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In-depth: Are music channels a profitable song to sing?

Despite being under-indexed, the players don’t feel that the business is under stress. But they vouch for the need for advertisers to change their perception about the genre

American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow had said, ‘Music is the universal language of the mankind.’

No wonder why the music content on television too has a more universal appeal and attracts people from all age groups and cross section of the society. Despite the immense interest in the content, the players in the Hindi music genre are not getting their due in terms of revenues. The music genre on Indian television has been an under-indexed genre (in terms of advertising revenues) for a very long time.

The genre commands a mere 3-4 per cent of the total TV advertising revenues against a 6-7 per cent contribution that it gives to the total TV viewership Impressions. Mastiii, the Hindi music channel from Sri Adhikari Brothers, has been leading the Hindi music channels for quite a few years now. However, as per the market sources, the channel has not been able to command rates in line with its leadership position.

A senior media expert who did not wish to be named said, “While Mastiii is the most watched Hindi music channel, it is still not getting (or should I say, asking for) ad rates similar to other channels like MTV or Sony Mix. Perception is a big word for all the television genres, other than Hindi GECs.”

In such a scenario how difficult is it to sustain a channel, forget being profitable? BestMediaInfo.com tried to take a closer look at the profitability and sustenance of the genre in the future. The genre which is loaded with close to 20 players has also, apparently, given rise to a spin-off genre — youth general entertainment channel (youth GEC).

Sustainability

Given the example of Mastiii, the sustainability of the players in the genre must be a problem. But the common consensus is that the sustainability is not an issue since the entry cost in the genre is very low and so is the content cost.

Manav Dhanda

Dismissing the under-indexation of Mastiii, Manav Dhanda, Group CEO, Sri Adhikari Brothers Group clarified, “For last many years, we have about 30-50 per cent more viewership than the number two and it is like this across all three cuts, including rural, urban and urban-rural combined. The leadership has been sustained through changing times of TAM, BARC and updated universe. While there is a price for leadership, there is also a premium for long-standing unchallenged loyalties. The advertisers clearly recognise that and we do command a premium that we deserve. So sustainability is not an issue for sure.”

All the other experts who were interviewed contradicted the view that the genre had huge sustainability. Pawan Jailkhani, Chief Revenue Officer, 9X Media, said, “We are a profitable company for five to seven years. We contribute to about 37 per cent of the music money in the country. My regional channels are growing at 18-19 per cent and HSM is growing at about 14-15 per cent. I don’t see sustainability to be a problem in the genre. It is about being a serious player. Rather, this is a low entry and high yield genre.”

Dhanda added, “Our prime audience (15 to 35 years) has the largest share of population base and is core for most of the advertisers. Sustainability also depends on where you are placed and how you manage your business. The entry barrier for music is extremely low. Due to low entry barrier, too many people are entering without any specific differentiated product (content) offering. For them, viability is out of question, but if the product is well defined, it’s not difficult to sustain.”

Music is probably the only genre that has duplication of content since it is the same music generated by Bollywood and some by independent artists, which is offered on all the channels. All players agreed that despite this redundancy of content, there can be innovative ways of differentiating the presentation, packaging and treatment given to the channel. Consider shows like Coke Studio and Unplugged by MTV, which generate a lot of new and unique music in the industry. Independent music was also given a stage on television at MTV Indies, though the channel was revamped as MTV Beats recently. SPN’s recent launch Sony Rox also has a separate slot for independent artists.

Seconding Dhanda on the importance and need of differentiation, Palia said, “Only differentiation will be able to increase the indexation of the genre.”

Youth GECs or music channels?

Youth is the core target group for music content but it is not the only content that attracts this set of lucrative audience. There is fiction, reality and talent hunt that grabs young eyeballs on television other than music. When the music genre was born with the likes of MTV and Channel V, the flavour of the season was video jockeying (VJs), countdowns and gossip shows. Gradually as the other players like Mastiii and B4U Music came into picture, the pure play music genre was more talk of the town. 9X Media took it to another level by introducing animation and packaging it in an all new way.

Then on, since the last eight to 10 years, the channels have also started putting up fiction shows albeit without saas-bahus and with more teenage and youngsters’ twists. It was around 2011-2012 when Bindaas, Channel V and even MTV had a plethora of shows starting off with Meri Toh Lag Gai Naukri (first fiction show on Bindaas – 2011), Kitni Mast Hai Zindagi (first fiction show on MTV – 2004) and Roomies (first fiction show on Channel V – 2010).

