Are advertisers losing interest in Horror Shows on GECs?

Advertisers have expressed a slightly reduced interest in horror shows on GECs due to their smaller viewership compared to other genres. Moreover, they believe that such shows often evoke negative emotions which makes them hesitant to connect their brands with these shows

Sakshi Sharma
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Are advertisers losing interest in Horror Shows on GECs?

In the good old days, spine-tingling tales of 'Ssshhhh...Koi Hai,'  'Aahat,' and ‘'Fear Files' kept us glued to our TV screens but today, the eerie charm of Indian horror shows on television seems to have faded away, leaving us to ponder the reason behind their sudden disappearance from our general entertainment channels (GECs).

Industry leaders point to several key factors for the decline in once-popular horror shows on GECs, including increased competition from streaming services, changes in audience tastes and the influence of censorship. Nonetheless, there is optimism among some that these shows may make a comeback on television soon.

Meanwhile, advertisers have expressed a slightly reduced interest in horror shows on GECs due to their smaller viewership compared to other genres. Horror shows often evoke negative emotions like fear and anxiety, and this association with such feelings might make advertisers hesitant to connect their brands with these shows.

Factors contributing to sudden decline of horror shows on GECs

Shashank Srivastava, Senior Executive Director, Marketing and Sales, Maruti Suzuki, highlighted three factors:

1. Competition from digital platforms: The rise of digital streaming platforms like Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, and Disney+ Hotstar has given viewers access to a wide variety of horror content, including original series, movies, and documentaries. This has made it difficult for GECs to compete with the level of production quality and storytelling offered by digital platforms.

2. Censorship: Horror shows on GECs are often subject to strict censorship guidelines, which can limit the creative freedom of filmmakers and lead to watered-down content. This can make horror shows less appealing to viewers who are looking for more edgy and suspenseful content.

3. Changing audience preferences: Over the years, the preferences of Indian audiences have changed, with viewers increasingly drawn to more lighthearted and comedic content. This shift in preferences has made it more difficult for horror shows to attract a large audience.

Ashish Golwalkar

Striking a similar tone, Ashish Golwalkar, an independent media consultant and the former Head of Content, Sony, Digital Business and SET, said, “It is not as simple as it may seem when discussing the decline in popularity of horror shows. It's important to delve deeper into the audience dynamics. Approximately 15 years ago, the television audience had a very different demographic makeup compared to today. Back then, television viewership, especially on pay TV, was primarily concentrated in urban and higher socio-economic areas in India. Television penetration wasn't as widespread as it is now. This complexity plays a significant role in why GECs, especially those on pay TV, are not currently successful in the horror genre.”

“Moreover, during that time, they didn't attain the highest rankings, although they maintained decent viewership. It's essential to note that they didn't suddenly vanish from the scene, as some might think. A key factor to consider is that genres like crime, horror, and thrillers tend to cater to specific audiences and aren't typically family-friendly,” Golwalkar added.

Furthermore, he went on to say that the television landscape has evolved, with a shift towards single-screen households as television penetration deepens among the masses. In contrast, digital platforms, including OTT services, have witnessed increased consumption of crime, horror and thriller content, both locally and internationally, such as Korean and Western series available with Hindi dubbing. In fact, there are more viewers for these genres today than ever before. It's just that television ratings represent a percentage of the total viewing universe, which has expanded over time. Also, a lot of people recently, in the last 4-5 years, also migrated to digital mediums like OTTs. So, the consumption is quite significant there.

“The convergence of digital and traditional television is more pronounced than ever. TV consumption is shifting towards free OTT apps like Hotstar, JioCinema, and others, driving an increase in viewership. Many OTT platforms are now exploring TV plus content, offering digital content distinct from never-ending TV series. This trend is likely to motivate both broadcasters and digital platforms to consider the horror genre. The key business aspect here is that horror stories, unlike soap operas, are inherently limited in their narrative scope, making them a less popular choice for TV channels and GECs,” he said.

