Shailesh Kapoor: Lockdown TV: GECs Falling Short on Innovation?

03 Apr,2020

By Shailesh Kapoor


The nationwide Covid-enforced lockdown is nearing its halfway mark. The lockdown has been accompanied by an expected surge in media consumption, especially for television and OTT content.


In the weekly data released yesterday, BARC India reported a 42% growth in TV viewership over the first three days of the lockdown (Wed-Fri), resulting in an overall 37% increase in TV viewership over the entire week (Sat-Fri). Expectedly, the news genre saw the biggest surge, growing by a whopping 298%. Movies and Kids genres grew at high levels too, as did the niche Infotainment genre.


But the biggest genre of them all, GECs, struggled to grow. While non-primetime showed a 32% surge, a drop of 15% in primetime viewership resulted in the total GEC viewership growing by a marginal 3% only. Hindi-speaking markets were worse, declining by 23% in primetime.


The inability of GECs, especially Hindi GECs, to capture a significant portion of the additional viewership available to them in a near-captive form, is striking. While the surge in news ratings is understandable, there’s little reason why GECs, which stand for “General Entertainment” after all, should struggle to grow in a week when the total TV viewership has shown an unprecedented growth.


Recording of new episodes is halted, and most GECs ran out of their episode banks in the week before, or in the earlier part of the lockdown week. It presented them with a unique opportunity to innovate on the FPC, offering the all-too-eager audience content that matches their taste and their mood. Based on the amount of data that is crunched at these channels and the amount of research they conduct, one would expect that the plan would have been a fairly straightforward one. Bring out successful comedies, if any, from your library. Next, move to mythology and see what you have there. And while you do that, consider the obvious option of running a film a day, if not two. Films are as “general” as entertainment can get, and even if your network has a movie channel (or two), the library is big enough to balance it across channels, especially because there’s more viewer demand currently.


Bafflingly though, many channels have tried to take an original programming route. Somehow, they have led themselves into thinking that people would rather watch “new” content than reruns of hit shows or films that fit the mood. Zee TV put out three OTT shows bang in the middle of its prime time, and Star Plus has one (Hostages) lined up from the Hotstar library. To even think that such content can rate on mass television is wishful. The first ratings of the Zee TV shows are out, and in what should not have come as a surprise to anyone, OTT content has fared terribly on TV. Poor performance of shows like 24, POW, etc. in the recent past is enough evidence to be able to predict this outcome.


Understandably, most channels except Sony SAB don’t have much to show by the way of a successful comedy library. Some of the old mythology shows are being re-run by a few GECs. But the evident reluctance to air movies as primary content in these unusual circumstances points to a certain rigidness that may have come into our television industry over the last decade or two. The almost-artificial segmentation of channels into genres has restricted channels from providing general entertainment in the truest sense.


In a family viewing scenario, when the entire family is at home and watching TV a lot more than they ever do, providing a mix of all types of content (except news, which is legally not permissible) should be the driving thought of a general entertainment channel. Even animation content, if available in the library, could be used to create a strong kids band. And if a GEC has to take a “let’s become a movie channel for two weeks” position, the consumer will only appreciate it as relevant innovation, than see it as an inappropriate crossing of genre lines.


Let’s see how the top channels respond, now that they one week’s ratings data in front of them. It’s the flexible and nimble-footed ones who will get the best share of the additional viewership volume available.



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