Post-Covid Challenges: Hindi GECs will be Tested

19 Jun,2020


By Shailesh Kapoor


The pandemic is still all around us. Fatigued from a long, early lockdown, and facing dire economic consequences, India has begun to open up slowly. But we are nowhere close to “normal”. Not even close to the “new normal”, an oft-bandied phrase that means different things to different people.


The entertainment sector is preparing to take small steps towards normalcy. Shooting of TV serials has started in some markets, and others will follow in July perhaps. It will not be the usually bustling, chaotic shoots that we are so used to. With limited resources at hand, the frills and the overheads will be cut out. This may pave way for cost-saving ideas in the long run. But that’s another topic for another day.


There’s a lot of talk of how post-Covid media consumption in India (and the world) will look like. I wrote about prevailing “lockdown myths” in May, expressing my view that fundamental change in habits is not as easy as many are suggesting. But much as habits won’t change, the lockdown has created a break in them, which allows for disruption, offering opportunities in particular for weaker TV channels to come back stronger than before, and challenge the leaders. Of course, that is easier said than done, especially in categories like Hindi GEC, which have their own share of problems.


When Ormax Media released the findings of its research (see chart above) stating that the Hindi GEC audience are missing original episodes of their favourite serials a lot less than they should, the reactions from those involved ranged from scepticism to outright denial. Unfortunately, one can’t even say the reactions were surprising.


Using ratings to predict audience sentiment has been an age-old fallacy in the TV industry. We saw that back in 2006-2008, when the growing audience resentment towards the ‘K-serials’ was met with a standard “but they rate so well” response. It took the launch of Colors in 2008 to prove that a sentiment just needs a good catalyst to convert into behaviour.


Even though news and movies have made inroads into primetime family viewing during the lockdown (as indeed over the last 3-4 years too), it is safe to say that GEC content will remain the staple primetime diet of a very large section of the universe. But what the chart above tells us is that a sizeable proportion of this large section is not giving the Hindi GEC category (the results will be different and significantly better for regional GEC categories) the love it should get. The relationship between Hindi GEC content and the viewer is now less emotional and more ephemeral in nature.


Some say this could be simply a function of the times that we live in, where attention spans have gotten shorter, distractions have increased, and concepts like loyalty and appointment viewership are things of the past. But there are multiple reasons to disagree with that line of thinking. For one, the regional categories are faring much better. Secondly, if distraction and clutter was the driving force, it should have reflected in a geographic skew. But that’s not the case. The metros, the mini-metros and the small-towns all perform equally poorly on the question asked for the chart above.


Will there be post-Covid viewership attrition for Hindi GECs? A drop of more than 5-10% compared to pre-Covid times is unlikely in the near future. But the ground cannot be more fertile for one of the top players to sow the seeds of long-pending category evolution.


Streaming will not take away TV audience. But certain TV channels and genres have enough other competition on TV itself to contend with anyway.


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