A media planner who didn’t wish to be named explained, “A lot of people in the industry believe that the genre that we call as youth is a spin-off of music genre. There was a VJ culture in television programming and so was the music content. Roadies barged in as a reality show and grabbed the limelight of youth. Then on, music became (kind of) secondary to youth in the minds of the broadcasters. A few broadcasters like Mastiii continued to focus on and serve music to their audiences.”

Ashish Sehgal

Ashish Sehgal, COO, Zee Unimedia, agreed. He said, “This is a highly under-indexed genre and ad rates can’t be increased beyond a point because it is an overcrowded genre. Hence, the genre is left to be used as a frequency builder rather than reach. Under this stress of advertising, a lot of channels went on to call themselves as ‘youth GECs’ with fiction shows and other non-music programming.”

Ferzad Palia

Ferzad Palia, Head, Youth and English Entertainment, Viacom18, refuted the argument that the genre was a spin-off of music, though. He said, “No, I don’t think that youth is a spin off genre of music. The evolution of music television in India was MTV and Channel V, which operated as music and youth lifestyle channels. As they moved on to become youth channels and as their music content began reducing, the amount of long-form content including reality and fiction were experimented with. You clearly had two distinct sets of channels – those with only music videos and those with long format content. Recently, a few channels that were experimenting unsuccessfully with long form content have started playing the music content.”

MTV has seen substantial viewership with the long format content (both reality or fiction and even special events). The channel is looking at increasing long-form production and reducing the number of music videos. The network had recently announced its new channel MTV Beats which now becomes a pure play music channel of the network. As Palia said, “Since MTV now focuses on long form content, MTV beats is our music facing brand.”

Pure play music

So if youth programming has been expanded to fiction and reality shows and to long format and non-music shows, has the relevance of pure play music channels decreased? Are the pure play music channels nearing extinction?

K Srinivas Rao

K Srinivas Rao, National Director, Buying, MediaCom, said, “The music genre has gotten diversified and sub-genres like pure play music channels, youth channels with music sprinkled in and Bollywood news with music sprinkled in. The audience within the overall music channels too has got fragmented as they have more options available. Hence, none of the genres within the music genre are done yet.”

Neeraj Vyas

Neeraj Vyas, Senior EVP and Business Head, Sony Max cluster, SPN, gave the example of Sony Mix and said that pure play is here to stay but those calling themselves youth platforms need a new direction. “Out of the almost 20-odd channels in the music space, if we were to include the youth channels in music genre, the top 10 channels in terms of viewership are pure play music channels. Out of these, the top five channels command more than 50 per cent share of the genre (BARC: CS 15+ / HSM Urban / Wk 1-7, 2017).”

It is true that the genre has a scope to grow, like any other. Jailkhani said, “Pure play is not dead if you are sure that you are a serious player and you have come in to build value. One should not just focus on run of day part (RODP) and run of site (ROS). Whether it’s pure play music channel or not, it depends on how you evolve your brand. We started off as a pure play music channel, but today we have evolved our channel into music, but in different forms, building perception.”

Dhanda felt that the genre is moving towards focused offerings. “There was an era when talks, shows or VJs were a very large share of music channels’ content mix. There was a time when most channels were buffet channels serving everything, but as media evolves, you would want a single point promise for everyone and pure play is just that.”

Future prospects

While the existence and sustainability are all sorted, it must be checked as to what is in store for the genre. We asked the experts and platform owners as to what were the suggestions and the prospects for music genre on television.

Sehgal was very clear when he said the channels need to digitally reinvent the genre from a programming point of view. “The genre has been targeted at the younger generation and hence, in order to stay relevant in the future too, we need to build a strong multiscreen strategy. The youth respects mobility of the content and multiplatform is the way forward.”

9XM has a digital platform for their various products, though the numbers on those are not as competitive as those on television. Probably, the digital platforms have already been hijacked by the internet music streaming site.

Co-existence with TV

Considering the emergence of free music streaming sites such as Saavn and Gaana, how big is the threat to the traditional medium for music? Also, it must be noted that television and radio have co-existed for a long time and radio provides better mobility while television provides a better experience.

Rao agrees that there is a threat. “But music channels normally have a role in the media plans. In fact, for certain categories like e-com, music channels give the best traction. But the traditional medium needs to evolve to bring in the interactivity/engagement element into it in the long run to stay relevant. As for radio, I believe that each medium has a role in a media plan. However, since radio as a medium is more customised, and talks to the listeners in their own language, it has managed to stay relevant along with TV,” explained Rao.

