Industry POV

Why English general entertainment is no mean feat: An analysis‬ - Ashish Bhasin


Players in the genre cite ratings, monetisation, marketing, and piracy among the biggest challenges.

The English entertainment genre, which is currently worth Rs 350-400 crore in terms of ad spends, is expected to secure 20 per cent growth in the FY '16-'17. The genre has many players contesting for a part of the pie. As per expert analysis, Star holds 40-50 per cent of market share, followed by Zee. The rest of the channels share similar rates.

As per the 2015-16 FICCI-KPMG report, the genre holds 0.5 per cent market share in terms of viewership, a little over English News (0.3 per cent), and below the infotainment genre (1.1 per cent). As per the 2014-15 FICCI-KPMG report, the viewership share of English entertainment genre was 0.9 per cent. It is worth mentioning that the rating body has changed and the latest report reflects Broadcast Audience Research Council (BARC) India numbers, while earlier, it was as per the TAM analysis.

The new rating measurement system has not done much good to the English entertainment genre and the low number in terms of ratings has emerged as a big challenge, says a broadcaster on the condition of anonymity. He says, "If we now look at the box office collection of movies such as Jungle Book, Fast and Furious, and other Hollywood blockbusters, it shows we will witness a tremendous growth. But, why is such growth not reflected in the television ratings is something we need to figure out. Having said so, I will assume BARC is doing a good job and will address the issue soon."

Ferzad Palia, head, youth and English entertainment, Viacom18, feels the English entertainment genre should not talk the rating language. He says, "I doubt if the audience that the English entertainment genre caters to will be comfortable with installing the meter (Bar-o-meter) in their homes. Yes, there are some clients who look at the ratings, but for us, it's primarily on the basis of perception."

As per the ratings, the English-viewing audience is close to 20 million, which is an innocuous number vis-à-vis the reality. "If we don't go by ratings, India currently has 200 million people speaking English, and that's how robust the universe is and who we consider as our target audience," Palia adds.

Apart from ratings, content acquisition costs are also a big challenge for the genre. Over the last three years, the content acquisition costs have gone up by at least 50 per cent. In such a scenario, a mix of acquired and created content can be a healthy one, feels Palia. "We created 'The Stage', a non-chat English entertainment show, and it has been a success. We will now come up with its second edition. We are also evaluating other opportunities where we can innovate with original content, and we aren't far from new shows. But, that does not mean we will not acquire new titles. Yes, content acquisition costs are going up, but that is the cost of doing business," he asserts.

Times Network though, is not considering the original show route at this stage. Times Network's senior vice-president, English Cluster, Vivek Srivastava, says, "We are not close to creating original English content at this stage. Most of the original content that has been produced has been with a Bollywood celebrity. We can call for the model to be successful when we can create content without a Bollywood star, which makes business sense."

According to Srivastava, the biggest challenge for the genre at this stage is monetisation. He says, "The content that the English entertainment genre is offering is premium, and the audience it is catering to is the top of the pyramid with maximum disposable income. This is certainly a more premium combination compared to Hindi or any other regional language, but the revenue that we (the English entertainment genre) make does not reflect that. We (the industry at large) have to value our content more, and pitch more aggressively to get our fair share. This will ensure more investments in the genre and greater value to the consumers."

The ad rates lend perspective to the current scenario as far as monetisation is concerned. Says a senior media planner on the condition of anonymity, "A show like 'The Game Of Thrones' on HBO will rake in Rs 40,000 for a 10-second slot, while 'Gotham' for Zee Café will garner Rs 10,000 for a 10-second slot. 'Orange Is The New Black' on Viacom's Colors Infiniti will witness an ad rate of around Rs 4,000 for a 10-second slot."

The English entertainment content, and the genre as a whole witness very little marketing, and the advent of digital, considered a threat for the industry, will actually boost it, opines Srivastava. "The emergence of digital players and more competition is good for the English entertainment genre. More players mean more marketing of the content, more awareness, and more time spent. The average time spent on English entertainment is 45-60 minutes, which means there is a huge scope of growth there. The way I see this is that SVOD (Subscription-led Video-on-Demand) services will complement existing English broadcast businesses," he adds.

Piracy, too, continues to be a teething issue for the genre. Globally, there has been not much respite, notwithstanding various collaborations, and the story is no different in India. 'Torrenting' continues to grow, and hence, relaying shows on TV gets very little traction.

Saurabh Yagnik, EVP and business head, English cluster, Sony Pictures Networks, feels that piracy can become larger than ever if steps are not taken. "Unless steps are taken to curtail piracy, the genre will be privy to bigger problems. People need to realise that it costs to create content and all players in the value chain need to be remunerated for the content created and distributed," says Yagnik.

The size of the universe is the biggest challenge for the genre according to Ashish Bhasin, chairman and CEO, Dentsu Aegis Network South Asia. "On one side, we have the Hindi GECs which cater to the masses, and on the other, we have the English entertainment genre catering to a very small universe. It needs to expand its universe. I see English entertainment continue to stay niche at least in the foreseeable future," he says.

Bhasin feels the content, too, needs immediate attention. He says, "The content needs to improve. In the digital world, you cannot provide content which is old and is available online on legal or illegal platforms."

Original content has the potential to be a boon for the English entertainment genre as per Bhasin's assessment. "There is very little original and relevant content produced in India. I feel broadcasters should create more original content, which will help get a new set of audience and drive a conversation which will help the genre," he says.

For the consumer, the screen doesn't matter, be it an iPad screen, a mobile screen, or a TV screen. What matters is content, so broadcasters need to strategise their offerings to counter the digital growth and stay unaffected, assesses Bhasin.

According to Kartik Sharma, managing director, Maxus South Asia, the type of content offered is a massive challenge for the genre. "The type of content which gets aired appeals only to certain types of audience. A large part of Indian society is not able to relate to situations shown in the English entertainment genre. Indians, in general, are very melodramatic and we often find that if a show is too subtle it doesn't work that well," he says. Sharma feels Indians like everything a bit loud, whether it's colours used in popular Indian soaps or films, or the type of music. "The shows aired in English entertainment are made primarily for the US or the UK audiences, and are not designed for Indians, though a cross-section of our society loves many of the shows," he asserts.

He feels broadcasters should focus upon segmenting their core audiences clearly and market their shows accordingly. Though there is plenty of hope and promise, the English entertainment genre in Indian television is at a strategic investment stage and we can only wait for the returns in due course.