Golwalkar opined that in the near future, the primary platform for content delivery will be OTT. Digital is the way forward, and it's likely that traditional broadcast channels won't survive in a few years. Currently, in India, television content continues to have a substantial viewership and remains one of the most-watched forms of content, even in the digital age.

Krishnarao Buddha

Krishnarao Buddha, Senior Category Head at Parle Products said that the popularity of horror shows has waned in recent years, with reality shows taking centre stage in India's entertainment landscape. This shift may be attributed to the superstitious nature of the country, suggesting that the horror genre may make a comeback in the future.

"One of the key factors contributing to the decline of horror shows is the increasing focus on reality programming by broadcasters. The emergence of reality shows like Kaun Banega Crorepati (KBC), Indian Idol, Bigg Boss, Khatron Ke Khiladi, Aaja Nachale, and Nach Baliye has overshadowed horror programs. In essence, the appeal of horror has shifted towards crime thrillers over time. Over the last decade or so, crime thriller series like CID and Savdhan India, along with regional channels airing similar content, have garnered a significant viewership," he added.

Divya Radhakrishnan

Divya Radhakrishnan, Managing Director, Helios Media, pointed out that all forms of content go through a cycle of popularity but only a few survive the long-term advantage. Starting from movies and even sports – cricket with newer formats.

“Content creators need to look at newer and newer ways to keep the audience engaged as nothing is permanent,” she added.

Yousuf Rangoonwala

Apart from these factors, Yousuf Rangoonwala, Founder, Executive Director and Head of Strategy, Kakkoii highlighted that in the past 15 years or so, we have witnessed a decline in the popularity of horror shows, firstly, due to the lack of investment from major TV production companies in the horror genre has been a significant issue. Secondly, viewers now have a multitude of alternative entertainment options to choose from, making it more challenging for horror shows to stand out.

"In contrast, shows like CID and Crime Patrol have thrived during this period due to their ability to engage audiences effectively," he added.

Why haven’t broadcasters considered bringing back past hit horror shows?

Shashank Srivastava

While explaining this, Srivastava said, “There are multiple reasons for not bringing some shows back to production. Cost of producing horror shows can be expensive, especially when it comes to creating special effects and sets, at the same time there aren’t enough viewers to justify the cost. Competition from other horror shows available on streaming services makes it difficult to attract viewers. Further, the audience for these horror shows has changed over time to other genres.”

However, there are also some reasons why broadcasters may want to consider bringing back old horror shows like some audiences having fond memories of watching 'Aahat' on Sony (SET) and 'Ssshhhh…Koi Hai' on Star Plus when they were younger. Broadcasters may be able to capitalise on this nostalgia by bringing back these shows, he added.

Srivastava pointed out that according to a recent survey by Statista, the top five popular TV genres in India in 2023 are Comedy, Sports, Drama, Reality and Action. Horror comes in 13th position on this list. These shows are all popular for different reasons, but they all share one thing in common: they are all well-made and entertaining. They feature complex characters, compelling storylines, and stunning visuals.

Meanwhile, Radhakrishnan pointed out that shows like ‘Aahat’ and ‘Ssshhhh…Koi Hai’ were popular when parallely movies had Ramsay films pulling audiences. The whole lot went down the preference ladder.

Rangoonwala said, “One of the primary reasons for the absence of quality horror shows in India can be attributed to the historical production standards in the genre. Shows like those created by the Ramsay Brothers, ‘Aahat’, ‘Ssshhhh…Koi Hai’, and others were often constrained by low budgets, resulting in subpar production quality. In contrast, popular soap operas, often referred to as "K-shows," boasted glamorous production values and significant financial investments, yielding substantial returns. Similarly, documentary-style crime shows like Crime Patrol also operated on limited budgets, but this was justified due to the genre's emphasis on realism or recreated reality, where excessive glamour wasn't expected.”

On being asked what happened to the audience that grew up with shows like ‘Ssshhhh…Koi Hai’, ‘Vikraal Aur Gabraal’ on Star Plus, ‘Fear Files’ on Zee TV and ‘Aahat’, Radhakrishnan said, “Most obviously we all leave behind preferences as we move in the time cycle, in all formats.”

