Hitherto ruled by AXN and Zee Café, the English entertainment genre is seeing Star emerge as a formidable player with channels such as STAR World SD, HD, FX, Fox Crime and Star World Premiere HD garnering considerable share of eyeballs.
Over the years, the English GEC space in India has seen a lot of action – with newer channels coming in and the audiences becoming fastidious and looking for better access to international content. Apart from good content, broadcasters have had to dish out the latest and most trending content to viewers in India who are, today, more aware and demanding.
There was a time, when the English entertainment genre was ruled by channels like AXN and Zee Café, but in the present scenario, Star’s line-up of English GECs, such as Star World SD, HD, FX, Fox Crime and the premium destination for the newest and the latest in English Entertainment- Star World Premiere HD, is usurping formidable share of the viewership pie. In fact, advertisers too are waking up to the potential of these channels in India. According to the 2014 Assocham report, this genre has grown to be a high stake property and commands an advertising share of 1.7%, owing to increase in spends by advertisers of luxury and premium products/services.
BestMediaInfo.com spoke to channel heads and media planners to understand what triggered the growth of the English entertainment genre in India, and how channels are engaging in the battle for viewership.
The Big Boost Theory
Anita Nayyar, CEO, Havas Media Group, India & South Asia, cites a variety of reasons for the growth of this genre, the most prominent of them all being digitisation. “Digitisation has paved the way for variety in content and choice for audience. Bolstered with good sound and picture quality, the viewing experience has been enhanced. Globalisation is yet another factor – audiences want to catch the latest movie or show,” she says.
Raghav Subramanian and Sudha Natrajan, Founders/Directors of TMC – The Media Consultants, point to the findings of the 2014 KPMG report which reiterates the increase in investment in English language channels in recent years. “The ‘windfall consumer’ segment is the bulk of the Indian luxury market and premium brands need not to go the ATL route to target the ‘already existing’. Therefore, conveying and reinforcing ‘premiumness’ is the most critical part of the marketing plan. Premium brands prefer going the TV route to reach out to these people to deliver the imagery through a TVC with high production values. The CPT of TV being less than Rs 65 to reach out to the SEC A1 audiences versus Rs 400 – 450 in print and around Rs 5000 – 7000 in OOH. English language content is therefore a critical part of the marketing plan for these brands. Besides, the internet-enabled businesses like e-commerce, and travel websites find these set of audiences to be predisposed to transacting on the net,” they added.
The viewership of the English entertainment genre is 15% that of the English movie genre which commands the highest viewership among English language content across genres.
Being First, Best and Latest
Dismissing the ‘one size fits all’ strategy, Star’s bouquet of English entertainment channels caters to a wide variety of audiences with varied content. Kevin Vaz, Business Head, English Portfolio, Star India, explains, “Each channel has a very specific content programming. FX showcases edgy, bold and differentiated content and is home to the most critically acclaimed shows like ‘The Guardian’, ‘The Walking Dead’ and ‘American Horror Story’, while Star World rules as ‘the destination’ for the best in English entertainment. With flagship properties like ‘Masterchef Australia’ and ‘Koffee with Karan’, and also award winning shows like ‘House’ and ‘The Blacklist’, the channel caters to the English viewer who seeks quality as well as variety. Fox Crime is India’s only dedicated crime channel, offering international drama series like ‘Castle’ and ‘Arrow’, to name a few. Star World Premiere HD showcases over 50 shows and 700 hours of fresh content in a year. The channel eliminated the concept of long release gaps, wherein an American show took more than six months to be premiered in India. This not only curtails piracy downloads and streaming, but creates expectations of fresh quality content.”
Meanwhile, Zee Café offers a mix of everything on its platter. Anurag Bedi, EVP & Business Head, Zee Cafe, says, “As part of our strategy, we have innovatively devised different touch points of the viewer’s preference. We offer a good mix of content which includes top-rated shows from the US – be it comedy, crime shows or dramas. We have ensured good quality content by bringing the newest seasons of popular shows, the latest content from American studios, while creating our own content as well. With the viewers no longer wanting to wait for the latest season, we ensure that the latest seasons of our tent-pole shows such as ‘The Big Bang Theory’, ‘The Vampire Diaries’ and ‘Pretty Little Lairs’ are shown in India alongside US.”
In a bid to strengthen its English entertainment offerings, Multi Screen Media recently signed a multi-year content deal with CBS Studios International. “AXN viewers now get to enjoy some of the longest running shows, mainly from US. Our strategy is to position the channel as a distinct brand and one of our many highlights is the newly-launched weekend slot ‘Not So Ordinary Weekend’, and the proposition lies in the fact that all the latest shows from US with the biggest stars are aired. There are four new shows – ‘Extant’, ‘Teen Wolf Season’, ‘Penny Dreadful’ and ‘Falling Skies’. Going forward, the shows will change, but the challenge would be to build this slot, keeping the core proposition intact,” says Saurabh Yagnik, English Cluster Head, Multi Screen Media.
