Shailesh Kapoor | Channel Brand: The Digitization Reality

01 Nov,2012

By Shailesh Kapoor


D-Day has arrived. By the time you read this, analogue cable would have ceased to exist in three of the four metros, at least legally. The first phase of digitization is finally a reality amidst much speculation over the last few months and, now, chaos. It’s public knowledge now that large audience sections in the metros have still not moved to a digital cable or a DTH connection. If you ask me, there’s absolutely nothing surprising about this at all. After all, this is India. And we do things at the last minute all the time, don’t we? Then why should it be any different when it comes to changing one’s cable connection?


If the government can enforce end of analogue television, the balance households will go digital in a jiffy. There is no such thing as ‘a life without television’, certainly not in urban India. So connectivity is not going to be a major challenge at an industry level. But digitization is sure to throw some new challenges into the arena.


To begin with, the first challenge is right in the midst of all of us. It’s called ‘Nobody Knows Nothing’. There is uncertainty on multiple counts. There are no ratings available for the last three weeks. There are different reports and estimates floating around on the actual status of digitization. But in all this, the real question is getting muted: What will really change when the flux period is behind us and connectivity and ratings are not issues any more?


The most substantive change will be a marketing change. With digitization, the consumer’s ability and acumen to choose channels he wants to pay for will progressively increase. With this change, the focus will shift from programme brands to channel brands.


In nearly 25 years of satellite television in India, broadcaster campaigns have been primarily focused on building viewership towards specific properties, typically new fiction or non-fiction series, film premieres, events and specials. As a rough estimate, more than 85 percent of the marketing budgets of channels are spent on promoting programme brands, while channel brands get less than 15 percent of the spends.


It’s popularly believed that GECs are watched for shows and not for the channel per se. But that’s not entirely true. In a recent large-sample segmentation research conducted by us, more than 35 percent viewership on GECs stemmed from channel loyalty, than programme loyalty. Importantly, this 35 percent makes the crucial difference in a closely fought battle. For example, Star Plus fiction launches typically tend to open at higher ratings than most other GEC fiction launches because the channel’s loyal base gives it the edge for every such launch.


For non-GECs, like movie, news, music, youth and infotainment, upto 70-80 percent viewership is a result of brand loyalty. Live cricket is perhaps the only content type that is entirely driven by programme preference, with minimal brand interplay.


Yet, we see channels spending millions in creating programme sampling. The oft-repeated argument is that to create brand loyalty, one needs to create programme viewership. To me, this has been the television marketer’s excuse for being lazy and not thinking like a true champion of his brand. And the excuse may have overstayed its welcome by a few years now.


In the digitized environment, the arguments in favour of such lopsided programme brand focus will get even weaker. When the consumer has a realistic choice on deciding specific channels to pay for, a bigger brand story will have to be sold. Less than five channels can boast of a programme strong enough to become their brand story today. For others, the brand story will have to come from somewhere else.


So, once the dust settles and the red herring of no ratings is out of our lives, the real digitization-related change should begin. A change that will make the marketing departments at channels more powerful than ever before. But also a lot more accountable than today!


Shailesh Kapoor is founder and CEO of media & entertainment research and consulting firm Ormax Media. He spent nine years in the television industry before turning entrepreneur. He can be reached at his Twitter handle @shaileshkapoor

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