Echoing similar sentiment, Srivastava explained that first, the audience has simply grown up. Their tastes have changed, and they are now looking for different types of entertainment. For example, they may be more interested in watching shows that are more realistic or gritty. They may also be more interested in watching shows that are available on streaming services, where they can watch them at their convenience.

“Second, the horror genre has evolved over the years. The shows that were popular in the early 2000s may not be as scary to audiences today. Audiences today are looking for shows that are more psychologically disturbing or that feature more gore. Third, there are simply more options available to audiences today than there were in the early 2000s. There are now dozens of streaming services that offer a wide variety of shows, including horror shows. This gives audiences more choice and makes it less likely that they will watch a horror show that they don't enjoy,” Srivastava said.

So, where has the audience for horror shows gone? They are likely watching shows on streaming services, such as Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, or Hulu. They are also likely watching shows that are more realistic, gritty, or psychologically disturbing than the shows that were popular in the early 2000s. Some specific examples of horror shows that are popular today: The Haunting of Hill House (Netflix), Stranger Things (Netflix), Black Mirror (Netflix) etc, he added.

On the other hand, Buddha highlighted that we have noticed a shift in consumer and viewing habits. More people are moving away from traditional linear TV towards Connected TV (CTV) and digital TV.

“Additionally, there's been a resurgence in the popularity of mythological shows. Many of these mythological series have made a significant comeback. In this evolving landscape, audiences have also transitioned from horror shows to this genre, along with other genres,” he added.

Rangoonwala pointed out that the evolution in audience preferences for horror movies can be attributed to a variety of factors. One significant shift began with the rising influence of Western horror, which introduced fresh ideas to the genre. Furthermore, the lack of investment and low-quality production also contributed to the changing landscape of horror films. As a result, not only have audiences changed, but their expectations have evolved as well.

“What occurred is that our producers didn't adapt to the evolving preferences of our audience,” he added.

Are advertisers still interested in horror shows on GECs?

Srivastava said, "Advertisers are a bit less interested in horror shows, there are a few reasons for this decline in interest, including smaller audiences than other genres, such as comedy or drama. Horror shows are often associated with negative emotions, such as fear and anxiety. Advertisers may be reluctant to associate their brands with these negative emotions. Further, horror shows are often subject to strict censorship guidelines, which can limit the types of products and services that can be advertised."

Meanwhile, Buddha said, “Advertisers are indifferent to the specific genre of a show. What matters is reaching the largest audience possible. Whether it's sports, reality TV, or dramas, as long as it effectively promotes our brand to our target audience and offers value for our investment, we're open to it. Our focus is on delivering quality content that resonates with viewers. We prioritise audience engagement over show type, and there's no particular insistence on any specific genre. We aim to be where the best content is that people will enjoy.”

On the other hand, Radhakrishnan pointed out that advertisers never were interested in horror shows. They used to select out of compulsion and more so in the era where communication was passive like TV generates. Male audiences on TV could be spoken to only in breaks from sports, news, crime and horror. Family dramas dominated all other time bands with a heavy female skew.

Golwalkar said, “Advertisers typically don't have a significant concern when it comes to advertising on horror shows on TV, with a few exceptions. These exceptions usually involve products that have specific associations, like religious items such as incense sticks, which might not align with horror shows. Similarly, child-oriented products tend to avoid advertising on such shows due to the genre's nature. However, for most advertisers, especially those in the FMCG industry, the primary focus is on reaching a wide audience. In this context, it's not so much about brands being unsupportive, it's more about the viewership they can attain.”

“Horror as a genre has a relatively limited appeal compared to other genres like crime, family drama, or thrillers. It's somewhat niche, and not everyone enjoys watching horror. Additionally, it's a genre that people often prefer to experience alone, and it may not be suitable for family viewing. In a country like ours, where many households have a single television screen, this can pose a challenge. Furthermore, international horror content also poses competition in the market. So, while there are opportunities for advertising in the horror genre, its limited appeal and solo viewing nature can make it less attractive to advertisers,” he added.

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