The broadcasters, however, feel otherwise. Vyas clearly denies any threat to television music channels. Vyas explained how a song travels in the listener’s mind, “We have this model that helps us understand music in the form of ‘lifecycle of a song’, which has four phases — discovery, like, love and own. Given the fact that overwhelming music in India is film music (audio-visual), it relies on TV (the largest penetrated media platform) to gain popularity. Essentially, songs mostly break on TV first and given our reach are discovered here first. Subsequent to the ‘discover’ phase, channels like ours who can filter good music from not-so-good, play a critical role in creating a ‘like’ phase for a song, which then graduates to ‘love’ and then ‘own’ phase, on the merit. It is somewhere in the ‘love’ and entirely on the ‘own’ phase that a small screen and online platform comes in.”

Pawan Jailkhani

Jailkhani, on the other hand, chose to give hard facts. “Other than the regular youth TG, a large chunk of our viewership comes from 35 plus age group. Distribution has also helped smoothened the availability. The online streaming sites are not at all a threat to the medium. Consider this: Saavn’s overall base is 50 million, while the active users are seven million. Television is much above these numbers. Streaming companies have lost the game already and OTT will further kill them. 9X Media has a live streaming mobile app and our digital base is close to 25 million,” said Jailkhani.

As for radio, the consumption of radio is very different from the live streaming sites and TV. To start with, the playlist is not of the listener’s choice on radio, let alone the interruptive advertising and radio jockeys. As Jailkhani explains the other differences, “If there is a new Salman Khan movie, people might listen to the song on radio but they would be equally interested in seeing the video which only TV can provide. Indian music industry is very heavy on videos. While buying content also, I do exclusive deals with music labels wherein certain kind of music is exclusive to us for the first four days. Exclusivity is tiebreaker.”

Dhanda is also a firm believer of each platform for itself. “In the US, both digital and broadcast are far more matured but radio still commands a good 10-12 per cent of the ad pie. I think India is far too young to really worry about what digital will do to the TV business.”

Advertisers’ eye

A lot, or rather most of the genres — other than GECs, movies and news — are bought by the advertisers only as a frequency builders. Music is no exception, especially with lower ad rates which are highly disproportionate to the deliveries that it offers in terms of viewership.

Sehgal agreed that it is still a frequency builder and also added that advertisers are finding the tier II and III markets to be more relevant, as the youth in smaller towns is still aspirational. “However, metros remain the most monetisable markets.”

Jailkhani has a contradictory theory that this genre works on perception and has developed a strong reach over a period of time. “Earlier, the genre was being bought for frequency build up but now it is a strong reach-driven medium. In fact, branded content and merchandise are also driving revenues for us. Our vertical Audience Brand Connect (ABC) contributes close to 17-18 per cent of my topline.”

About what goes behind commanding a certain lower or higher rates by a channel, Palia said that decision of ad rates is dependent on a combination of psychographic viewership also. “If a channel has content that caters to the whole family and not to the specific segment then the competition is with the other genres of television too, not just the music genre. So, for those audience, possibly GECs are a better catch for the advertisers. This is also to do with the kind of product being offered and the perception because a single penny put into advertising has a background of a lot of research, other than viewership figures. So, I don’t look at Mastiii or B4U as youth music channels but more as family channel.”

Sehgal and Palia both pointed out how a lot of players in the genre are airing advertisements for more than 12 minutes per hour, defying the ad-cap. That, ultimately, does not give a good viewing experience neither is it a great environment where an advertiser would want his ad to be seen. The recall is always higher in the cleaner environment.

Vyas from SPN, that has two music genres, wants to give a new definition to the genre. “We must do away with the word ‘frequency’ genre. While the two big genres — GEC and movies — can be called reach genres, the other genres should be looked at as ‘unique reach builders’. This branding of ‘frequency genre’ discounts a host of genres from their unique reach, which in music’s case is youth.”

He also stated that a strongly placed music channel in the market is the primary media plan when it comes to youth focused brands. Industry sectors like motorbikes, personal care, handheld devices need the music genre to talk to their target audience.

Rao, as a buyer of the airtime on behalf of his clients, pointed out that efficiency, performance and customisation (integrations) are the USPs of the genre.

Dhanda too smiled while saying this, “I don’t think the advertisers wake up in the morning and say that I want to buy the 20th channel in the business, they want to buy the top three channels. The top channels will always have a command on the ad rates.”

Info@BestMediaInfo.com

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