Free Press Journal

Launching general entertainment channels: How many more ‘need gap’ channels?



More and more broadcasters are launching ‘need gap’ general entertainment channels by identifying genres and sub-genres within popular entertainment category. But does it mean that the overcrowded space can absorb any number of channels, asks A. L. I. CHOUGULE.  

In September last year, Multi Screen Media (MSM) launched a new GEC called Sony PAL targeted at women who excel in life and their chosen profession. The positioning was perfect – women who are financially empowered, which makes them a distinct category of consumers. In a way it is a distinct category that the advertisers look for on a single platform. Keeping with its positioning, the channel created content that celebrates life and beautiful moments in women’s lives through progressive and positive stories.

But Sony PAL failed to get decent opening and didn’t progress much beyond limited viewership. Four months later, the channel gradually shut down all its originals dailies and weekend shows. But it promised to come back with a revamp in June; though industry rumour has it that Sony PAL will serve as MSM’s free-to-air (FTA) channel. Meanwhile, it is currently running old popular shows from Sony network’s channels.

Surprisingly, the channel is doing slightly better now with re2nd lead 1peat shows. Last year, Zee too had launched two channels – Zee Anmol and Zindagi. While the FTA Zee Anmol which relies on old Zee shows is doing fine like Rishtey, also launched in early 2014, by Viacom group which owns Colors, Zindagi which is a niche general  player offering Pakistani serials, is less than a moderate success. Another niche general entertainment channel Epic TV launched in November 2014 is yet to make a decent impact.

FTA channels, though GECs by nature, have a different market and customers. They also have different business model – FTA channels’ only revenue lifeline is ad inventory and their content cost is zero.  But new pay GECs have to create space for themselves and compete with well-established and successful channels. While Sony PAL failed to take off, March 2015 saw the launch of yet another general entertainment channel, &TV, from Zee group. Surprisingly &TV has had a good take-off and is expected to do well.

Over the last few years there is a unanimous view that GEC space is too crowded, hyper competitive and doesn’t offers easy entry to a new channel. Given the fact that general entertainment is an expensive business because of huge content, marketing and distribution cost, it is fraught with lot of risk. After all in the last decade two GECs – 9X and Imagine – after a decent launch, had failed to sustain and survive and eventually shut shop. Colors is the only exception. Even Zee’s Zee Smile was a non-starter.

Since the launch of Colors in 2008, the television universe has expanded. In other words, there is no dearth of new viewers available for mass channels. What’s needed for a new mass entertainment channel is to identity a ‘need gap’. Sony indeed had identified one for Sony Pal – positive and progressive content for traditional and yet modern empowered women. &TV has been positioned as the channel that mirrors thinking and values of evolved, ‘new age’ India, a distinct segment that could identify with Zee’s sub-brand ‘&’ under which the network had successfully launched &Pictures two years ago.

Indentifying a need gap and positioning a new channel accordingly sounds brilliant. However, for those who are well versed in marketing jargon, positioning is essentially a marketing gimmick, aimed at luring consumers and attracting advertisers by way of a new platform defined as different and distinct. After all, when you are catering to general entertainment viewers with content in daily soap format, how distinctly different can your content be from other channels? Even if it is different in some ways, in the long run when viewership base doesn’t expand, by and large all channels follow the tried and tested programming formula of popular GECs by tweaking it to individual requirement.

India Poochega Sabse Shaana Kaun However, besides right content what a new general entertainment channel needs is marketing noise and big bang launch to get off the ground, provided distribution is in place. That was the case with Colors which opted for disruptive strategy with high profile shows like Khatron Ke Khiladi and Bigg Boss with starts like Akshay Kumar and Shilpa Shetty. It was lucky in having Balika Vadhu in its kitty which despite lowest expectations from the channel delivered highest performance ever seen on a new channel.   &TV’s success is no different – its flagship show was Shah Rukh Khan hosted India Poochega – Sabse Shaana Kaun?

Agree or disagree, Bollywood celebrities are perfect launch vehicles for new ventures. Content comes next. Today even corporate India is banking on film and TV celebrities to launch their new initiatives and products to create initial marketing noise. One reason for Sony PAL’s lacklustre launch and failure is absence of a big film celebrity endorsing it; Juhi Chawla, the channel’s face, is way beyond her prime. One needs deep pockets to launch a new GEC. Zee has and industry estimates has it that the network had set aside Rs. 500 crore for &TV; a year ago it had claimed to have a budget of Rs. 100 crore for the launch of Zindagi.

The basic question is: is there space for more general entertainment channels? Another interesting question is whether new channels are eating into other GECs’ viewership share or are they helping expand GEC space by getting viewers from other genres. Six years ago, eight channels were said to be enough. Today there are 15 – mass GECs, free-to-air channels and niche GECs. Can the market service 15 channels? Is there space for more? Against two or three success stories in last decade, there have been as many or more failures. However, one thing is for sure. If a channel gets right mix of good programming and sound business model, survival may not be an issue even at 50 per cent viewership share of top channels.