Look Who’s Watching
While, broadly, all English entertainment channels target the English-speaking, urban audience, every channel has a distinct description of its target group. For instance, Star World’s targets audiences in the age-group of 15-34 years, from SEC A and B, who are working professionals. As Vaz describes them, “The quintessential Star World viewer is a global consumer who lives life to the fullest.” FX & Fox Crime, on the other hand, tend to attract more evolved viewers, mostly males above 25 years of age from SEC A.
For FX, the ideal viewer is someone who likes an unrestricted, no-holds-barred portrayal of life and is fascinated by alternate reality. Fox Crime is the go-to destination for any crime-junkie who loves the twists and turns of a mystery or has an investigative streak. Star World Premiere HD caters to the premium content seeker, who does not like to wait, and watches all shows at the same time as the international airing. “They seek quality and superior viewing experience,” Vaz states.
Zee Cafe targets young urban audiences who are avid viewers of English content, in the age-group of 15-44 years. And for AXN, the ideal target group comprises audiences who fall in the 15-34 years age bracket, from an English background, belonging to the higher strata from the metros.
Time Band Woes
Considering that most viewers of English entertainment channels are working professionals, they tune into their TV sets at a particular time when all channels are showcasing the best of content. With so much for audiences to choose from, it is an intense battle for the channels.
“It has always been our strategy to feed the viewer base with content they demand. It ultimately depends on the viewer as to what they want to view and when they want to view it. In order to fight the competition in the same time slot, we have a healthy repeat pattern that gives viewers a choice to catch their favourite shows at a time convenient to them. While we are also strong on repeats, we gain maximum share within prime time, indicating appointment-led viewing for our channels,” Vaz says.
Echoing similar thoughts, Bedi averred that competition on time bands has become more intense and is evident in every slot. By slotting shows such as ‘The Big Bang Theory’ and ‘Two & A Half Men’ in the 8-9 PM slot, the channel ensures that the prime time band has good viewership. Zee Café also follows the practice of repeating its popular properties.
Yagnik believes that dishing out too much original content doesn’t work in such a scenario. “As a result of same time band competition, eyeballs get scattered and thus, AXN always ensures that there is enough variety. We believe in the policy of ‘less is more’, which is fewer original content and more repeats, thus giving the audience a chance to sample the channel,” he adds.
The key to how well-received a show will be depends a great deal on how well it is marketed. Therefore, with channels launching new shows daily, marketing strategy becomes paramount. In order to engage with the audience and to make them familiar with the properties, channels have been indulging heavily on social media, apart from the conventional marketing approach.
“Social media marketing plays a huge role in creating awareness and familiarity for shows. While enabling the channels to connect with its relevant viewer base, social media helps us construct a platform for brand engagement, wherein viewers get an opportunity to voice their opinion, inputs and thoughts,” Vaz states.
It is not all hunky dory for English entertainment channels. Even though the genre is gaining viewership, Yagnik points out that channels have to grapple with issues such as audiences’ non-familiarity with the shows on air and the programming cycle that an English GEC follows, which is from September to May, confusing the Indian viewers. Then, there is also the issue of piracy which is a major hurdle in gaining viewership, as users prefer to download the latest series, rather than waiting to watch it on TV.
Subramanian and Natrajan had this to say, “The biggest challenge faced by this genre is the massive under-reporting of viewership on account of the current TV measurement system i.e. TAM. This is expected to change with the advent of BARC later this year. BARC with a 20,000 people meter base, as against 8,000 of TAM’s, supported with a robust channel tracking technology and SEC A booster sample, will be in a better position to pick up multi-platform English language viewing.”
They are of the opinion that Indian studios are not equipped to produce the kind of content which will sit well on these channels. And cost of content acquisition is on the rise as the licensing fee charged by the international studios, who own the content, is rising, while the effective rate at which the channel sells its inventory is stagnant or going down. Another challenge is that these channels are still restricted to the top six metros and higher SECs, limiting the audience base.
Nayyar observes that the niche audience and their requirement for choice is fragmenting the viewership. “Further, there is the pressure to be ‘latest’, audiences want to watch the season shown in real time and not three months later. Plus, the overall ad rates here are sufficiently lower, subscription schemes are at a nascent stage and revenue models are also in development,” she adds.
The Bright Side
Some like Ashish Bhasin, Chairman & CEO, South Asia, Dentsu Aegis Network, are optimistic about what the future holds for this genre. He says, “The biggest challenge in this space right now is that too many players exist, but, I feel that at some point consolidations and shakeouts will happen. With proper penetration and improvement in literacy, the English GEC space will fare better in the Tier 2 sections of our society.”
Subramanian and Natrajan are confident that, even though the top six metros form the belly of viewership for these English GEC channels, penetration is on the rise with Tier 2 cities showing increase in viewership. This would increase if these channels broadcast content which is easier to understand without being fluent in English; a non-English speaking person in Kanpur is more likely to watch an action serial like ‘Cops’ or a show like ‘Wipeout’, where dialogue is not the centre piece, unlike in a drama like ‘Sex in the City’ or ‘House’ where comprehension of dialogue is critical.