With the closure of several English general entertainment channels (GECs) in India, industry experts have opined that the exponential growth of OTT platforms is the primary cause behind it.
In an exclusive conversation with BestMediaInfo.com, some industry players said that the convenience of fresh, original and variety of content, coupled with the liberty of watching it at one's leisure, has tilted the scales heavily in favour of OTT players, leaving linear TV channels in the English entertainment space struggling to retain viewership and generate ad revenue.
However, innovative and strategic collaborations, a revenue-sharing model with OTT platforms along with unique content, may provide some scope for English GECs to stay in the game, as per them.
Three years after Disney Star started contemplating shutting down its English general entertainment channel Star World, the global media giant finally brought the curtain down on its English GECs recently. In May 2020, Sony Pictures Network India’s (SPNI) AXN, AXN HD and Network18’s FYI TV18 were taken off-air. This leaves three English GECs – Zee Cafe, Comedy Central and Colors Infinity – in India.
OTT is the most significant cause for the decline of English entertainment channels
Uday Mohan, President and Chief Client Officer, Havas Media Group India, believes that OTT has proven to be the most significant cause for the decline of English entertainment channels. In the past, English entertainment channels were our window to the exciting world of global content.
According to Simanta Mahanta, Senior Vice-President – Investment and Partnerships, Initiative India, the exponential growth of OTT platforms and the surge in Connected TV adoption among affluent Indian viewers have had a profound impact on the English entertainment genre in the Indian television industry.
“The convenience of fresh, original and a wide variety of content, coupled with the liberty of watching it at one's leisure, has tilted the scales heavily in favour of OTT players, leaving linear TV channels in the English entertainment space struggling to retain viewership and generate ad revenue,” he added.
Navin Lalchandani, SVP Media Buying-Starcom, said that with all the content already available on OTTs, a niche for English entertainment channels don't exist.
“Traditional linear channels have been replaced by the OTT platform. All the English content needs to be bought for OTT first and then put on the English TV channels,” Lalchandani stated.
Furthermore, he went on to say that the revenue has been affected and just like a lot of networks have closed their channels down, it’s just a matter of time before others will start too.
Advertisers are moving out as English GECs are becoming economically unviable
Mohan said that OTT has changed viewership habits completely. Firstly, in terms of the sheer range of the latest content available beyond the English language, including award-winning/engaging content across other languages - Spanish, Japanese, and Korean to name a few.
“Second, OTT platforms have also disrupted viewership habits by introducing the concept of binge-watching. Suddenly the power of watching and completing a show has shifted from the channel programming team to the individual viewer and they can now watch at their convenience,” Mohan added.
This has resulted in the erosion of the premium audience viewership for English entertainment channels, which has resulted in advertisers moving out, making them economically unviable, he said.
Collaborative and unique content may provide some scope for English GECs to stay in the game
Mahanta said that as smart TV sales continue to rise in India, the future of English entertainment channels looks increasingly challenging. However, in a bid to stay relevant, differentiating content may provide some scope for English GECs to stay in the game.
Additionally, a collaborative content and revenue-sharing model with OTT platforms, including internal OTT platforms from the same network, could prove beneficial.
“Imagine a scenario where a new season of a popular series on Hotstar is released exclusively on Star World. Such partnerships could potentially reshape the English entertainment genre. While the future may appear challenging for English entertainment channels, innovation and strategic collaborations may pave the way for survival and growth,” Mahanta added.
Mohan stated that engaging, unique and exclusive content will be the only way English entertainment channels can come back into the equation.
“Making this exclusive content available in a binge-viewing format can help get the viewers back on the channels. The new age viewers cannot wait for seven days to watch the next episode of content that they start watching,” Mohan added.
On June 22, 2020, BestMediaInfo.com reported that Star World would be discontinued owing to New Tariff Order woes. However, the decision to do away with a few niche channels was delayed due to a lack of clarity on NTO.
OTT platforms have no shortage of content, English genre is more viewed there
Commenting on Disney Star’s move to shut down its GECs, Karan Taurani, Senior Analyst at Elara Capital, told BestMediaInfo.com that if we look at content consumption in India, English was the first genre which moved towards digital in terms of consumption patterns because English is only watched in Tier-1 or metro cities.
“We have seen Star shutting Star World Select HD. Sony wrapped up its AXN channels long back. English, as a genre, is more viewed on OTT platforms and there is no shortage of content on OTTs. This is why English content has felt the pinch here,” Taurani said.
Furthermore, he went on to say that Hindi and regional are two genres which are here to stay on TV for some time.
“Genres like English, infotainment and music have seen a powerful negative impact because of the acceleration of the shift to digital because of the pandemic and most of these trends have been sustained in the post-COVID-19 era. So, it makes sense to take these channels off-air,” Taurani said.
“English GECs and English movies were a very small portion of the overall ad revenue. Other broadcasters will also adopt this strategy and you will see this shift across the three genres mentioned earlier,” he added.