If Sherlock Holmes' gets an SMS it will flash against a translucent background on your TV screen. It is the sort of startling attention to detail that hooks you to Sherlock, a series on the newly refurbished BBC Entertainment. On the same channel the handsome Adrian Lester forces you to see Hustle before you realise that it is an edge-of-your-seat con caper.
Graham Norton always manages to make you blush with embarrassment and roar with laughter as he puts celebrities in a tight spot. And for some old-fashioned laughs there is always Frasier (FX) or How I met your mother (Star World).
Welcome to the new riches on offer on English general entertainment channels (GECs). The language long derided as that of the 'elite' is making a comeback on television with some of the best produced and written shows we have seen in a long time.
Shares (%) of English entertainment channels
AXN - 35.2
Star World - 24.3
BIG CBS Prime - 15.4
BIG CBS Love - 6.7
BIG CBS Spark - 6.7
Zee Cafe - 6.7
BBC Entertainment - 4.5
Fox Crime - 0.3
FX - 0.1
From three channels two years back there are now nine English GECs, a treat in a country where entertainment is overwhelmingly driven by local languages. This surfeit has helped to nearly double the viewership of English GECs.
On the revenue front numbers are hazy. According to one estimate English GECs get about Rs 100 crore in ad revenues, a figure than broadcasters expect will grow rapidly.
"This is a market waiting to explode," says Saurabh Yagnik, general manager and senior vice president, English channels, Star India. Note - this is only about English GECs not about English news, movies or infotainment channels like Discovery.
Why is this category seeing so much action?
The hows and whys
One, there are an estimated 200 million plus Indians who read and speak English. So it is a large market that has not been addressed adequately because the focus has been on growing the more lucrative languages such as Hindi, Marathi, Tamil etc. As growth stabilises in those languages, focus has turned to English. Also, "The importance of English as a language has grown in India's Tier IIand III cities where viewer demand for English content has been steadily rising," says Anurag Bedi, business head, niche channels, Zee.
Two, "the spread of digital is the biggest driver of consumption," says Yagnik. Of India's 142 million TV homes, more than 42 million are now digital pay TV homes. Of these a bulk (40 million) are direct-to-home or DTH and the remaining are digital cable homes. This makes 'niches' such as English more mappable and monetisable. A 2010 TAM Media Research study on digital pay TV shows that digital homes have a skew towards movies, business, sports, music and English entertainment. More importantly they spend three times the time an analog viewer does on English content. This improves the chances of getting a nice chunk from pay revenues - easier with digital homes.
Three, earlier there wasn't enough advertising to justify getting the latest season of say Dexter or Frasier into India. Sure there were shows like Baywatch or The Bold and the Beautiful, but they were really not the best of English television globally. The advertisers therefore went to English news for that upmarket backdrop that cars, high-end mobile phones or consumer durables wanted. As news degenerates, there are very few options on TV to talk to the SEC A audience (a high-end demographic). There are the infotainment channels or English Movie channels. And then there are English GECs.
However unlike infotainment or movies, TAM numbers don't show high ratings for English GECs. So advertisers use "affinity," says Jai Lala, principal partner, Exchange, Mindshare, a media buying firm. This is measured through syndicated research and by estimating the proportion of your target audience in the total audience for a show.
If this market is now ready to consume more original English shows, would ones set in India work too. There have been experiments earlier with A Mouthful of Sky on Doordarshan in 1995 or Bombay Talking on Zee Cafe in 2005, but they haven't worked. Almost all the English GECs are from the international arms of some of the largest broadcast companies in India - Star (Star World, FX, Fox Crime), Sony (AXN), Zee Cafe (sources global shows). Just like they cracked the Indian market with local language shows can they crack the one for local English shows?
"People see English programming for the production quality and we cannot replicate that. I don't see how an English show in the Indian context would work," says Sneha Rajani, senior executive vice president, Multi Screen Media (Sony). Also, "American shows are very high on the aspiration quotient for Indian viewers," says Bedi.
And dubbing is an option that most dismiss. The only area where there seems to be some consensus is on sub-titling, which helps improve viewership since the accent becomes easier to follow.
So if you are an English entertainment junkie, just sit back and enjoy.
Source: Business Standard