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In-depth: How lack of innovation will make Hindi GECs lose out to OTT platforms

Broadcasters are following the same kind of programming for years whereas the OTT players are challenging the game, breaking the mould and adding more subscribers. Will Hindi GECs be redundant for millennials and the urban affluent, the main TG for premium advertisers? finds out

As newerand innovative forms of content grow on digital, the millennials have already dumped Hindi GECs and the English-speaking audience is also moving to OTT platforms such as Netflix.

What has fuelled this growth is the lack of innovative programming on TV. Experts say there could be a time soon when HIG audiences and the young urban TG won't be on Hindi GECs at all. Though small in numbers, these audiences matter a lot to premium advertisers.

"In the 90s and early 2000, GEC programming was mostly for urban audiences with programmes such as Tara, Swabhiman and others. These shows resonated with the urban audience. That isn't the case anymore. And the void is being filled by OTT platforms," said an industry expert.

He said channels follow a fad, which has become even more unchangeable after the rural viewership numbers started coming.

What's wrong with HindiGECs

After the explosion of internet, the viewership pattern and taste of the audience has changed, especially of millennials and the urban affluent. And Hindi GECs haven't been able to cater to these audiences.

All channels have settled in their own sweet spots and don’t budge much, he said.

Colors has a lot of fantasy and non-fiction, while Zee TV and Star Plus have drama. Sony is heavy on crime and costume dramas. Are we seeing a change in trend?

A senior broadcast professional turned marketer said on the condition of anonymity, “When Colors was launched, it had a Khatron Ke Khiladi for the Bollywood flavour, a Balika Vadhu for the child bride drama and a Shree Krishna, a mythology. Sometime later, there was Laado and Bigg Boss, as the same audience migrated to the newer content, followed by India’s Got Talent in the next financial year. If you see Colors even today, it has the similar flavour of reality, drama and social issues. When Star Plus came about and wanted to take the baton from Zee TV initially, they did Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi and Kahaani Ghar Ghar Ki, the flavour of which is still quite high on the channel. The basic core philosophy of a channel does not change.”

Ashish Golwalkar

Ashish Golwalkar, SVP and Senior Creative Director, Content, Sony Pictures Networks India, said, “Each channel has its own flavour and its own loyalists. This audience also expects a certain kind of programming from the channel. Though all channels are trying to have a mix of all the genres of programming, the expertise will lie in some select genres.”

Why then the channels aren’t trying to break this mould and coming out of this, while adding extra flavour?

The marketer estimated the reason to be increasing pressures on profitability. He said, “Channels do not go out of their areas much anymore, I think and it is majorly because of profitability pressures too. Nobody wants to delve into the experimentation mode and take a chance. There was a show on Colors, which was based on farmers’ suicides. Merely within four to five weeks, it was converted to a saas-bahu saga by marrying off the farmer’s daughter, to hold on to the initial ratings. The pressure on business was always there, but broadcasters still used to take bolder steps and try out things. They are only comfortable in their own place now and are not even trying harder to get newer people. To really give it to Star, they experimented with Kya Aap Paanchvi Paas Se Tez Hain, Satyamev Jayate, Ted Talks, POW, Arushi. But I don’t think it is to an extent where it should be, considering the whole genre.”

Vidhu Sagar, National Director, Lintas Media hub, Point Nine Lintas, too seconded the thought of how broadcasters aren’t experimenting as much possibly because of profitability pressures.

Whose gain is it?

The new media, the OTT platforms are the ones gaining the most of this lack of innovation. The marketer said, “Broadcasters have their own comfort zones and they are getting ratings. No one wants to experiment and take the risk of losing viewers, even if it would be for the short term.

Broadcasters used to innovate till sometime back but now this lack of interest in trying is what has given a stronger region to the new players – the OTT ones. Netflix and Amazon Prime Video, along with other OTT players, are bringing newer kind of shows, filling an empty slot. The broadcasters had left that gap. Though, I believe, there are so many people in India that Netflix and Prime Video havetheir own audience, Colors has its own and so does Zee or any other channel, for that matter.”

Explaining the genre and TG catered to by the two mediums, Sagar said, “While broadcasters deal in the similar sub-genres of programming – costume dramas, comedy, horror, soap operas and reality shows – their content offerings are closer and more relevant to the Indian milieu. Compare this to the newer content ways, which is on the OTT platforms. Something like Breathe or Sacred Games, though set in a contemporary Indian city with Hinglish language, might not be able to come on to the TV broadcast side, as yet.”

Vidhu Sagar

Sagar said the major difference between the TV and OTT players’ programming strategy is, “The broadcasters are following the same trend of programming over and over again. They do not have the wherewithal to engineer a new trend, which is where the OTT players are challenging the game, breaking the mould and are not giving the content similar to television. That’s why you don’t see any Naagin, Vishkanya or any saas-bahu saga on the OTT platforms. One in 100 shows on broadcast tried with the gumption that says, ‘I will bring newer kind of programming’. This ratio is reverse in the OTT game. They are saying that they will back a Sacred Games to the hilt. Again, if you are marketing an existing trend, it won’t take much time, effort or monies, but if you are trying to bring newer things, you need to make people realise that engineering is in trend. A lot of things are in flux right now, but it is important to recognise that many things are changing on the sidelines.”

Ashish Sehgal

Telling more about the uniqueness of the two media platforms, Ashish Sehgal, COO, Zee Unimedia, said, “The audience are divided into two clear sets, a larger set is the mass audience catered by the TV GECs, while there’s another set, which is a smaller group of people who love to watch innovative programming and prefer going to the OTT players.”

Money Matters

Ultimately on any platform, everything boils down to the fact whether or not a programme is making enough money. Are advertisers supporting it, or are the broadcasters getting enough audience to subscribe and watch it?

Sehgal explained, “The Hindi GECs have done enough and more experimentation, while some have been successful, some haven’t. Shows like Prisoners of War, 24, Ted Talk, Yudh, Amma, Connected Hum Tum with Abhay Deol and Satyamev Jayate were quite good in their intent and were innovative formats, but not many of them got those huge volumes of audience to sustain. Ultimately, advertisers go with the volumes.”

“One big example of innovation that didn’t get the requisite support was our own channel Zindagi. It was loved by a lot of people, but these ‘lot of people’ weren’t enough volume. Also when an OTT gets viewership, the company gets subscription for those many audiences. For the broadcasters, everything ends up to be a part of the bouquet on distribution platforms. This doesn’t end up in getting much support from the subscription monies,” Sehgal added.

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