital has changed the music genre

Digital will only take away the viewer from the TV set. It has nothing do with the content. We run unique content and at least 40 per cent of our music is my own. Secondly, we also run the content from the music labels and people still watch it but that will not take away the brand affinity. You may not see 9XM on TV but on Disney+Hotstar, Spotify, Zee5, or another platform.

People are watching these platforms and in last 18 months, we decided to cover and reach every touchpoint as the latter has increased in numbers. The content continues to populate but my fight is where I will be able to catch the audiences. And, the latter will only increase. It is the same reason I am on DD Freedish, all digital platforms, OTT platforms and apps, app stores. Simultaneously, I run differentiated content and have been very successful at it. Digital platforms have only made us much stronger in terms of brand and uniqueness of the channel.

On the stability of linear TV business in music genre

The music genre on television reaches approximately 666 million monthly, while they reach 240 million on streaming apps and 350 million on radio stations. However, India is a complex market and in my understanding the two mediums will continue to co-exist and each will propel others growth.

On the other hand, these digital platforms are a discovery medium while television is a playlist medium. I can schedule a song 20 times a day but on a discovery medium it will not come unless you search for it. So, I can catch audiences at 20 different times of the day on TV.

The audience base on TV is much higher and is growing. The digital and OTT genre is helping TV side as many of these streaming platforms like Spotify, Netflix, Gaana are advertisers with our platforms. They understand the strength of TV and will continue to exist for a long time.

On monetising content on digital platforms

We have a huge social media following – Instagram and Facebook but we are not monetising them. On the other hand, we have Spotboye which is a digital magazine where we create our own content. So, we monetise that and seen a decent growth and revenue in 18 months. We are also creating short format content related to youth and getting into sitcom, hip-pop, food, and others. All this content is driven by digital and monetisation is there on this platform.

Next is our podcast strategy.

We are probably the first network in the country which has gained a first mover advantage with podcast audio. One year back, we launched Soundcast for our Hindi podcast. And then we have a Punjabi podcast and today we have four podcasts, including two in Hindi and two in Punjabi. We are across all streaming platforms – Spotify, Gaana, Google, Amazon, Jio, Castorbox, Jio, and we rank second or third in music podcasts. We have roughly around 80,000 downloads daily. It’s a medium that most do not understand in the market but we have already started monetising it and.

On animated content

We are the first network that has no human intervention on the channel. It is all automated, so we have our own humour, animation, monetisation of those episodes, and there is a large set of revenue that we get from these characters (Bade – Chote, Bheegi Billi, Betel Nuts), and from brands.

On plans to grow animated IPs

Till last year, the idea was to have a unique content on the channel to create uniqueness on the channel. These characters were our VJs, anchors, and had one short form content. While the world is now talking about the short form content, we specialised in it 10 years back. We specialised in animations. We are now branching out and building serious content in animation also, for instance the IP on sitcom will be completely animated.

On the potential equity investor NSR sees in 9XM

Last year we were showing around 16-17 per cent growth on top line, so why would they not see the potential. We were lucky that when  joined the network, we were backed by a serious and long term private equity investor. They believe in this medium and what we have been doing. We have been continuously reinventing every two to three years starting 2009. First we created a strong business plan, then we launched Punjab in 2011, Maharashtra in 2012, English in 2013, Hindi retro music in 2014 and digital portals in 2016. Later in 2017, we launched audience brand connect that generates branded content and IPs. We have been building revenue models and later we launched SpotlampE, which contributes to our overall value and valuation and even IP story. 

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